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Police Sued Over Taser Incident That Went Viral

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) - A man who endured the business end of a stun gun for 42 agonizing seconds claims in a federal complaint that Fredericksburg, Va., police turn a blind eye to excessive force unless the event makes headlines, as his did.

The incident in question occurred at the scene of a five-car pileup on Nov. 9, 2013.

Filing suit nearly two years to the day, Lantz Day says he emerged from his vehicle dazed and confused after the crash, and was wandering around the crash site when Officer Joseph Young approached him.

Young ordered Day to lie on the ground and told him he was not under arrest. Day says he failed to comply at first, but lay on the ground in a prone position after Young drew his Taser.

A bystander's video captured the rest, showing Day then get up from the sidewalk and try to run away as Young deploys his Taser into Day's back.

With Day back on the ground, Young delivered 50,000 volts into his body for 42 seconds, the complaint says.

The sound of the Taser, along with Day crying out in pain, can be heard in the video.

Though investigators told reporters at the time that Day had become belligerent at the scene, Day says he never exhibited threatening, aggressive, violent or intimidating behavior toward Young, and never posed a threat to him.

The Nov. 6 complaint says an internal investigation of the incident concluded that Young had violated the department's use of force policy, but a spokesman for the Fredericksburg Police Department did not respond to an email request for a copy of the investigation's conclusions.

Day says the department took disciplinary measures against Young, retrained all its officers on Taser use, and "retrofitted" the devices to prevent them from deploying a charge for more than five seconds.

As described in the complaint, however, these changes had more to do with the department trying to save face than actually repair its culture of excessive force.

"Until defendant Young was caught on video tasing Mr. Day and that video made headlines internationally, the FPD did not discipline a single officer for a use of force incident in 2013," Day says.

The complaint counts 28 such incidents that year, seven of which involved Taser use. Day says the failure to take disciplinary action occurred even though the FPD Professional Standards had investigated nine citizen complaints in 2013.

Furthermore, "the FPD did not discipline another officer for a use of force incident until the next time the FPD made international headlines on May 4, 2015," the complaint states.

Day included an FPD news release on this incident as an exhibit with his complaint, saying that "Officer Shaun Jurgens used his Taser on Fredericksburg resident David Washington after Mr. Washington had suffered a stroke."

Jurgens resigned on May 14, 2015, according to the complaint.

Day says the use of body cameras has led the number of use-of-force complaints against Fredericksburg police to decline by more than 50 percent.

In Day's case, "consistent failures in policy, practice, and custom led FPD officers to believe that misconduct would be tolerated and that allegations of abuse would not result in discipline," the complaint states.

"The pattern made it foreseeable that officers would violate citizens' constitutional rights in precisely the manner that Defendants violated Mr. Day's rights with virtual impunity," the complaint continues.

Day says city policymakers "were deliberately indifferent to this risk."

After tasing him, Young arrested Day for obstruction of justice - he spent two days in jail and never received medical care, contrary to the department's policy, the complaint says.

Noting that his need for medical care just because of the crash was "obvious and apparent," Day says even the bystander who found him at the scene of the accident spoke about getting him immediate medical attention.

A medical evaluation after his release from jail determined that Day had a concussion and a back injury, according to the complaint.

Day seeks $5 million in damages for excessive force, negligence and other claims.

The attorney representing the city of Fredericksburg, who is away for the week, did not immediately respond to an email request for comment on the case.

Day's attorneys, Joshua Elrich, Benjamin Owen and Davia Craumer with the Elrich Law Office, did not respond to an email request for comment either.

Editor's Note: On Nov. 13, one day after this article was published, a spokeswoman for the Fredericksburg Police Department sent along a statement that the office released on Dec. 18, 2013.

Though Courthouse News requested a copy of the department's report on the Nov. 9, 2013, stun-gun incident, the spokeswoman did not include a copy of the report.

As initially reported with attribution to 2013 news reports, the statement does note that Officer Joseph Young's use of the Taser violated a department policy on the use of force and that the officer was disciplined.

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