Officer May Be Liable for Alleged Taser Injuries

     (CN) – A federal judge ruled this week that a police officer may be liable for injuries stemming from his use of a Taser on a man who was having a seizure.
     Emmett Morphis sued the City of Dickson, Tenn. and police officer Seth Goodwin for civil rights violations, negligence, assault, battery and infliction of emotional distress.
     Morphis was driving on Highway 64 in Dickson on Nov. 6, 2011 when he had a seizure and fell unconscious. His truck allegedly hit another vehicle, crossed the highway into a parking lot, proceeded through a wooded area and finally came to rest in a ditch.
     A Tennessee highway patrol officer, who is not a party to the suit, assumed Morphis was fleeing the scene of the accident and called for backup. When additional officers, including Goodwin, arrived, they saw Morphis moving around inside his truck and ordered him to exit the vehicle, according to the ruling.
     Goodwin then allegedly used his Taser on Morphis a total of 11 times. Although Goodwin says the Taser never made “good probe contact,” another officer who responded to the scene testified that it seemed like the probes did make contact, the ruling states.
     “The incident ended when Morphis fell out of the truck into the ditch, dislocating his elbow in the process. Though he has very little memory of the encounter, Morphis alleges that the officers used his Taser on him when he attempted to exit the vehicle, which prohibited him from breaking his fall,” the ruling states. “The officers then handcuffed Morphis; he was held for some period of time before the ambulance arrived to transport him to the hospital. He later underwent emergency surgery for injuries he sustained from both the car accident and subsequent encounter with the officers.”
     Senior U.S. District Court Judge John Nixon denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment for Morphis’ excessive force, failure to train, assault and battery, negligence and infliction of emotional distress claims, finding that Goodwin may be liable for the injuries.
     “Morphis’s movements in the truck – devoid of any verbal displays of hostility or deliberate acts of defiance – do not constitute active resistance,” the judge wrote. “Because Morphis had a clearly established right not to be tasered when he was at most offering passive resistance to an officer, the court denies defendants’ motion for summary judgment with respect to Morphis’s excessive force claim against Goodwin.”
     Nixon also ruled that evidence suggests the City of Dickson did not properly train its officers for situations like the one Goodwin encountered.
     “In his deposition, Dickson’s Chief of Police Ricky Chandler admits that, in November of 2011, the police department did not train officers on how to handle an interaction with a possibly injured individual. Chandler also testified that the department had no policy on how to remove injured parties from vehicles,” Nixon wrote. “A jury could therefore conclude that Dickson’s training program on this common occurrence was inadequate in 2011. Moreover, this lack of training is directly related to Morphis’s injury: if the officers realized that he had suffered a seizure, they likely would not have tased him eleven times.”
     The judge, however, dismissed Morphis’ failure to investigate and state law claims against the City of Dickson, ruling that it is immune under the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act.
     The attorney for the department could not immediately be reached for comment.

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