What started as a domestic dispute ended with the death of a 24-year-old Georgia man when he was tasered 13 times by two police officers. The incident occurred on April 11 in East Point, Georgia, a small city close to Atlanta, and charges are now been filed against the city by the family’s lawyer.
Just when we needed another reason to fear police brutality.
The East Point police became involved in Gregory Towns’ life when his girlfriend called the cops during a domestic dispute. It would prove to be a very short but devastating involvement.
Towns had left his girlfriend’s home and was in the process of leaving the property when the patrol car arrived. He ran for almost a mile before he fell. When the officers reached him, he was already on the ground. At 6’3″ and about 275 pounds, the subject was too much for the officers to manhandle.
Ordered to get on his feet, he told the police that he needed to rest a few minutes. Even after he was tased with a five-second charge, Towns (who had a heart condition) still claimed he was too tired to move. The officers, Sergeant Marcus Eberhart and Corporal Howard Weems, helped him to his feet but he sat back down again, complaining of exhaustion.
The two police officers who’d chased him began to use their Tasers like cattle prods. When Gregory fell down an embankment and into a creek, they continued to trigger their electroshock weapons. One of the two managed to even shock himself because he fired while standing in water.
Eberhart wrote, in his official report of the incident, that:
“We could not get Towns out of the creek due to his size and weight. Towns was quiet and not speaking. I then checked his neck for a pulse. I was wet and cold and could not get a clear pulse.”
Neither could paramedics who arrived on the scene. Gregory Towns was dead.
Official documentation of the incident is condemning enough. The police department has a rule about not using drive force (also known as drive stun) tasering to escort or prod subjects. It’s also against the department’s rules to use a Taser against a subject who is offering only passive resistance — the very definition of a non-aggressive man refusing to walk in handcuffs because of physical exhaustion.
As a result, the man’s family has filed a lawsuit as reported by local television station WSB-TV 2. The county coroner’s autopsy report has ruled that Towns’ death was a homicide, citing ill health and electric shock as the cause.
The Towns’ family attorney, Chris Stewart, is using the city’s own documents as evidence.
He states that eyewitness accounts and the city’s records show that two officers violated the local standard operating procedure for using a Taser in the apprehension of a subject.
“He wasn’t cursing. He wasn’t being abusive. He was saying ‘I’m tired.’ This is a direct violation of their own rules. You cannot use a Taser to escort or prod a subject.”
The police department keeps a log of how many times a Taser is triggered; in Towns’ case, the number is 13. There’s no way to know how many of those electric shocks actually made contact with Gregory’s body.
The Raw Story has more details. It seems that (former) Sergeant Eberhart triggered his Taser 10 times while (former) Corporal Weems triggered his weapon only three times. The total shock time comes out to be 47 seconds.
Tasers are made to be non-lethal weapons used to subdue fleeing, belligerent, or potentially dangerous people. Gregory Towns was none of these at the time he died; he was physically overwhelmed by exhaustion, wet, and handcuffed.
Police departments use a Taser model that has a Drive Stun capability; the weapon is held against the subject and used as a form of pain compliance. Guidelines created by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2011 recommend that drive stun as a pain compliance technique should be avoided.
Eberhart and Weems claimed in their initial reports that they discharged their Tasers only six times. In the aftermath of the incident, Weems’ position with the police department was terminated and Eberhart retired to avoid being fired. Weems has protested the termination of his job, claiming that he was only following the senior officer’s orders.
Dale Preiser, a lawyer for Weems, has claimed that use of drive stun to gain compliance is permitted under federal and Georgia law.
If that’s true, then the court case is purely a local issue, as East Point’s police department policy clearly shows that cattle prod tasering a passive subject is not allowed.
Gregory’s mother, an administrator at a Metro Atlanta hospital, wants to make sure this never happens to anyone else’s family.
“What I want is justice, not just for Gregory but for all people. If this could happen to my son, it could happen to yours.”
The family’s lawsuit, which involves not only the city but the police department itself, has been filed on behalf of Towns’ 7-month-old son.
East Point police spokesperson, Lieutenant Cliff Chandler, spoke with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
“We regret the loss of any life. We’re just not happy with anyone losing their lives. It was a bad deal.”
Both city officials and Marcus Eberhart have declined to comment on the matter of pending litigation. Paul Howard, the Fulton County District Attorney, is waiting for crucial evidence before deciding whether to press criminal charges in front of a grand jury. He expects to make that decision within 30 days.
Amnesty International notes that the use of Drive Stun on individuals already in police custody may constitute a form of abuse. According to their records, 500 people had died of police Taser use as of 2012.
It has been agreed by everyone involved that Gregory Towns’ Taser-induced death was not a matter of racial bias, as both officers and the subject himself were all African-American.
Attorney Chris Stewart noted:
“Mr. Towns’ killing is not about race. It’s about police brutality… going to the extreme.”
[Image Courtesy of WSBTV]