The family of a California man who died after being struck with a stun gun during an arrest attempt, has filed a lawsuit for damages as a result of the wrongful death and violations of his civil rights.
The complaint (PDF) was filed by the family of Darnell Hutchinson, who died on October 9, 2011, after San Leandro, California police officers used a stun gun while trying to subdue him outside of a hamburger restaurant.
Hutchinson’s mother, Katherine Hutchinson, filed the lawsuit for police brutality against the City of San Leandro and two officers involved in the arrest on July 25, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
According to the lawsuit, Hutchinson had finished eating a meal at Nation’s Hamburgers in San Leandro when he was confronted by two officers who allegedly accosted him and physically grabbed him. The complaint indicates that Hutchinson, 32, died after being “drive stunned” while he was laying on the pavement, with his hands behind his back and at least one officer’s knees digging into his body to keep Hutchinson against the pavement.
“Drive stunning” is a controversial practice where a subject who has already been shocked by a stun gun once, is shocked again through the same needles and wires that are already in the subject’s flesh, sending additional currents of electricity into the body in an attempt to incapacitate them. Some have compared the practice to a form of electrical torture, because it specifically uses prolonged pain and agony to coerce obedience.
Local media reports following the incident indicated that the officers were called because Hutcinson was unruly in the restaurant and frightening customers. Officers indicated that when they arrived, Hutchinson was uncooperative and resisted arrest.
The complaint alleges that the City of San Leandro Police Department has “engaged in a repeated pattern and practice of making improper detentions and/or false arrests and using excessive, arbitrary and/or unreasonable force against individuals.”
Katherine Hutchinson seeks damages on behalf of the estate of her son for violations of his Fourth Amendment rights, using excessive, arbitrary and unreasonable force, failing to meet his medical needs, wrongful death, negligence, emotional distress and other charges. The lawsuit seeks damages for past, present and future wage loss, medical expenses and also calls for punitive damages.
Controversy Surrounding Over-Use of Stun Guns
In recent years, as police forces have increasingly deployed and used stun guns to subdue subjects, concerns have grown surrounding the overuse and abuse of these weapons.
Stun guns, which are often known as Tasers, are designed to incapacitate neuromuscular function by delivering a shock that uses Electro-Muscular Disruption technology. Although the weapons are considered a form of non-lethal force, a number of deaths have been linked to use of stun guns.
In 2008, a report by Amnesty International linked 334 deaths to the use of Taser stun guns between 2001 and August 2009. The group called for police departments throughout the United States to stop using Taser guns or to strictly limit their use to life-threatening situations, after they noted that 90% of the deaths examined involved individuals who were unarmed and did not appear to present a serious threat to the officers.
According to a report released by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) in October 2011, the group indicated that an estimated 15% of all Taser shootings examined were clearly inappropriate, routinely being used on subjects who posed no physical threat. In addition, more than a third of the cases examined by the group involved multiple or prolonged shocks.