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Monday, April 22, 2024 | Back issues
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Taser Clears Suit Over Fatal Cop Confrontation

(CN) - A woman whose son died of cardiac arrest because police officers Tasered him in the chest for 30 seconds cannot sue the device maker, the 8th Circuit ruled.

Police in Moberly, Mo., had pulled over Stanley Harlan for speeding in August 2008.

Thinking Harlan smelled alcohol, the officer who made the stop called for backup. Officers Jeremy Baird and Carmen Newbrough arrived at the scene with another colleague. They allegedly attempted to restrain Harlan when he moved away from them and would not keep his hands out of his pockets.

When Harlan struggled, Newbrough ordered Baird to fire his Taser at Harlan.

Baird fired the weapon three times from 2 feet away, directly at Harlan's chest, for 21 seconds, 7 seconds and 3 seconds, respectively, for a total of 31 seconds.

Harlan immediately lost consciousness and was not responsive by the time the paramedics arrived. He was pronounced dead of cardiac arrest at the hospital.

Harlan's mother, Athena Bachtel, settled excessive-force claims against the city and officers for $2.4 million in 2009.

Bachtel then sued Taser International for not providing adequate warnings about the potential for deadly injury in using the device.

A federal judge dismissed her claims, however, and the St. Louis-based 8th Circuit affirmed Thursday.

It is undisputed that Moberly police used an outdated training manual when training officers on the use of a Taser device, but Bachtel failed to establish that "an additional warning would have changed the behavior of the officers involved in Harlan's stop," Judge Diana Murphy wrote for a three-judge panel.

Although Officer Baird was given an admittedly out-of-date and "truncated" training program, he was instructed to fire a Taser at a suspect's back, and only take a chest shot "in a scenario where a single officer is faced with a combative individual," according to the ruling.

"Despite this training, Officer Baird fired directly at Harlan's chest from two feet away, even when three other officers were at the scene and one of Harlan's hands had already been cuffed without the use of force," the 14-page opinion states.

Baird was also told to only use a Taser for 5 seconds at a time, but "disregarded this instruction when he fired the device for over 20 seconds in its first deployment," Murphy wrote.

Therefore, "the presumption that Officer Baird would have read and heeded a warning as to the cardiac danger of firing the X26 ECD at a subject's chest is therefore unavailable as a matter of law," the ruling states.

The court also rejected Bachtel's claim that a Taser is unreasonably dangerous because it can be lethal.

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