A North Carolina jury has awarded $10 million in a wrongful death lawsuit against Taser International, Inc., which was filed by the family of a teen who died after being shocked with a Taser stun gun.
The complaint was brought by Devoid Turner and Tammy Lou Fontenot, the parents of Darryl Turner, who was 17 when he died in a supermarket in Charlotte after being shot in the chest by a Taser Model X26 electronic control device on March 20, 2008.
According to the Taser death lawsuit, the manufacturer was negligent in failing to warn law enforcement that shooting their stun gun weapons into the chest of a subject could cause cardiac arrest.
Following trial in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, a federal jury awarded $10 million in damages.
Darryl Turner died after a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department officer shot him with his Taser in an attempt subdue him. Turner reportedly lunged at an officer responding to reports that he had been yelling and throwing things at a store manager.
The officer used the Taser to stun Turner for 37 seconds, after which he ceased moving. The officer stunned the unresponsive Turner again for five more seconds for refusing to put his hands behind his back. According to testimony by the Mecklenburg County medical examiner, Turner was not on drugs nor did he have any signs of heart disease prior to the incident.
Charlotte reached a settlement agreement in the police brutality lawsuit prior to trial, resulting in a payment of $625,000 and the city has retrained it’s officers in the use and application of stun guns.
Taser stun guns are designed to incapacitate neuromuscular function by delivering a shock that uses Electro-Muscular Disruption technology. Many law enforcement agencies have deployed the weapons to allow police to incapacitate someone who poses a threat, but there have also been a number of reports of overuse and abuse of the weapons, which could have fatal consequences.
Taser International has defended the safety of their stun guns, maintaining that they deliver non-lethal force and that studies show no risk of cardiac arrest if the device strikes the chest. However, in October 2009, Taser issued new recommendations that officers not directly aim for the chest.
In 2008, Amnesty International released a report on Taser police use, calling for departments throughout the United States to stop using Taser guns or to strictly limit their use to life-threatening situations.
The human rights group linked 334 deaths to the use of Taser guns between 2001 and August 2008. Amnesty International noted that 90% of the Taser deaths examined involved people who were unarmed and did not appear to present a serious threat to the officers. A large number of the fatalities involved misuse of the weapons, including multiple Taser shocks or exposing suspects to prolonged shocks.