County Settles Class-Action Lawsuit Alleging Taser Misuse
Sergeant Mychal Turner’s misuse of a Taser on multiple occasions violated the Franklin County Jail’s Taser policy and his actions were cited in a class action lawsuit recently settled by the county accusing jail guards of “sadistic” use of Tasers over a two-year period, from 2008 to 2010.
One incident captured on video involved Sergeant Turner stunning a mentally ill inmate multiple times after the inmate refused to stand in his cell. In another incident, Turner fired the Taser into the chest of an inmate refusing to remove a piece of jewelry. The third time, Turner pulled the trigger five times on a handcuffed inmate who wouldn’t sit on a bench.
The Sergeant was never disciplined for any of this – instead, he was promoted to major. And, he’s now commander of Franklin County Corrections Center II. In court, Turner defended his actions. He said he feared for his safety and wanted to avoid dangerous physical struggles.
Democratic Ohio State Senator Charleta Tavares, disturbed by the video footage, said she planned to call on the county prosecutor’s office to investigate. “Do I believe those who are responsible should be held accountable? Absolutely,” she said. “Whether it’s today or whether it was back in 2009. Any time a stun gun is used inappropriately – particularly in the video, where it looks as though it is just used over and over and it’s more like a prod that people would use on animals – that is criminal in my opinion.”
Ohio Democratic State Representative Kristin Boggs also stated that a criminal investigation would be appropriate if an officer was found to have used excessive force that violated jail policy. “I certainly think it’s worth investigating to determine what we can be doing to make our system better,” Boggs said.
Turner’s Taser misuse is part of a larger investigation into the appropriateness of Taser use on inmates initiated by Reuters in August of this year. Reuters’ investigation discovered there have been 1,005 deaths due to Taser use since the stun gun was first introduced in 1993. 104 of those deceased were inmates. Reporters obtained autopsy reports covering 84 of those incidents and concluded the use of a stun gun caused, or was at least a contributing factor to, an inmate’s death in over a quarter.
U.S. Justice Department consultant Steve Martin, a former general counsel for the Texas Department of Corrections, added that Tasers have “high potential” for misuse behind bars. “When you inflict pain, serious pain, for the singular purpose of inflicting pain, not to accomplish a tactical objective, what is that? It meets the definition of the legal standard of excessive force, but it’s also torturous,” he said.
Some officers acknowledge the potential for overuse. However, they say an officer would be disciplined. “If an officer was using it too often or inappropriately, there would be disciplinary action,” Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said. And, each Taser contains a data port chip which tracks each shock, its duration, and its voltage. According to authorities, this helps to safeguard against excessive use.