Taser Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed After Death Ruled Homicide

The family of mentally disabled man, who died in police custody after being shot twice with a Taser stun gun, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Fort Worth and one of its police officers. The lawsuit comes after a local medical examiner in Texas declared the man’s death a homicide caused by use of the Taser.

Michael Patrick Jacobs Jr., 24, died after being jolted with a Taser by police when they responded to a call that he was causing a disturbance outside his family’s home on April 18. The first Taser shot was used to deliver 50,000 volts of electricity for 49 seconds, which is substantially longer than the standard five seconds. After the extended shock, Jacobs was shocked a second time for five more seconds.

According to the Star-Telegram, Jacobs is at least the fourth person to die after being struck with a Taser by Fort Worth police since 2001. However, it is the first time a medical examiner has ruled the death a homicide, meaning that another person was involved in the death.

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Jacob’s family filed a Taser wrongful death lawsuit against the city and Corporal Stephanie Phillips, after the medical examiner released their independent report on August 27, 2009.

The medical examiner, Nizam Peerwani, ruled that the cause of Jacob’s death was “sudden death during neuromuscular incapacitation due to application of a conducted energy device.” There were no signs of drugs or abnormal conditions which could have contributed to his death, according to Peerwani’s report.

Taser guns are designed to incapacitate neuromuscular functions by delivering an electrical shock. Many law enforcement agencies use the weapons as an alternative to lethal force in situations where suspects pose a threat. Taser International, which manufactures the controversial stun guns, has maintained that the weapons are safe and non-lethal devices.

Last year, 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.

Following police custody deaths after Taser use, medical examiners often list other cases of death, including drug use, complications from pre-existing medical conditions and a controversial diagnosis known as excited delirium, which is used to describe deaths of people in police custody after they were subdued in a visibly agitated state.

Many critics say excited delirium doesn’t exist and is being promoted as an alternative to naming the use of a Taser weapon as the cause of death. It has been banned from use as a cause of death by some police organizations, such as the London police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who suggest the term is being used as an excuse for police brutality. The National Association of Medical Examiners accepts the term, but the American Medical Association does not recognize the term, and it is listed in the Canadian Medical Association Journal as a “pop culture phenomenon.”

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