Student tasered at meeting questions charges
Detroit student faces six years in prison on multiple offenses; says police and council members overreacted
November 20, 2006 —
An SVSU student who made headlines for being tasered during a struggle at a Saginaw City Council meeting after refusing to remove his hat is telling his side of an unusual series of events that has left him facing criminal charges that could result in several years in prison.
Charles Littleton, 22, of Detroit is facing up to six years in prison on several charges including resisting and obstructing a police officer causing injury, a charge levied as a result of Saginaw Police Chief Gerald H. Cliff having his finger broken during the altercation.
The incident occurred Nov 6. after Littleton refused to comply with a recently enacted council rule requiring men to remove their hats. Witnesses say Littleton became unruly at the request, and police were forced to subdue him using a 50,000-volt Taser.
Littleton, however, says he was trying to find out why the rule was necessary and that police stepped over the line in using force.
"I tried to talk to them, and all they wanted to do was put their hands on me," Littleton said.
The incident began after Saginaw Mayor Carol B. Cottrell reminded audience members that men should remove their hats. Littleton, who says he was not familiar with the rule, did not remove his Los Angeles Dodgers baseball cap, prompting Officer Doug Stacer to ask Littleton to remove it.
Littleton says he asked Stacer why the rule was necessary but that neither he nor any of the council members would give him a reason.
Council member Greg Branch says he could not hear Littleton specifically asking for an explanation and that all he heard was Littleton shouting at police and council members.
"If that's what he did, there's probably a right way and a wrong way to do it," Branch said. "But from what I could see and hear, he went from zero to sixty real quick."
Branch also added that Littleton would have needed to sign up to address council, something that may have been frustrating for Littleton but is necessary to maintain order during meetings.
"If he wanted a sincere answer to that question, what he should have done is walk out with the police officer and ask," Branch said. "But he was loud and disruptive real quick."
Council member Larry Coulouris says Littleton was given every opportunity to remove his hat and that the police were not out of line.
"I thought it was handled in a fair manner," Colouris said. "He could have either removed his hat or walked out if he didn't like the idea of sitting there without it."
Littleton, though, maintains that he was provided no opportunity to be heard by anyone and that the situation escalated because police overreacted.
"If you're not going to address me as a human being and as an equal, then I don't feel the need or the duty to respect your laws and policies," Littleton said. "No one wanted to hear what I had to say. Every time I asked them a question, they would not address me."
What happened next is also being debated. Littleton says Stacer snatched the hat off his head and that when he reached back to grab it, other officers in the room who had come closer grabbed him.
A report in The Saginaw News also indicated Stacer grabbed for Littleton's hat, though Coulouris and Branch say there was too much commotion for them to see if that happened. Branch did add, however, that he would not condone such activity if it occurred.
Messages left Thursday for Stacer and Cliff were not returned.
Littleton says after the police grabbed him, he stood up and tried to pull away. It was during this struggle that Cliff's finger was broken, reportedly by a kick from Littleton.
Littleton, though, says he did not intentionally hurt anyone and that any injuries Cliff sustained resulted from him seizing after he was shocked.
"If the police chief got his finger broke, it was because the officer tasered me," Littleton said.
Coulouris says he could not tell if Littleton intentionally kicked anyone or if he was just trying to resist arrest. Branch agreed, though he said that does not justify Littleton's actions.
"Was he intentionally trying to kick someone? I don't know," Branch said. "But that doesn't matter because when the police say go somewhere, you go."
After Stacer tasered him, Littleton was carried out and taken to jail. He was released three days later on $4,500 bond.
Littleton says much of his frustration goes back to the rule itself, which he deems a violation of his civil rights.
"How dare they violate my civil liberties by denying me the right to wear what I want to wear?" Littleton said. "I'm not on trial, I'm not being punished...this is a public gathering of people from the community."
Branch says the rule was only recently put into writing only because the council had enforced it for so long and felt the need to make it official. Branch also added the rule is not unique to Saginaw City Council meetings and is a traditional practice.
"The removal of a hat is a sign of respect that has been around for several centuries," he said. "I would agree it is one of a number of things that changing times want to sweep away, but I don't know that that's necessarily a good thing."
Branch says the council would not require a man to remove his hat if he had religious reasons for wearing it.
Littleton, though, maintains his reasons for wearing his hat are just and that, as taxpayers, people have the right to attend such meetings wearing clothing that represents who they are and their culture.
"In my opinion, a form of respect is respecting your guest as is," Littleton said, "and loving them for who they are.”