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$5.5 Million Verdict Against Los Angeles Police Department for Taser Death

The City of Los Angeles was hit with a $5.5 million jury verdict in November 2017 for the death of a former Marine who was tased six times by officers with the Los Angeles Police Department (“LAPD”) while they were attempting to restrain him. 

Michael Frederick Mears, who was 39 and suffered from a myriad of physical and mental health issues after he left the military, died in 2014 of cardiac arrest about an hour after he was beaten with batons and fists, pepper sprayed, restrained, and finally tased on Christmas Eve.

According to Mears family attorney, Dale Galipo, “This is one of the largest wrongful death civil rights verdicts ever.” Galipo said that Mears was acting erratically, and fearing for Mears’ safety, his roommate called paramedics for assistance. They in turn called the LAPD for assistance when he became delusional and uncooperative.

However, in a scenario that has become all too common when police respond to a call for assistance involving someone in a clear mental health emergency, the citizen lost his life due to the use of excessive force. According to the coroner, Mears died of ventricular dysrhythmia, cocaine addiction, “and police restraint with use of Taser.”

The complaint also alleged that, “Rather than act reasonably by responding to the call in a manner conducive to assisting someone who is mentally ill,” the officers treated Mears “as if he had committed a crime.”  The jury agreed with that assessment and determined that the police used “excessive and unreasonable force in violation of the 4th Amendment,” and that the LAPD’s “negligent” action caused Mears’ demise.

According to the Police Executive Research Forum, which is an independent research resource for police forces setting their policies and procedures, “police should consider that exposure to the [Taser] for longer than 15 seconds ... may increase the risk of death or serious injury.” The LAPD in this instance used it for periods in excess of 30 seconds. The jury was also critical of the adequacy of LAPD training in the proper use of Tasers.

Mears’ family stated that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, a spinal cord injury from parachuting, numbness in his lower legs, and mental health issues. The City of Los Angeles has not yet determined whether or not it will appeal. 

See: www.latimes.com, www.scpr.org

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