[sc_embed_player fileurl=”http://blog.cleveland.com/metro/2010/12/lawsuits_target_use_of_taser_e.html”>By Leila Atassi, The Plain Dealer
Two lawsuits filed this week in federal district court charge that law enforcement officers in Trumbull County and Painesville used excessive force when firing Tasers — causing severe and permanent brain damage to one man and contributing to the death of another.
Attorney David Malik, who filed the suits Tuesday, argue in both that the officers were overly aggressive and poorly trained to use the weapon, which sends an electrical current through its subject, disrupting muscle control.
Malik also accused the officers of ignoring manufacturer warnings about the dangers of electroshock devices. Prolonged or multiple shocks, using the weapon against an unhealthy person or shocking someone directly in the chest all elevate the risk of serious injury, the complaint says.
Neither Painesville nor Trumbull County officials could be reached for comment on the suits Thursday.
In the case against the City of Painesville, police had gone in June to the home of plaintiff David Nall, 37, responding to calls that a party he and his wife were hosting had gotten too loud. Nall promised to quiet his guests, and the police left.
The officers later returned, however, saying they had come to arrest Nall for complaints of disorderly conduct.
According to the lawsuit, this is what happened next:
The officers pushed their way into the apartment and fired a Taser on Nall.
The weapon was set to “probe mode,” which allows it to fire two barbs from a distance of up to 25 feet and send a continuous electric shock through its target. The barbs struck Nall directly in the chest, and the officers shocked him for 21 consecutive seconds. The manufacturer recommends limiting a shock to five seconds, Malik said.
While Nall lay on the floor, convulsing, frothing at the mouth and curled into a fetal position with his eyes rolled back in his head, police commanded him to submit to an arrest.
They shocked him again when he didn’t respond and dragged him into the hallway. Officers also arrested Nall’s frantic wife, the complaint says.
Neither Nall nor his wife were prosecuted for a crime. And Nall, who had suffered cardiac arrest, remained at Hillcrest Hospital for many weeks, Malik said. Today, his motor behavior, thought processes, speech and memory are impaired, Malik said.
In the case against Trumbull County, Kurt Platzer, who was an alcoholic, had been convicted of drunken driving in July 2008 and placed on probation. But the next summer, he showed up to a court hearing intoxicated and was sentenced to 30 days in the Trumbull County Jail.
Platzer, 32, almost immediately began to experience severe withdrawal symptoms while in custody — seizures, high blood pressure and hallucinations. The jail staff treated him with medication meant to take the edge off the detoxification process. But Platzer was housed with the jail’s general population, rather than a cell appropriate for medical observation, Malik argues in the complaint, which he filed on behalf of Platzer’s family.
The seizures worsened, and Platzer suffered a cut to his face and internal injuries that caused him to bleed from his mouth. Platzer was taken to the medical unit, where he was cleaned up and given medicine before he was returned to a general population cell, the suit says.
Platzer’s withdrawal symptoms progressed, and in a state of delirium he banged his head violently against a wall without intervention from the jail staff. The next day, a confused and incoherent Platzer was found, soaked in his urine, with blood trickling from his nose and ear — a symptom of a fractured skull, the suit says.
When Platzer failed to comply with orders to lie face down on his bunk, an officer shocked him with a Taser, according to the complaint. Less than three hours later, Platzer stopped breathing, without ever having been examined by an actual physician.
A coroner ruled that Platzer had died from head trauma but noted that his death could have been “caused by an unlawful act or criminal negligence.”
Malik argues the Taser assault could have contributed to the death, because Platzer’s blood pressure was elevated and his health already was compromised by alcohol withdrawal.
In both the case against Painesville and the wrongful death suit against Trumbull County, Malik has requested his clients be awarded compensation and punitive damages in unspecified amounts.
“There is no excuse for not training these officers better,” Malik said in an interview Thursday. “Tasing someone for 21 seconds or while he is in police custody with multiple people standing around — it’s outrageous. An officer’s authority does not permit the excessive use of force.”