December 21, 2012

Taser Lawsuit: La'Reko Williams (Charlotte NC)

Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Department (CMPD) doesn't have much luck when it comes to taser lawsuits. They were on the losing side of a $10 million lawsuit in the case of 17-year old Darryl Turner, who died in 2008 after a CMPD officer electrocuted him with extensive use of a taser.

Fast forward to July 2011. Again a CMPD police officer got a little overzealous in their efforts to apprehend 21-year old La'Reko Williams. The officer, Michael Forbes, used excessive, deadly force by electrocuting Williams twice with his taser gun.

Williams died.

His parents filed a lawsuit in federal court earlier this week against the city of Charlotte, police and Taser International. The lawsuit calls Tasers potentially deadly weapons and says that CMPD officers should only use them when a confrontation calls for deadly force.

The lawsuit says Williams, who stood about 5 feet, 6 inches and weighed about 145 pounds, was unarmed and presented no threat to the officer. Williams was shocked twice in the chest, suffered cardiac arrest and died within minutes.

After Williams died, police suspended their use of Tasers for six months as they investigated the safety of the weapons. In September 2011, the City Council approved $1.83 million to buy new Tasers.

The new Tasers, which police use today, still shoot out 50,000 volts of electricity to incapacitate suspects, but have features designed to prevent officers from injuring or killing suspects. Most importantly, they automatically cut off after five seconds, even if the officer continues pulling the trigger. Police determined that people who were shocked have died when an officer held down the Taser trigger for too long, and said the new Tasers are safer.

This lawsuit may have ramifications beyond the city limits of Charlotte.

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