Saturday, January 02, 2010

Diabetic Man Tasered 11 Times While Unconscious

Police officers from two Chicago suburbs are being sued after one of them allegedly Tasered a man having a diabetic seizure because the diabetic involuntarily hit the officer while being taken to an ambulance.

Prospero Lassi, a 40-year-old employee of Southwest Airlines, filed the lawsuit with a federal court in Chicago last week, following an April 9, 2009, incident in which Lassi was taken to hospital following a violent diabetic seizure -- and being Tasered 11 times while unconscious.

That day, Lassi's roommate found the man on the floor of his apartment having a seizure and foaming at the mouth, according to the statement filed with the court. The roommate called 911 for help, and police officers from the Brookfield and LaGrange Park police departments arrived to help with the situation.

As police officers were helping the paramedics move Lassi to an ambulance, Lassi -- still in the midst of the seizure and described as "unresponsive" -- involuntarily smacked one of the officers with his arm.

"Reacting to Mr. Lassi’s involuntary movement, one or more of the [officers] pushed Mr. Lassi to the ground, forcibly restraining him there," the complaint states. "[LaGrange Park Officer Darren] Pedota then withdrew his Taser, an electroshock weapon that uses electrical current to disrupt a person’s control over his muscles, and electrocuted Mr. Lassi eleven times.

"Mr. Lassi remained immobile on the floor and was unable to defend himself during this attack. None of the other LaGrange and Brookfield Defendants attempted to interrupt Defendant Pedota's repeated use of the Taser."

The filing says that Lassi spent five days in hospital, and "as a result of this incident, Mr. Lassi has permanent scars on his skin, including a scar on his face. Mr. Lassi has also suffered, and continues to suffer, neurological and musculoskeletal injuries, among other injuries."

According to Courthouse News, Lassi is seeking "punitive damages for battery, excessive force, and failure to intervene."

Court Rules Coronado Officer Used Excessive Force when Tasering

In what could be considered a landmark ruling on the police use of Tasers, a federal court of appeals issued a strongly-worded judgment this week blaming a Coronado police officer for using excessive force when he shot the device at an unarmed, noncombative motorist during a traffic stop in 2005.

The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, based in San Francisco, means officers can be held liable for their use of Taser weapons and allows the driver, Carl Bryan, to continue to pursue his lawsuit against the Coronado officer.

“It really is the first decision that makes a comprehensive survey of case law, as well as good discussion of exactly how to categorize the use of the Taser in the continuum of force,” said Gene Iredale, Bryan’s San Diego-based attorney.

The appeals decision, written by Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw, describes the officer’s use of the Taser as “unconstitutionally excessive and a violation of Bryan’s clearly established rights.”

“The physiological effects, the high level of pain, and foreseeable risk of physical injury leads us to conclude that the X26 (Taser) and similar devices are a greater intrusion than other nonlethal methods of force we have confronted,” the judge wrote.

The ruling has attracted the attention of local law enforcement agencies, including the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, which will review the case in the coming weeks to see if policies on Taser use need to change.

Coronado Police Chief Lou Scanlon said yesterday that the department’s Taser policies have evolved since the incident, and they currently comply with the court ruling, including considering the use of Tasers more serious when compared with other nonlethal weapons and, when possible, warning people before they are about to be shot using a Taser.

“But we certainly reviewed our policy after the court decision to make sure we were in compliance,” said Scanlon, who stressed that the case has not been to trial and much of the officer’s side of the story has not been presented in court.

The 22-page decision illustrates how “an already bad morning for Bryan took a turn for the worst” in the summer of 2005.

Bryan, then 21, had spent the night in Ventura County with family and had planned to drive his brother to his parents’ house in Coronado when he realized that someone had accidentally taken his car keys to Los Angeles.

Wearing the T-shirt and boxers he had slept in, Bryan got a ride to Los Angeles with his cousins, retrieved his keys, then headed back to Ventura County to pick up his brother for the ride south again.

