Friday, December 31, 2010

Gilbert Taser incident: Man seeks $600,000 from town

For the second time in six months, Gilbert is facing a possible lawsuit from a man complaining police used excessive force in firing a Taser to incapacitate him before arrest.

Justin Lowell McLemore, 29, was arrested on June 10 at the Hyatt Place hotel near Val Vista Drive and Pecos Road after an altercation with a family member earlier in the evening.

Gilbert police used a Taser to incapacitate McLemore after he did not comply with orders to lie on the ground, according to a notice of claim filed on his behalf.

McLemore, a former Maricopa County Sheriff's Office deputy, claims police acted on "irresponsible and inaccurate statements" and escalated the confrontation to "completely unnecessary levels" before shooting him in the chest with the Taser.

He wants a $600,000 settlement for an alleged violation of his civil rights and "the excruciating pain" inflicted by the Taser, according to the claim.

Tasers use a compressed nitrogen cartridge to propel two probes at a range of 15 to 35 feet, according to report from Scottsdale-based manufacturer Taser International. The energy can penetrate one inch of clothing, and the "initial effect" can last from about five seconds for law enforcement products and up to 30 seconds for consumer market models.

More than 15,000 law enforcement agencies in over 50 countries have purchased or tested the company's products, and about 5,000 police departments have purchased or are purchasing Taser devices to issue to all on-duty patrol officers, according to the company report.

McLemore's arrest came after a family member pulled a knife on him during a "minor altercation," and McLemore went to Hyatt Place to visit friends, according to the claim.

Gilbert police found McLemore by "pinging" his cell phone, a process that allows authorities to track a suspect by locating the nearest cell tower. At least 11 officers arrived, and McLemore said the situation was "(expletive) ridiculous" as he approached police, according to the claim.

When an officer ordered McLemore to lie on the ground, he instead walked to a police car and placed his hands on the car. He again refused to comply when ordered to lie down.

"The subject did not comply with my orders," Gilbert Officer Todd Johnson wrote in his report. "I activated my Taser and the probes struck the subject in the chest."

McLemore dropped to the ground and was arrested.

Police officers' use of Tasers has generated widespread criticism and support. The incidents have yielded numerous claims and lawsuits, including several in the Southeast Valley.

In July, Phoenix police Officer Seth Samuel Castillo filed a $500,000 claim after he was found on Jan. 3 "slumped over" behind the wheel of a black Jeep Commander, which was blocking an intersection in his Gilbert neighborhood, according to a police report.

A Gilbert police officer ordered Castillo out of the vehicle and told him to put his hands on the car. Castillo reportedly dropped his arms, and the officer, fearing he might draw a weapon, shot him in the back with the Taser, according to the report.

Gilbert has not paid to settle that claim, and Castillo has yet to file a civil lawsuit, town spokeswoman Beth Lucas said.

In 2007, an 18-year-old Gilbert man died after police used a Taser to shock him. An investigation by the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office later determined drugs to be the primary cause of death and did not list the Taser strike as a contributing factor.

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