Electric stun guns are commonly carried by law enforcement professionals across the country. Often referred to as a ‘Taser’ due to the popular product manufactured by Axon, stun guns are meant to temporarily impair the central nervous system as a tool to subdue violent subjects. Still, their use is contentious as they are sometimes misused and can cause injuries when overused or in particularly vulnerable individuals. Lawsuits over the devices can be directed at law enforcement personnel for excessive force or at the device manufacturer for issues with the taser’s efficacy. Depending on the case’s unique facts, lawsuits may require Taser Expert Witnesses that come from a broad range of backgrounds.
Whether or not taser usage constitutes Excessive Force is the essence of most civil claims involving their usage. Excessive Force refers to force in excess of what a police officer should reasonably believe is necessary. These claims often arise during an attempted arrest, traffic stop, or other seizure. Police departments have been subjected to increasingly stringent oversight both internally and on the public stage as increased media attention and social media elevate the coverage of Excessive Force incidents far beyond what was possible in decades past.
Lawsuits do not always require a lasting injury. A highly publicized incident involving a Milwaukee Bucks player named Sterling Brown occurred in 2018 during an altercation over a parking violation. Brown was approached after illegally parking across two handicapped spots. Video shows officers taking him to the ground, shocking him with a taser, and arresting him after he wouldn’t remove his hands from his pockets. The basketball guard has agreed to a $750,000 settlement from the city of Milwaukee, in which they also acknowledge that his constitutional rights were violated and commit to implementing changes within the police department.
On July 4, 2019, an incident in Oklahoma allegedly involved such excessive force that two police officers were ultimately charged with second-degree murder. The officers are alleged to have used a Taser on the suspect more than 50 times over a 9-minute timeframe, causing him to suffer multiple heart attacks and pass away two days later. Multiple applications of a taser are not unheard of when the initial deployment is ineffective but must be justified by the suspect posing an imminent threat to officers, themself, or others. This case is still pending litigation.
A Taser Expert Witness brought on in an excessive force case may be a medical professional to determine how the taser impacted the plaintiff. In other instances, it may be a Law Enforcement Standard of Care Expert. A highly experienced and trained Law Enforcement Expert Witness could shed light on whether or not the officers involved received proper training, whether they followed that training, or whether the device was appropriately stored and maintained.
The other side of Taser litigation is directed at the device manufacturer. These claims arise from situations where the device goes off unexpectedly, doesn’t perform as intended, or due to injuries incurred during training seminars.
Officer Andrew Butler filed suit against the Taser manufacturer after being tased during a police academy training session. He alleged he suffered a fractured vertebra and was not adequately warned of the full risks of being shot by the powerful stun gun. This case was ultimately dismissed as the court found the release signed was clear and unambiguous in both its safety warnings and its waiver of Officer Butler’s right to sue for any injury incurred.
A case out of Houston last year that resulted in a $25,000 settlement between an officer and the maker of Tasers, Axon, involved the opposite claim – that the device was underpowered. The officer was injured during a struggle with a suspect that the Taser should have incapacitated, but it proved ineffective. While the ultimate settlement amount was far below the initial 7.5 million sought, it was a rare settlement from a company with an impressive track record of defending itself at trial.
Due to the variety of factors in Taser-related lawsuits, a case may involve several different types of Expert Witnesses. Medical experts may be brought on to describe injuries caused by the device, Engineers to determine the device’s functionality, and frequently Law Enforcement Expert Witnesses to opine on proper training, testing/maintenance, storage, and usage protocols. Therefore, a Taser Expert Witness is a broad term that may point in a variety of directions. Cases involving Tasers and other Electrical Stun Guns are complex and controversial, ensure you utilize all available resources to bring your case to an advantageous close. Whether you need a Taser Expert Witness with a wealth of experience in Law Enforcement or a Taser Expert Witness to opine on the device’s medical impact or functionality, getting experienced, professional help on your side from the start is essential.