Cops and Shootings and Tasers, Oh My!

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Remember the Wizard of Oz and the saying, "lions and tigers and bears, oh my!" The implication was that the three were very scary. Equally scary are cops, shootings and tasers. Tasers are considered to be the "less than lethal alternative" to what... guns? The reason I ask that question is because I have been hearing about countless situations, where tasers are used, that would not have warranted lethal force. From drunk fans running onto playing fields to individuals resisting arrest, the taser has become the method of choice for law enforcement when faced with a less than cooperative suspect. Twenty-four police agencies in Maryland are using tasers and, as of 2009, they have been used over 1,400 times. Ten deaths have resulted from the use of tasers. Recently, I had a client, a 5-3, 100 lbs, eighteen year old girl, tell me that Prince George's County Police Officers barged into her house and entered her bedroom because of a reported 911 call from her residence. One of the officers threatened her with a taser as she hid under her bed sheets. Prince George's County Police Officers are of course the same law enforcement officers that shot two Labrador Retrievers while conducting a raid at the wrong address.

lions.jpgThis week a Baltimore jury decided that a Frederick County sheriff's deputy was not liable for a man's death in November 2007. The case was a wrongful-death lawsuit which is a civil trial. The $145 million wrongful-death lawsuit was filed in 2008 by the Frederick man's family against Frederick County, the sheriff and the deputy. The Frederick County attorney contended that what happened was not the fault of the county or deputy and that the sheriff's deputy used his taser appropriately. The county attorney's contention was based on his claim that there was no medical evidence or medical opinion showing that the tasing caused the man's death. The medical examiner ruled the cause of death to be undetermined, but said the death resulted from restraint and alcohol intoxication. In fact, defense attorneys argued that the death resulted from an irregular heartbeat caused by unaccustomed binge drinking.

The plaintiff's attorneys argued that excessive force was used and that the man was obeying officer's commands. According to the wrongful-death lawsuit, the Frederick County man was not committing any crime when the officer arrived. The deputy was responding to a noise complaint and found three men in an altercation. The deputy claimed that he tased the deceased individual because he did not show his hands. Ultimately, the jury ruled that the officer used only enough force to protect himself. The jury forewoman told reporters that the jury found, "It was not an intentional act and it was not a wrongful act buy the officer to do what he did". The family was seeking $145 million in damages for wrongful death, use of excessive force and violation of civil rights. The family of the deceased man may appeal. I am not so sure the jury reached the right decision in this Frederick County injury case. However, I am sure that juries throughout Maryland and Virginia will soon be presented with personal injury claims resulting from cops, shootings and tasers.

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