Family Wins $10 Million In Taser Case
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The Boston Herald via YellowBrix
July 21, 2011
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Taser International must pay $10 million to the family of a Charlotte teenager who died in 2008 after being shocked by a police officer — the biggest jury award ever against the company.
The lawyers for Darryl Turner’s parents said Wednesday the federal jury found that Taser International failed to warn that discharging its Taser into the chest of a suspect near the heart poses a substantial risk of cardiac arrest. The company’s animal studies, they said, demonstrated the risk.
John Burton, lead counsel for Turner’s parents, Devoid Turner and Tammy Lou Fontenot, said Taser International has been irresponsible in representing the safety of its products.
“Hopefully, this verdict will sound the alarm to police officers around the world that firing these weapons into the chests of people should be avoided,” said Burton, whose law offices are in Pasadena, Calif. “No other family should have to endure the tragedy that the Turner and Fontenot families have experienced.”
Taser International sought to convince the jury that Turner, 17, had a medical condition that can lead to sudden cardiac arrest in young adults. The company’s lawyers also presented evidence about a U.S. Justice Department study, released in May, which said current research does not support a substantially increased risk of cardiac arrhythmia even if the Taser darts strike the front of the chest.
The company’s lawyers intend to appeal the verdict.
Darryl Turner died in March 2008 after being shocked with a Taser by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Officer Jerry Dawson Jr. at a Food Lion grocery store in north Charlotte.
Turner, who worked at the store, died from cardiac arrest. The autopsy showed the teenager’s heart was pumping so fast and chaotically from the Taser shot and stress from the confrontation that it stopped pumping blood properly. The autopsy found no pre-existing heart problems.
Dawson was not charged with any crime. Prosecutors said the officer was justified in using the Taser during the confrontation with Turner, who was found with three small bags of marijuana in his socks after the incident.
Dawson was suspended for five days without pay and required to undergo additional training. Police said Dawson had violated policy when he shocked Turner with the Taser gun for about 37 seconds. Dawson held the trigger until Turner fell to the floor, according to police.
The city of Charlotte paid $625,000 to Turner’s family in 2009, though the city denied wrongdoing. It was the largest police-related claim the city had paid out in nearly a decade.
City Attorney Mac McCarley told the The Charlotte Observer Wednesday that the city will continue to use Tasers.
“It is still a very effective, nonlethal force to control a situation,” McCarley said. After Turner’s death, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police mandated additional training for all officers on the proper use of Tasers and other electronic control devices, said spokesman Rob Tufano. The training “emphasized that repeated and prolonged deployment and exposure of the device is a strict violation of department policy,” Tufano said. Police also trained personnel to look for other areas of the body to target with Tasers, such as the lower abdomen and upper leg.