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Civil suit blames Pa. police, Taser maker for war vet's death

The children of a Vietnam war veteran, who suffered psychological and seizure disorders, has filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against police in Lancaster County and Taser International, the makers of stun guns popular among law enforcement agencies.

The suit alleges local, regional and state police used malicious, excessive and dangerous force by stunning the 61-year-old, Mount Joy man in late 2010. The wrongful death litigation also charges the device's maker with negligence for unreasonably dangerous product design.

Police responded to a harassment call from the diagnosed-schizophrenic in the middle of the night. When officers arrived at the apartment, the victim allegedly became combative and further enraged as police tried to subdue him. Officers said they Tasered the man at least twice.

The family's attorney said an autopsy showed the victim was stunned three, possibly four, times with strikes to the chest and directly on the body.

The federal complaint states police bound and pepper sprayed the unarmed man, using dangerous techniques that caused broken ribs and head injuries. The war veteran's pulse and breathing were reported by paramedics. CPR was ineffective.

The victim died en route to Lancaster General Hospital. The cause of death was cardiac dysrhythmia, also known as abnormal heartbeat.

An investigation by the state attorney general's office determined there was no fault on the part of the responding police officers.

A Taser International official claimed the company's devices are generally safe and effective. More than 600,000 Tasers have been sold to police agencies and the military. Nearly a quarter of a million Tasers are in the hands of the general public.

Recent studies, including one in an American Heart Association journal, concluded that stun guns can be killers. The reports said Tasers are capable of disturbing heart rhythms and may cause cardiac arrest or death.

The family's federal complaint alleges an unarmed, psychologically-challenged war veteran died at the hands of negligent law enforcers, who used a dangerous device to subdue a noncriminal.

The veteran's children are seeking the federal minimum of $75,000 in damages.

The use of Taser devices by law enforcement personnel has come under fire by some during recent years. In question, is the alleged incorrect use by police that leads to a suspect's death, as in this tragic case. While the manufacturer stands by its product, they still have a responsibility to provide timely information to the users of the Taser weapon so they can adjust their training appropriately. It is unknown if the officers who used the weapon on the man were aware of its deadly potential side effects.

Source: lancasteronline.com, "Federal suit filed in death of Lancaster County man," Tom Murse, June 13, 2012

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