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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Family of teen killed by Taser shock sues gun maker - Suit accuses Taser of failing to tell officers about danger of using device near chests

March 17, 2010
By Cleve R. Wootson Jr., Charlotte Observer

The family of a teenager killed after he was shocked with a Taser by a police officer in 2008 is suing the company that makes the electronic stun gun.

The civil suit, filed in federal court on Tuesday, says Taser International didn't warn its customers that the weapon could be lethal if deployed near the chest, which happened in Darryl Wayne Turner's case.

The suit, which does not list a specific monetary amount, says Turner's death could have been prevented if Taser International had also instructed police departments using the device to keep defibrillators nearby.

Turner, 17, died March 20, 2008, after a confrontation with police at a Food Lion store on Prosperity Church Road where Turner had worked.

After mediation, Officer Jerry Dawson was suspended for five days without pay and required to undergo additional training. The city of Charlotte paid $625,000 to Turner's family in August 2009, though the city didn't admit wrongdoing.

It was the largest police-related claim the city had paid out in nearly a decade, and the family's attorney, Ron Harris, indicated then that there could be additional litigation.

Tuesday's suit against Taser points to a 2006 study funded by the company that concluded that users should avoid discharging the Taser in the chest area. The suit alleges that company didn't warn its users to avoid shocking people in the chest.

"There was a wealth of information, from our perspective, available to Taser that indicated that there was an inherent problem related to deploying the Taser to the chest area," Harris said. "Despite the wealth of information available, they failed to warn their customers and those using the Tasers of the dangers."

Taser International could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

Tasers use compressed nitrogen to shoot two tethered needlelike probes that penetrate skin and deliver an electric shock. The weapon is designed to subdue a person temporarily. CMPD has used the devices since 2004, including in the March 2008 incident involving Turner.

According to court documents, police were called after the store manager asked Turner to leave and he refused. Store surveillance video showed Turner at the customer service desk, knocking over a display and throwing an umbrella. He then moved closer to a store manager and employee, at one point raising his arm and pointing at the manager.

Later, the soundless video shows Officer Dawson entering the store with a Taser in his hand. Dawson approached Turner with the Taser pointed at him. Turner took a step toward the officer, and police say that's when Dawson fired the Taser. Turner continued to walk past the officer with the Taser probes in his chest.

Police later determined that Dawson violated department policy by holding the Taser's trigger for about 37 seconds, until Turner fell to the ground. Turner died from cardiac arrest.

An autopsy showed the teenager's heart was pumping so fast and chaotically from the stress of the confrontation and the Taser shot that it stopped pumping blood properly.

According to the CMPD report on the incident, a review board "determined that the initial decision to discharge the Taser was within our procedures, but the prolonged use of the Taser was not."

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