Stella Case No. 062, Originally Published: 13 August 2003
Doris Reynolds, the food columnist for the Naples Daily News newspaper in Florida, apparently has a lot of personal problems. So much so that she has been seeking advice and guidance from the same newspaper’s “spiritual advice” columnist, Angela Passidomo Trafford.
Since 1999, Reynolds has been getting “spiritual self-healing treatment” from Trafford, and got spiritual advice from her for three years before that. In those seven or so years, Reynolds says, she paid Trafford between $2 million and $3 million for her services.
Reynolds says she paid Trafford $500,000 last year alone, and the “spiritual healing sessions” were spent talking, meditating and drawing. The two women met up to seven days a week for their 4–5 hour sessions, for which Reynolds paid $190 per hour at the start, a fee that eventually hit $380 per hour.
But in April 2003, she alleges, things got ugly. She says Trafford “demanded” $150,000 for future services. When Reynolds said she didn’t have that much cash, Trafford visited her at home and “demanded” a check for $95,000, marked as a “gift” so that “she wouldn’t have to pay income tax” on the money.
Reynolds wrote the check, but “it was under extreme duress,” she says. “She said she would not come back and treat me unless I gave her that money.” Reynolds says she “needed help” to deal with depression, anxiety, stress, and an unhappy marriage. “I became dependent on her,” she says. But Trafford “terminated her treatment” a month after the $95,000 payment “without explanation or reason.”
Well, if your spiritual advisor fails you, where do you turn? To your legal advisor.
Reynolds has sued Trafford in Collier County Circuit Court for at least $1 million, accusing her of constructive fraud, unjust enrichment and civil theft. Further, the suit alleges Trafford received payment for services she never provided, and that Trafford “intentionally misrepresented to Reynolds that she was a messenger of God and Reynolds needed to pay her.”
“I have always tried to find spiritual solutions in my life,” she said. “I trusted her. This is not easy for me. I’m not doing this for money. I’m doing this because I think people should be accountable for the harm they cause me.”
“There’s no truth in this,” Trafford says. “It’s just an unbelievable situation.” In her formal response to the lawsuit, she denied all charges and said the $95,000 was, indeed, a gift.
As for the Daily News, Managing Editor William Blanton says he plans to continue to run both women’s columns. But let’s hope they’re not on the same page.
- “Food Columnist Suing Spiritual Advice Columnist for More than $1m”, Naples Daily News, 25 July 2003.
Reynolds won after a jury trial — but not millions. In 2009 she was awarded $218,442. Even though the newspaper has an extensive archive, no other details were found.
Thankfully, one of my thoughts was borne out: the newspaper ran Reynolds’ column on Wednesdays; Trafford’s on Sundays. Reynolds was at the Daily News for 26 years. She died November 17, 2017, at 92. Trafford is still doing spiritual healing, and is 74.
- “Daily News’ Food Columnist Named Naples’ Historian”, Naples Daily News, 14 June 2006.
- “Longtime Naples Historian and Food Columnist Doris Reynolds Dies at 92”, Naples Daily News, 21 November 2017.
My 2021 Thoughts on the Case
Readers — especially journalists, who are intimately familiar with the low wages paid at newspapers — wondered where a columnist would get $2–3 million to pay for “spiritual counseling” alone. The only clue I could find was that was one of the problems she went to the spiritualist for was help for her “unhappy marriage.” I’m guessing there’s a positive feedback loop involved there….
There was quite a bit of mail about the California cop who meant to TASER a handcuffed arrestee in the back of her patrol car, but accidentally drew her Glock pistol and shot him in the chest instead, killing him. The deceased’s family’s lawsuit against the city wasn’t the subject of the Stella Award, the suit of the city against TASER International was, because “any reasonable police officer” could make the same mistake.
Pete, a volunteer Emergency Medical Technician (who has “worked along side law enforcement officers for over 20 years”) in Wisconsin: “If an officer can’t tell the difference [between a gun and a taser], by feel no less, they shouldn’t be carrying any weapons at all! A Taser is much lighter and has a different grip than a pistol, regardless of caliber. If they can’t tell the difference by feel, how do they know which one they’ve drawn in a dark environment? ‘Gee, my officer couldn’t tell the difference so it must be the manufacturer at fault. It couldn’t have anything to do with training, officer familiarity with their own weapons, or a severe over-reaction followed by extremely poor judgment by the officer.’
“I can’t believe (yes, I can in our litigious society) that the officer wasn’t held responsible and charged with a crime. Too often we read stories about officers who use excessive force, which is then disregarded by the reviewing authorities. We take bus drivers off the street who are color blind because they may cause injury or death, but we don’t remove police officers who can’t tell the difference between a lethal weapon and a tool for subduing an unruly suspect. What’s wrong with this picture? It is a sad commentary about our society that a government agency admits guilt, but refuses to act by charging the person committing the action while looking for deep pockets to cover their liability. The deep pockets should end at city hall, not at some manufacturer who has no control over the quality of the workforce using their tool. To imply otherwise is simply, and completely, stupid.”
