A $10 million wrongful death lawsuit in Maryland has been filed against Baltimore County police by the family of a bipolar man who died after being struck with a Taser stun gun.
The police Taser lawsuit was filed by the family of Ryan Lee Meyers, who died in March 2007 after being Tasered by police in his home. The lawsuit charges Baltimore County Police and three officers with wrongful death, negligence and police brutality, according to a story by WJZ-13.
The police were called to Meyers’ home in Middle River by family members who said he had become unstable and violent with a baseball bat. Police who arrived said Meyers, who had bipolar disorder, was uncooperative and threatened them with the bat, requiring them to use their Taser guns to subdue him. However, the family claims in the police brutality lawsuit that Meyers did not have the bat when police Tasered him, and say they may have shot him with the Taser weapon more than once.
Questions over the death of another Maryland man, Jarrell Gray, two years ago sparked a task force investigation into the Baltimore County Police Department’s use of Tasers. The task force, while acknowledging that Tasers could be useful, determined that Baltimore County police had an over-reliance on Tasers and recommended that the weapons, which are promoted as non-lethal, should be considered deadly weapons. The task force was called for by County Councilman Vincent Gardina, a former police officer who raised concerns that county police were using Tasers too frequently instead of restraining their use of force.
Scottsdale-based Taser International has vigorously defended the safety of the weapons. Last fall, however, the company issued a memo to police agencies throughout the United States warning about the potential Taser heart risks, recommending that officers avoid chest shots.
Taser 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 has said it issued the warning not because it believes that the weapons are dangerous, but as a means of legal risk management for law enforcement agencies using their weapons. However, critics have characterized the recommendations as a passive admission that Taser stun guns can cause heart attacks. Taser has disagreed with this interpretation of their recommendations.
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 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.