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The Strange Career of Dr. Richard Carmona

Dr. Taser / Mr. Clorox

by DARWIN BOND-GRAHAM

On November 16 about two-hundred and fifty Oaklanders convened a general assembly in the city’s central square, Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza. It was yet another experiment in direct democracy, one of many public meetings held since the city’s encampment was established a month earlier. Buoyed by a massive march to UC Berkeley’s campus the day before, Oakland’s occupiers floated proposals to guide the movement’s next steps.

A national day of action against the coordinated police crackdown on various occupy encampments around the nation received 90% of votes. An occupation of a park on 19th and Telegraph got another 90% of votes cast. Before adjourning, the assembly opened the floor to general announcements. Protesters from San Francisco spoke last. They were worried the police were coming for them again, armed with batons and pepper spray. “Please come help us defend ourselves,” they asked. Taking this into consideration, the Occupiers adjourned.

Just a block away on the same day another kind of “assembly” was taking place, the Clorox Company’s annual shareholders meeting held in the corporation’s office tower at 1221 Broadway. While a contractor tallied proxy votes, Clorox’s executives, directors, and representatives of its major shareholders huddled to chart their future.

Clorox’s board of directors was re-elected. It’s directors in turn recommended a package of executive compensation for the year ahead. Chair and CEO Don Knauss was paid $9.1 million. VP Lawrence Peiros was approved for $2.9 million in pay and stock. Most of the other executives received similar seven figure packages.

It’s likely that Clorox’s leadership also talked about the Occupy encampment, rallies, and assemblies occurring just steps outside their building. It’s quite likely they had been worrying if the protests would disrupt their annual meeting. Clorox, like other major corporations with offices in Oakland, is a member of the Oakland Chamber of Commerce, one of several business organizations that had pressured the Mayor to send in the cops on a mission to violently evict the movement.

On the Clorox committee making recommendations regarding compensation is one “Dr.” Richard H. Carmona. Carmona has been a board member of the Oakland-based Clorox since 2007. In that time he has been paid several hundred thousand in fees, and has obtained an option on upwards of 7,000 shares in the company. Carmona is a wealthy man.

Guiding aspects of Clorox’s corporate decision making is only one of Carmona’s jobs, however. He’s much more involved in a different company headquartered in his home state of Arizona.

Dr. Carmona joined the board of Taser International in the same year he joined Clorox. Not coincidentally, that was just after he left office as the 17th Surgeon General of the United States under the administration of George W. Bush. Taser International is what you think it is; the company that makes and sells the electronic guns popularly known by their most famous brand name. Taser’s biggest customers are police departments.

According to various accounts, Carmona joined the Army in 1967, just as the Vietnam War was getting hot. He quickly became a member of the Army Special Forces known as the Green Berets, and learned medicine by treating fellow soldiers in the battlefield. After the war —in which he became a highly decorated combat veteran— he attended medical school, earning a bachelors degree from UCSF in 1979. Carmona’s early medical career was spent mostly as a nurse and paramedic.

In 1986 Carmona joined the Pima County Sheriff’s Office where he would become a leader of the SWAT team, and also worked as a police medic. Carmona killed in the line of duty in 1999, shooting a mentally ill man who fired at him. The deceased had reportedly killed his father earlier that day with a knife.

In Pima County, Carmona served in different management roles in the healthcare system while working as a cop. Lacking the advanced research and education that such jobs require, he obtained a Masters in Public Health from the University of Arizona in 1998.

It was out of this context, somewhat out of the blue, that George W. Bush nominated Carmona for the post of Surgeon General in 2002. Physicians from the University of Arizona Medical School, where Carmona lectured, even criticized the nomination. Against Carmona’s confirmation, Dr. Charles Putnam wrote to Senator Ted Kennedy saying the nominee’s work as a sheriff’s deputy was in direct conflict with his oath as a doctor to do no harm. Putnam concluded that Carmona’s “panache in the face of objective danger has on occasion overwhelmed his identity as a physician.” Even so, Carmona was eventually confirmed, and by some reports was competent in office, even emerging as a critic of the Bush administration after his departure.

As a board member of Taser International Carmona sits at that table with other retired military officers and representatives of major investors, some who specialize in investing in weapons manufacturing companies. In 2010 Carmona was paid $30,000 in fees and given another $58,000 in stock options as compensation by the company. All told he owns about 25,000 shares of Taser International stock.

In the world of corporate governance Carmona is considered an “independent” director of Taser because he is not an official employee, and because his equity stake is less than 1% of outstanding shares. Nevertheless, Carmona has a stake in the company’s fortunes. His compensation there is ultimately linked to how many Tasers the company sells.

It should come as no surprise to readers that the Oakland Police Department is a major customer of Taser International. According to the OPD’s 2010 Training Section Report, the department currently owns and fields 530 model X-26 Tasers. The City Council authorized purchasing most of these weapons in 2008 with $645,000, and tacked on an appropriation of another $55,000 every subsequent year for training and other costs associated with fielding them. The Oakland City Council even chose to waive the normal competitive bid process, apparently because Carmona’s company, Taser International is the only authorized distributor of the weapons in California.

In Taser International’s 2010 annual report the company notes that one of its primary problems is the possibility that local governments will not buy their X-26 weapons, which account for the bulk of sales revenues. The company states:

“Most of our end-user customers are government agencies. These agencies often do not set their own budgets and therefore, have limited control over the amount of money they can spend. In addition, these agencies experience political pressure that may dictate the manner in which they spend money. As a result, even if an agency wants to acquire our products, it may be unable to purchase them due to budgetary or political constraints.”

In the case of Oakland, neither the city’s dire fiscal situation, nor widespread opposition within the community scuttled the 2008 Taser deal. Officers wielded Tasers during the several evictions of Occupy Oakland.

In March of 2010 San Francisco’s Police Commission again rejected spending upwards of $1 million to outfit officers with Taser weapons.

The Pima County Sheriff’s Department, Carmona’s old stomping grounds, is a Taser International customer.

Darwin Bond-Graham is a sociologist who splits his time between New Orleans, Albuquerque, and Navarro, CA. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press.
He can be reached at:darwin@riseup.net