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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Fatal Lafayette police Taser case goes to federal court

July 18, 2011
John Aguilar, Daily Camera

Ryan Wilson The case of a Lafayette man who died after police used a Taser on him nearly five years ago will go before a jury in federal court next month as part of a lawsuit against the stun-gun maker.

Ryan Wilson, 22, was shot with a Taser gun Aug. 4, 2006, in a field near W. South Boulder Road as he ran from 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 exertion from running from police, the Taser shock and a heart condition present since birth.

A year after his death, Wilson's family sued both the Lafayette Police Department and Arizona-based Taser International.

The case against police, which included an accusation that the officer didn't warn Wilson he was going to use his Taser gun as required by department protocols, was dismissed by a judge last year. Wilson's estate has appealed that ruling.

The case against Taser -- a product liability suit -- remains in effect. Wilson's parents claim that the company knew its Taser X26 had caused several deaths of people who were in an "exhausted and/or excited state," similar to the condition of their son that day.

Jury selection in the trial, which is expected to last two weeks, is scheduled to begin Aug. 8.

Jack Wilson, Ryan Wilson's father, said he has been waiting for resolution to his son's death for too long.

"It's disturbing to know that the justice system moves so slowly," he said. "I expected it to take years, but not this long."

He declined to go into detail about his suit against Taser but said he hopes a wider message emerges about the potential hazards of restraining suspects through electric shock.

"I hope the outcome of the case would help in showing that Taser's practice is not everything they say it is," he said.

Taser spokesman Steve Tuttle defended the company's products and record.

"While Taser does not comment on pending litigation involving our equipment, we continue to stand by the independent, peer-reviewed medical studies that have shown that the Taser electric control devices are generally safe and effective," Tuttle said.

More than 16,200 law enforcement agencies use the company's products, he said, and there have been more than 2.5 million successful "field uses" of the stun guns, either involving suspects or law enforcement personnel during training exercises.

Tuttle also said Taser has lost only one product liability case in front of a jury since its founding in 1993.

But Judd Golden, head of the Boulder chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that statistic doesn't take into account all the cases Taser has settled out of court.

Golden said he's aware of instances in Colorado when the company settled before the cases made it to trial.

He said there has been "some progress" in police use of Tasers over the last few years, especially after the company issued a bulletin in 2009 warning that shocking someone in the upper chest could result in a remote chance of cardiac problems.

Golden said more law enforcement agencies need to consider the potential danger of using electric stun guns in their line of work.

"These devices should only be used as an alternative to deadly force and should not be used as a device to control people," he said.

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