An appeals court has upheld a jury’s decision to award $3 million to a Texas mother who filed a wrongful death lawsuit after her son was shocked 18 times with a Taser stun gun by police before dying.¬†
The complaint was filed by Shirley Nagel, whose son, Joel Don Casey, died in 2005 while police were attempting to take him to a mental health institution.
Nagel sued Harris County, Texas, in 2009, accusing police of repeatedly stunning Casey while his hands and feet were bound, and was awarded $3 million. On June 8 a federal appeals court upheld that verdict.
The police brutality lawsuit claimed that excessive use of the Taser weapon caused Casey’s death, but a¬†medical examiner claimed Casey died from heart disease and psychotic delirium from being restrained.
Pyschotic delirium is similar to a condition known as “excited delirium”, which is a controversial designation that is regularly cited as a cause of death for individuals apprehended by police who are acting in an irrational and hyperactive manner and subsequently die in custody. It only appears as a cause of death where police are involved in restraining an individual, and it is commonly cited following the use of Tasers by police.
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.
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.