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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Colorado man's family allowed to pursue lawsuit against Taser International

March 30, 2010
By Vanessa Miller, Boulder Daily Camera

Judge rejects request to throw out the case filed by parents of Ryan Wilson

A wrongful-death lawsuit filed by the parents of a Boulder man who died after a Lafayette police officer shot him with a stun gun can move ahead to trial after a federal judge rejected Taser International's request to throw out the case.

Ryan Wilson, 22, died Aug. 4, 2006, after being stunned by a Taser while running from Lafayette police, who were investigating a report of marijuana plants growing in the area. The Boulder County Coroner's Office ruled that Wilson died of an irregular heartbeat caused by a combination of the exertion from running, the Taser shock and a heart condition present since birth.

The stun-gun company denied the Taser caused his death. It argued that there's no proof the Taser properly connected to Wilson in the first place, while also arguing that the device worked appropriately by immediately incapacitating him.

U.S. District Court Judge Philip A. Brimmer, in a written order filed Tuesday, accused the company of trying to "have its cake and eat it too."

"The court is satisfied that a jury, relying upon the evidence of what occurred upon the discharge of the Taser and the expert testimony .., could conclude that the Taser contributed to Mr. Wilson's death," he wrote.

Wilson's parents, Wendy and Jack Wilson, filed separate lawsuits against Taser International, the Lafayette Police Department, Chief Paul Schultz and officer John Harris, who shot Wilson with the Taser.

Taser International officials and Chief Schultz didn't return calls from the Camera on Tuesday.

The lawsuits, which were combined in 2008, allege that Taser makes a defective product and that officials don't warn customers; that Harris used excessive force; and that Lafayette police and Chief Schultz should have better managed Harris based on previous issues.

Harris also was accused of using excessive force with a Taser in 2005, when he and another officer subdued a drunk-driving suspect who tried to hit and kick them, according to a police report.

Lafayette police and officer Harris have denied the allegations and also requested the case be thrown out.

Those requests are still pending, but Wendy Wilson's attorney, Mike Thomson, said he's "very confident the claims will survive."

Jack Wilson said he's "very optimistic" as well.

"My counsel is waiting to set up a trial date and get this thing set for trial as soon as possible," he said. "There is plenty of evidence to show that the Taser was either the sole cause or partly the cause of my son's death."

In the end, Wilson said, his primary hope is to achieve justice and spread the message of the dangers of Tasers.

"We want to make it public that Tasers can be lethal if not used properly," he said, "and we want to discourage the use of Tasers throughout the country."

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