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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Family files $145 million lawsuit in Taser-related death

May 29, 2008
Keith L. Martin, Maryland Community Newspapers Online

The family of the late Jarrel Gray has filed a $145 million lawsuit against Frederick County, Sheriff Chuck Jenkins and Corp. Rudy Torres for the Taser-related death of the 20-year-old in November. Ted Williams, the attorney who represents the Gray family, announced today that he filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt a day earlier on behalf of Gray's parents, Jeffrey Gray and Tanya Thomas.
The case seeks damages for seven counts, including wrongful death, police brutality⁄excessive force, deprivation of civil rights, and negligent training and supervision.

‘‘From everything we've been able to see ... there has been a cover-up from the beginning,” Williams said, standing in front of the Asbury United Methodist Church in Frederick.

Greg Lattimer, Williams' co-counsel, said the family did not name Taser International, the manufacturer of the less-lethal device, because it was not on the scene that night nor responsible for how the Taser was used.

‘‘We have named the people we believe are directly responsible for the death of young Mr. Gray,” he said. ‘‘What [Torres] did was unconscionable. ... [Taser International] didn't tell the man to use it wrongfully and on a helpless individual.”

On May 9, a Frederick County grand jury found Torres justified in his actions, following the presentation of an investigation by the Frederick Police Department into the circumstances surrounding Gray's death.

Included in that presentation was an autopsy from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore, which could not determine the manner of Gray's death.

The medical examiner said the cause of Gray's death was a combination of the method of restraint, in this case the Taser, alcohol intoxication, and Gray's anatomical unique makeup.

Jenkins (R) has said that an internal investigation by his office's internal affairs division also found Torres justified in his use of force on the night of Nov. 18, 2007. Early that morning, Torres, a 13-year veteran of the Sheriff's Office, responded to a call of a fight on Gresham Court East in Frederick.

According to the Sheriff's Office, Torres ordered the men who were fighting to stop, and when Gray did not comply, Torres fired a pair of five-second jolts of electricity from his X26 Taser.

Gray was taken to Frederick Memorial Hospital, where he died nearly two hours later.

Torres is scheduled to return to active duty in the near future, Jenkins recently told The Gazette, after being on administrative leave since the incident. Jenkins did not immediately return a phone call this morning for comment and to see if Torres has returned to active duty.

During a nearly hour-long press conference, Williams challenged Jenkins' account, from his claims Torres was alone on the scene at the time the Taser was used to how Gray acted toward the deputy.

He also questioned the information presented to the grand jury by Frederick County State's Attorney Charlie Smith, asking why he did not subpoena witnesses to testify rather than rely on their interviews with police.

Smith has previously said that that those interviews were enough, and that members of the grand jury could have requested additional witnesses if they felt it was necessary.

One of the men with Gray that night, 22-year-old Charles Kahiga of Frederick, said Torres exited his vehicle with the Taser in hand, and that three or four other police cars were on the scene.

‘‘Nobody was fighting. We were standing around talking,” Kahiga said. ‘‘...'Get on the ground' was the only thing [Torres] said before he used the Taser. ... The second time [he used the device] Jarrel was unconscious.”

Kahiga said that Gray did not address Torres, and did not make actions that would threaten the deputy.

Jenkins has previously said that Gray walked away from Torres with his hands in his pants' pockets while cursing at him. Gray then turned toward Torres with his hands in his pants' pockets, causing Torres to feel threatened and fire his Taser.

‘‘For the future, we want the police to think twice before they wrongfully murder someone's child and turn around and cover it up,” Jeffrey Gray said.

Gray's mother, Tanya Thomas, said Torres could have brought Jarrel home and knocked on the door to talk to her about the incident, something he had done a year and a half prior to Nov. 18 regarding an alleged punch Jarrel threw at a young woman.

At that time, Thomas said, Torres talked to her and her son for an hour, calling Jarrel a ‘‘good kid” and advising him that hanging out with the wrong crowd was not for him.

‘‘Then he [Torres] was the one to take my son,” Thomas said, indicating she thought Torres was making a point by subduing the young man with his Taser that night.

Williams said he has requested copies of the investigations by Frederick Police and the Sheriff's Office, and that more information will come to light at trial.

‘‘No investigation can bring Jarrel Gray back,” Williams said. ‘‘All we can do ... is get to the truth of what happened here.”

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