Georgia County Stays Hushed on Taser Settlement

Here at Total Injury, we have reported before about the many incidents across the country involving use of Taser electric control devices that are in some cases connected with wrongful death. Almost without exception, the families of victims of these Taser-related deaths have found no legal support when they have brought cases to trial.

However, things may be looking up for these and future victims of police brutality involving Tasers. A settlement made in December 2006 by officials in Gwinnett County, Georgia, is one of the first reports of compensation handed over to the family of a Taser death victim. The details of this report only recently surfaced, because officials did not allow a public vote or discussion on the matter, and restricted all parties involved from revealing any information about the settlement.

In the settlement, the family of Ray Charles Austin, a former inmate of the Gwinnett County Jail who died in September 2003 after being shocked repeatedly by a Taser, received an amount of $100,000 from the county to end a wrongful-death lawsuit.

In the incident, Austin was shocked to control him after getting into a fight with a deputy in which he bit off part off a deputy's ear. Austin, who suffered from mental illnesses, was restrained in a chair and given psychotropic drugs after the Taser incident. Austin then died of a heart attack after losing consciousness. In an autopsy report, the coroner noted that the Taser use could have contributed to the heart attack in addition to Austin's personal injury.

The settlement with Austin's family comes on the heels of two more Taser-related deaths in the county of Gwinnett alone. Just eight months after the death of Austin, 31-year-old Frederick Williams died after being shocked with a Taser during an altercation at the county jail. In the case of Williams, the coroner concluded that the man died from brain damage that could also have been related to the Taser.

Most recently, Carlos Rodriguez, from Norcross, Georgia, died on July 26 after receiving Taser shocks from deputies who apprehended him at his apartment during an eviction conflict. The preliminary autopsy indicated that Rodriguez was shocked at least once by the Taser, in agreement with police reports, but authorities must wait for toxicology reports to make conclusions on the role of the Taser in the death.

In one of the most telling details about the settlement, officials did not make any public declaration, nor even put the decision up to discussion or public vote. Officials took advantage of a county ordinance that allows settlements of $100,000 or less to be made without public vote.

However, the county restricted the victim's family or anyone involved in the case to speak publicly or through the media about the settlement, or to admit that it even occurred. News sources first became aware of the settlement through open-records laws. When asked, officials only responded that the case had been dismissed, but refused to speak of any payment having been made.

Overall, this settlement continues the trend of those sued for wrongful death with a Taser being found not guilty or avoiding trial altogether. Taser International, the manufacturer of the device, has yet to lose a single product liability lawsuit.

Check back with Total Injury for legal updates on Taser wrongful death cases, and also cases of police brutality and other injury and negligence lawsuits.

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