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Monday, June 28, 2010

Taser, death prompt lawsuit

According to Taser International's website, "the use of a TASER device reduces the risk of injury not only to the officers involved, but the offender as well ... TASERs are among the safest use-of-force alternatives available." Undoubtedly, that is what these seven police officers had been trained to believe when they entered Mr. Brinson's hospital room as he waited in seclusion for his medication to take effect. I am sure they were as surprised as anyone when Mr. Brinson went into cardiac arrest (!!) after their use of a supposedly "safest" alternative.

June 27, 2010
Eileen Kelley, Cincinnati.com

The family of a 45-year-old psychiatric patient who died after being shocked with a Taser while restrained in the hospital filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court Monday, alleging University of Cincinnati police used excessive force on Kelly Brinson and University Hospital was negligent caring for him.

Brinson who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, delusions and other mental disorders, voluntarily submitted himself to the hospital's psychiatric unit Jan. 17.

Three days later, while still in the care of the hospital he became agitated when his cellphone, which also served as his radio, was taken from him, his family said.

Hospital staff injected a powerful drug, Haldol, to tranquilize him and placed him in a secluded room while waiting for it to take affect. Seven police, the lawsuit claims, entered the seclusion room where Brinson was positioned behind the bed and shocked him with a Taser, restrained him to the bed and shocked him again.
Brinson went into cardiac arrest and died three days later.

A state investigation into Brinson's death questioned the police response and whether it was too intense and then put the hospital on probation. That probation was lifted later this spring after the state approved the hospital's plan to correct the issues.

The seven officers, the chief of the university's police department, the hospital and its trustees are among the 16 people or institutions named in the suit.

Police failed to take the steps to calm Brinson, said Don Moore, the attorney handling the case for Brinson's family.

"Instead, they made shows of force, used escalating threats, including threatening to handcuff and (shock) him, and then further escalated the situation by rushing Brinson and using physical force," cites one of the 44 counts in the suit.

"Although Brinson had been given an injection that would soon cause him to be lethargic, (he) was heavily outnumbered, had officers restraining him and had no weapon."

For the next three days, Brinson was on a respirator. He was pronounced dead Jan. 23.

The suit claims that Brinson was first shocked in the hip area and then a second time in the upper abdomen.

Last winter, Gene Ferrara, the chief of police for the University of Cincinnati Police Department, emphatically denied that Brinson was shocked in the chest area, something Taser International suggested to police stop doing.

Ferrara said in January that officers made every possible attempt to calm Brinson before using the Taser. He said police went into the room to arrest Brinson on charges he assaulted a police officer because he had swung at a security guard. The guard was not injured.

Brinson's death led to an investigation into the hospital by the state.

On Feb. 5, the hospital's psychiatric unit was placed on probation by the Ohio Department of Mental Health.

"The department questions the intensity with which law enforcement persisted in their efforts to manage a further escalating situation despite the presence of clinical staff and the need for continued clinical intervention.

That probation status was lifted 3½ months later after a correction action plan was approved by the state agency. A copy of that plan was not readily available Monday.

Don Crouse, a hospital spokesman, said it is customary to not comment when a lawsuit is filed.

The Hamilton County Coroner's office determined Brinson died of excited delirium, a controversial diagnosis that has come under fire since the mid 1980s, and not the Taser.

Coroner O'dell Owens said excited delirium causes a person to have a higher state of agitation and strength. He said the body temperature increases as potassium levels drop drastically and people in this state usually die.

"Their body chemistry is out of whack," Owens said.

James Hardiman said what's out of whack is that the term is used at all.

"There is no reputable medical organization, doctor or coroner that recognizes anything like excited delirium," said Hardiman, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.

"That excited delirium concept was invented by certain law enforcement people for the sole purpose of protecting police officers from misconduct. They often times believe that if someone died they have to invent an excuse and seldom is the explanation that simply the police were wrong."

Police, Hardiman said, should be responsible for their conduct the same as anyone else.

The university's police chief was not available for comment.

The suit seeks an unspecified amount of money.

Moore, the attorney, said the ultimate goal of the family is to seek a change in policy. "We don't want to see any mental health patient (shocked) and handcuffed.

Brenda Brinson, the dead man's sister, was too shaken to attend the press briefing in Moore's Anderson Township law office Monday.

"She is still having nightmares," Moore said.

1 comment:

RustyShackleford said...

Really, I hope police departments become far more conservative in their use of tasers.

Tasers serve a useful purpose, but so does a police officer's gun. That doesn't mean either of those things should be used willy-nilly.