A federal appeals court has cleared the way for a Maryland wrongful death lawsuit to move forward against a county and one of its deputies over the use of a Taser stun gun.
The police brutality lawsuit was filed by the family of Jarrel Gray, who died in November 2007 after being stunned with a Taser weapon twice by Frederick County Deputy Sheriff Rudy Torres while attempting to break up a fight.
In a decision issued last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit dismissed an appeal by the sheriff’s office, the Frederick County Board of Commissioners and Torres to have the case thrown out.
The defendants argued that Torres should have been immune from the lawsuit due to qualified immunity provisions, since the incident occurred while he was on duty. However, judges rejected that argument, saying it was based on positions that the plaintiffs never actually took in their original complaint.
Gray’s death was deemed to have been due to a combination of alcohol, police restraint and electric shocks. The case is expected to go to trial in Frederick County sometime next year.
Scottsdale, Arizona-based Taser International, which has vigorously defended the safety of their stun gun weapons, is not a defendant in this case. Although the company has maintained that the charge delivered by the stun gun is not life-threatening, a number of deaths have occurred shortly after individuals have been Tasered.
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.