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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

City settles for $2 million over man's death

May 18, 2010
By ANGELA K. BROWN / Associated Press

The Fort Worth City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a $2 million settlement with the family of a mentally ill man whose death after police used a Taser to subdue him was ruled a homicide.

The officer who used the Taser was not disciplined by the department or indicted, and the city admits no wrongdoing in the settlement deal with relatives of Michael Patrick Jacobs Jr.

"From the onset of the tragedy, so many lives have been impacted ... but not any more so than this young man and his still grieving family," said City Councilwoman Kathleen Hicks, adding that the council and police "care deeply."

"Hopefully with this settlement, which will avoid a long trial, we as a city can begin the process of reconciliation and dialogue," she said.

Jacobs' family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, which doesn't limit the amount a city could be forced to pay, unlike cases filed in state court.

The lawsuit was never about money but about holding the police accountable, and the family now wants to move forward, said the Rev. Kyev Tatum, a Jacobs family spokesman.

"We think this will bring the family some relief, but there's no dollar amount (for someone's life)," Tatum said Tuesday after the council's vote. "It sends a message ... that the city of Fort Worth is taking a giant step forward."

He said his group, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, is still working to stop all law enforcement agencies from using Tasers. He said Taser guns should not be used under any circumstance, and that police instead should be trained in other methods of subduing mentally ill suspects — and should use deadly force only if an officer's life is threatened.

Police Chief Jeff Halstead declined to comment Tuesday. Last fall he said his officers still used Tasers and would receive more training on use-of-force and handling situations with mentally ill or emotionally disturbed suspects.

Police Lt. Paul Henderson said Tuesday that officers have already begun that training.

On that day about a year ago, Jacobs' family called police to their Fort Worth home to report a disturbance and said the 24-year-old had not taken his medication for bipolar disorder.

Although a Taser is designed to deliver a 5-second charge of up to 50,000 volts of electricity, Jacobs was shocked for 49 seconds and then for 5 seconds, according to the autopsy report.

An autopsy concluded that the primary cause of death was "sudden death during neuromuscular incapacitation due to application of a conducted energy device." No traces of alcohol or drugs, electrolyte imbalances, or signs of heart or lung disease were found — all of which can be contributing factors in a death.

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