On the way to Coronado, the California Highway Patrol stopped Bryan for speeding, and then later Coronado Officer Brian McPherson pulled him over for not wearing a seat belt.

Angry at himself for forgetting to buckle up and for getting his second ticket in a day, the judge wrote, Bryan was clearly agitated during the second stop, at one point hitting the steering wheel and cursing at himself.

He then got out of the car, and was “yelling gibberish and hitting his thighs, clad only in boxers and tennis shoes,” while McPherson stood 20 to 25 feet away, the judge wrote. Bryan reportedly made no threats to the officer and did not attempt to flee.

The officer testified that he had told Bryan to stay in the car and that Bryan had taken “one step” toward him. Bryan denied both statements.

Then “without giving any warning, Officer McPherson shot Bryan with a Taser,” Wardlaw wrote. Bryan, who according to physical evidence was facing away from the officer fell on his face as 50,000 volts of electricity ran through his body. Four teeth shattered when he hit the pavement.

Bryan was hospitalized and charged with resisting an officer in performance of his duties. The case ended with a hung jury, and the charge was dismissed.

Bryan, who lives in Spain and is a tennis coach and part-time actor, sued the city of Coronado and McPherson for excessive force, assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. A federal judge denied McPherson’s request for summary judgment to rule in his favor. McPherson appealed.

With Monday’s Court of Appeals ruling, which denied McPherson immunity, the officer can either petition for a rehearing, appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court or likely face a jury trial in San Diego Federal Court under the lawsuit.

McPherson’s attorney, Steve Boehmer, did not return a call seeking comment yesterday. McPherson left the Coronado department about three years ago and works as a police officer at a San Diego-area university.

Corrections Officer Wayne Kerschner Fired for Belonging to KKK

An Alachua County Sheriff's Office corrections officer who acknowledged being a member of the Ku Klux Klan has been fired for belonging to a subversive or terrorist organization, a violation of the agency's code of ethics.

Wayne Kerschner was fired Tuesday following a 10-month internal investigation.

The investigation revealed that Kerschner applied online for membership to the United Northern and Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan a year ago, paid $30 a month for access to a members-only Klan Web site and that the group did a thorough background check that included his credit history before allowing him to join.

The Klan has "extremely high standards," Kerschner told investigators, according to an administrative investigation report released Thursday. "They do a complete criminal background check on everybody."

A spokesman for the sheriff's office didn't return a phone call Thursday, and Kerschner's telephone number was not listed.

During the internal probe, Kerschner told investigators the Klan never asked him for information about the jail or the sheriff's office and that he never let his membership interfere with his job. He said he would never get involved with anything criminal and wouldn't ever jeopardize the sheriff's office. He said he viewed the Klan as a religious or political organization.

"I don't let it interfere with my job," he said, according to the report. "I don't let it interfere with my personal judgment call on anything like that. I mean, I think I am a pretty dang fair officer."

Kerschner told authorities that he blogged regularly on a KKK Web site, attended two rallies in Tennessee and was an officer of the United Northern and Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. He said his wife was also a dues-paying member.

Kerschner gave some details into how he was inducted into the Klan in a process called "naturalization." He said he was blindfolded during the ceremony and was touched on the shoulder with a sword after taking an oath. He said he was on probation for a month before he could have full access to the Klan Web site, which offered information on Klan handshakes and the different colors available for Klan robes.

Kerschner told investigators he was sorry for getting involved with the Klan.

"If I could erase time, I would," he said.

Homeland Security Officer Denise Bermudez Arrested for Public Intoxication

A 33-year-old employee of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was arrested on New Year's Eve and charged with being intoxicated in public, as well as battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest with violence.

Denise Bermudez was at the parking garage on Channelside Drive when a deputy saw her "causing a disturbance while she was intoxicated," according to a report by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

She grabbed the deputy's arm "in an aggressive manner" and disregarded commands to let go, the report states.