North Carolina Family Awarded $10M in Taser Lawsuit

By SEANNA ADCOX | July 22, 2011

A federal jury awarded $10 million this week to the family of a North Carolina teenager who died after a police officer shocked him with a Taser at the grocery store where he worked, according to court documents.

The jury found Taser International at fault in the March 2008 death of 17-year-old Darryl Wayne Turner. Authorities said the Charlotte teen went into cardiac arrest and died after an officer fired the Taser twice, holding the trigger for 37 seconds and then for 5.

Turner’s family filed the wrongful death lawsuit against the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company in March 2010.

“I’m glad the verdict was in our favor, but we’re definitely not celebrating,” his mother, Tammy Fontenot, told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “It cannot bring back my son’s life. Hopefully, it will help others in the future dealing with Tasers.”

Court documents show the jury found that Taser International failed to provide adequate warning or instruction about the stun gun to Charlotte police, creating an unreasonably dangerous condition the company should have known about.

The company claimed Turner had a heart condition, but the county’s medical examiner disagreed in testimony, according to Charles Everage, an attorney for the family.

The plaintiffs presented the company’s own studies on animals to argue it knew the risk.

The jury deliberated for five hours Tuesday, following six days of trial.

The company stressed that the judgment is far from certain. It said in a statement Wednesday that it has already asked the court to overturn the verdict. If that’s denied, Taser will request a new trial. If that’s not granted, Taser will appeal in the 4th Circuit Court.

“The company believes it has strong legal grounds for these post-verdict remedies,” said company spokesman Steve Tuttle.

The 17-year-old graduate of Crossroads Charter High School had worked at the Food Lion for about a year, when he got in an argument with a store manager, Everage said.

The lawsuit says police were called to remove Turner. It says there were no threats, but Turner did knock a display off a counter, perhaps inadvertently, and “perhaps threw a harmless object.”

“No violence was used,” Everage said, declining to be more specific. “It was something that should not have led to death. He was an employee always willing to come in, who got to work on time. He was a good employee until that day.”

Turner tested negative for drugs, and there was no evidence he was under the influence of any substance, Everage said.

The officer aimed at the center of Turner’s chest. If he had received proper training, he would have known the risk of cardiac arrest, and would have either aimed lower or used a less aggressive option, the lawsuit said.

The officer was suspended after a review board found he was justified in using the Taser, but his prolonged use of the weapon was not. The city of Charlotte settled with the family for $625,000 in 2009, although it didn’t admit wrongdoing.

Fontenot described her son, who skipped kindergarten and graduated early, as extremely bright and responsible. The second of six children, he helped take care of his younger siblings, and was in the process of applying for college. He wanted to be a sports trainer or physical therapist, she said.

“He was a joy to be around,” she said.

The award was first reported Wednesday by the Charlotte Business Journal.

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