Alex, a Coast Guard officer in Virginia: “I was so amazed by this latest issue that I had to read the first few paragraphs a couple of times before I would believe what I had read. Is it the position of the city that a police officer who has the suspect handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser can’t take the time (most likely no more than 10 seconds) to be sure whether she has drawn her firearm or not? I cannot imagine anyone not accepting anything but full responsibility for making a rash decision in a situation that does not require one. Mistakes in the heat of the moment when lives are immediately on the line are regrettable but more understandable. This situation does not come close to that.”
Actually, if distinguishing between her weapons took anywhere near 10 seconds, I’d call her incompetent. But then, she has already proved that by accidentally killing her prisoner.
Ken in Connecticut: “I just have one teeny correction to the end of your report, which read ‘his death is a tragic accident…’. That should be changed to, ‘his death is the tragic result of police incompetence.’ That officer’s life was certainly not in danger, at least not the way it’s described in the report. I’ve fired many handguns in my life and they do *not* resemble Tasers in look or feel. For the two to be confused is unimaginable. That cop should be charged with involuntary manslaughter, at the very least. She certainly should not be allowed to remain on the police force. The victim’s family probably doesn’t deserve $10 million, but they deserve to win their wrongful death case and receive an award.”
To be clear, the Stella was awarded only to the officer and the city for filing their suit against Taser; the family’s wrongful death suit is not Stella material, even if the amount they’re asking seems high.
But Joel in Minnesota disagrees: “Take a look at the Taser M26 Law Enforcement edition [it was pictured with the case repost]. Tasers are not built like an electric shaver anymore. They’re built to look and act like a real gun so that the time it takes officers to become comfortable and proficient in using the weapon becomes much shorter. Less hesitation to use the Taser means that situations become diffused much earlier and don’t get a chance to escalate to lethal force. Officers don’t like using messy pepper spray as it often creates a cloud that gets all over more than the subject you intended to hit. You especially don’t want to use pepper spray in the back of your patrol car or you’ll never be able to drive it again. A skunk would be easier to clean up after.
Additionally, considering the plastic grips that are in use on the Glock, Sig Sauer and some Beretta pistols (all of which are popular amongst law enforcement), you can see how easy it could be to mistakenly grab your firearm. I agree that Taser is partially to blame. Currently the folks at Taser train the officers to point and shoot at the first opportunity rather than use the baton or any other device that could ‘leave a mark’. As Taser devices are being used more and more, the onus is upon them to train officers on how to properly use the Taser. Their failure to train the officers on how to easily and quickly distinguish their firearm from the Taser, in situations of great duress, leaves them partially responsible.”
I disagree with Joel on a couple of grounds: first, the situation at hand was not one of “great duress” — the suspect was handcuffed in the back of the officer’s patrol car. Second, training should be the responsibility of the police department, not equipment vendors. Joel is correct that not all Tasers look like an electric shaver these days.
The image on the case page [which was not included in text newsletters in 2003] shows the law enforcement model used. It does look somewhat like a 9mm pistol (not counting the yellow side markings to distinguish it from a firearm). Another from their web site, however, looks like something out of Star Trek. In both cases, though, the devices’ triggers are very different from those on handguns.
Let’s hear from someone who carries such weapons:
Mariano in Minnesota, a commercial and residential security officer: “As a gun owner and competitive shooter who also carries (in addition to a handgun) a Taser at work, I must say that Officer Noriega’s defense is at best disingenuous and at worst evidence of a) incompetence, b) negligence on the part of her department, or c) all of the above. If Noriega had spent any meaningful amount of time at the range practicing with her pistol, and a similar amount practicing with her Taser, she would know by feel the difference between the two. Tasers are designed to handle just like a pistol, so that officers need less training on the weapon. HOWEVER, the weight, balance, and overall feel of the Taser and a service handgun are very different. Practicing with both weapons, to include not only marksmanship but weapon retention, deployment, and ‘holster work’, would have prevented this.
Sadly, many departments, especially in states with active attorney populations, have cut back on weapons training for two reasons: One, they have to make time for Cultural Awareness Class, Sensitivity Training, and the like. Two, when the officer’s on the stand, they don’t want the plaintiff’s attorney painting the Department as training cold blooded trigger-happy killers. As a result, instead of teaching competence with duty weapons (after all, statistically you’ll never use them), they allow incompetence and ignorance, leaving the officers to train themselves at their leisure. Had officer Noriega been properly trained — and retrained, and retrained, and retested, and given advanced training — Torres would still be alive.”
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