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Saturday, May 07, 2011

Deputy who refused Taser shock has lawsuit dismissed

Attorney Daniel Lapointe Kent: "A great injustice has been done," Kent said. "It doesn't make sense to require someone to go through what can only be characterized as some kind of dangerous rite of passage."

We agree.

May 7, 2011
Robert Annis, IndyStar

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a former deputy who said he was wrongly fired by the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department after refusing to receive a shock from a Taser.

Ray Robert sought reinstatement, back wages and punitive damages, saying a back condition led him to refuse mandatory training that included a one- to five-second jolt from the stun gun.

U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson disagreed, saying in her ruling earlier this week that Taser exposure "does not result in long-term damage and teaches deputies first-hand the effects of the Taser . . . that might otherwise be abused."

She added, "Its unique nature justifies specialized education and training that can be done with little risk of injury during training."

Robert's attorney, Daniel Lapointe Kent, said he would appeal.

"A great injustice has been done," Kent said. "It doesn't make sense to require someone to go through what can only be characterized as some kind of dangerous rite of passage."

Tasers temporarily incapacitate suspects by delivering five seconds of 50,000 volts of low-amperage electricity through two barbs shot into the body from up to 21 feet away.

Hamilton County requires all deputies to carry Tasers, including civil deputies such as Robert who serve court papers and generally are not directly involved with law enforcement.

Police agencies often maintain that it's important for officers to experience the Taser's shock so they will show restraint in using the device. Most training programs give officers the choice of being shot with the barbs or receiving a shorter jolt through a pair of alligator clips attached to a pant leg.

Robert, who filed the lawsuit in 2009, said two doctors, including one chosen by the Sheriff's Department, advised him against receiving the shock. He feared the electrical jolt and ensuing muscle spasms could further injure a damaged vertebra and a metal plate in his back.

When Robert refused, then-Sheriff Doug Carter offered him a job in the control room at the Hamilton County Jail.

Robert, who had retired as a merit deputy in 2007 and was earning a pension in addition to his salary as a civil deputy, refused the new job. Carter fired him in December 2008.

"It wasn't a 'reasonable accommodation' as required by law," Kent said. "The control room (in the jail) is where they send people in trouble, where employees sit in front of a computer screen all day.

"It's much different than being outside in a patrol car serving papers."

But Magnus-Stinson said the Taser exposure was "essential to the role of civil deputy process server . . . (and) Robert's inability to participate in the training and, consequentially his inability to use a Taser, render him unable to perform his essential job functions."

She added that Robert's back and other physical ailments would actually make him better suited for the control room job offered by Carter.

Sheriff's Maj. Tom Gelhausen said Friday that of 200 deputies and employees who had the training, only one reported an injury when the probe hit the person's skin.

"There is a discomfort level," he said. "You're being neuromuscularly incapacitated, so you stop whatever you're doing. . . . It's important to teach officers the firsthand effects of the Taser. They need to know what can happen if it's taken away and used on them and how quickly the combatant can recover from a shock.

"It deters the officer from abusing the weapon. It's also important so the officer can bolster his credibility at trial."

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