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Saturday, March 2, 2024 | Back issues
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Court Revives Excessive|Taser Case Against Police

(CN) - Wisconsin officers may have used excessive force when they Tasered a bipolar, schizophrenic man who had wandered onto a construction site in nothing but a bathrobe, the 7th Circuit ruled. The man died in 2006 after being shocked between six and 12 times.

Nickolos Cyrus' mental condition led to delusional behaviors that occasionally required police intervention. In 2006, the 29-year-old was found wandering along an interstate highway. After being taken to the Rock County Mental Health Facility, he was released into the custody of his mother.

After a dispute that same evening, Cyrus took of all his clothes, put on a bathrobe and left the house a second time. His mother reported him missing.

Early the next morning, police received an emergency call from a Mukwonago, Wis., resident who said a man in a bathrobe was trespassing on his property.

The property owner told police that the suspect was likely "that crazy boy," referring to Cyrus.

Lt. Thomas Czarnecki arrived and asked Cyrus to come to the street to talk. He said Cyrus ran toward the partially built house, prompting the officer to fire his Taser at Cyrus, bringing him to the ground.

Czarnecki ordered Cyrus to remain on the ground with his hands behind his back. When Cyrus tried to stand, Czarnecki Tasered him again.

The officer testified that he fired the Taser about six times, but the Taser's internal readout recorded a dozen trigger pulls.

When Cyrus was rolled onto his back, officers realized he was not breathing. He was pronounced dead at the hospital later that day.

His parents sued the city of Mukwonago, Czarnecki and fellow responding Officer Eric Nelson, alleging Fourth Amendment violations, failure to intervene by Nelson, assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and wrongful death.

At trial, the county medical examiner identified eight factors as the cause of death, all related to Cyrus's struggle with police.

A federal judge excluded the testimony because the medical examiner could not identify a primary factor. The judge then ruled for the defendants on all claims.

The 7th Circuit reversed, citing "material facts in dispute about the extent to which Cyprus attempted to evade the officers and the actual amount of force Czarnecki used to bring about his arrest."

Specifically, the Chicago-based panel pointed to conflicting evidence on how many times the Taser was fired.

"[T]he record contains enough evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude ... that the excessive use of force - if indeed Czarnecki's use of force was excessive and unreasonable - caused Cyprus's death," Judge Diane Sykes wrote for the three-judge panel.

"There is no evidence of any possible intervening causes of death."

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