I have just settled a disturbing Taser assault case for Cornelius Thomas (details used with permission) against West Midlands Police.
I’m concerned about Mr Thomas’ personal experience, and also what this case says about police use of Tasers.
Taser Assault of Mentally Ill Man
Cornelius, who was aged 35 at the time of the incident, has a psychotic illness which has been diagnosed as bipolar affective disorder.
His condition first appeared in 1999 and he has received help from mental health services from 2001 onwards due to it repeatedly recurring.
On Friday 10 June 2011, he sadly suffered a deterioration in his mental state triggered by a combination of life stressors and a failure to take his medication.
After a mid-afternoon visit by his mental health doctor, Cornelius’ mental health team decided that he should be sectioned under the Mental Health Act. The team requested police assistance and an ambulance as this involved taking Cornelius to a psychiatric hospital unit and depriving him of his liberty.
Four Officers from West Midlands Police were assigned and, that evening, met the mental health team outside Cornelius’ home in Birmingham.
Cornelius, who was unaware of the decision to section him, had been out of the house with his 8-year-old daughter. At about 8pm he arrived home in his car with his daughter safely in the back seat. He saw two police cars and an ambulance near his house.
What happened next is a matter of dispute but Cornelius maintains that he was manhandled and then Tasered multiple times despite being non-aggressive and simply trying to escape from the officers into the safety of his own home.
In turn, West Midlands Police suggest that Cornelius was violent and uncooperative and in their Defence which was filed at court, admit that Cornelius was forcibly pulled from his car and Tasered four times:
- in his chest, then
- to his upper torso, then
- to his torso again, before
- finally in his back.
On each occasion he was Tasered, Cornelius said he felt a surge of electricity, intense pain and fear.
Cornelius told me that each Taser assault resulted in him falling to the ground suffering multiple minor soft tissue injuries, but he managed to get up and move a little closer to his front door.
On the final occasion that Mr Thomas was Tasered, he says that both his hands were in full view and that he was no threat. At this point Cornelius had his back to the police, his left hand on the door handle, and his right hand on the keys in the lock. Despite this, he was electrocuted again.
After the fourth Taser assault brought him to the ground Cornelius was handcuffed and transported to hospital where he was de-arrested and detained under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act 1983.
Following a medical examination, a Taser barb that had become embedded in the skin of his chest was removed.
Police Taser Assault Compensation Claim
Cornelius initially instructed non-specialist local solicitors who formally submitted a claim saying that West Midlands Police were negligent in their decision to deploy Tasers.
Following investigation, liability was denied, the Defendant maintaining that use of the Taser was “lawful, justified and proportionate in the circumstances”.
In response, his then solicitors advised Cornelius that the prospects of success were not good enough to “justify …proceeding further” and promptly closed their file.
Undeterred, Cornelius sought me out following research on the internet as a specialist in actions against the police and in particular the inappropriate use of Tasers.
In my opinion the claim had been poorly framed and investigated.
Cornelius gave a very credible account of what had happened. On his version of events it appeared to me that the officers had acted with unnecessary aggression and coercion rather than care and compassion.
I thought Cornelius had good prospects notwithstanding what his previous lawyers described as “the glaring inconsistencies between the account given by Mr Thomas and …. the Police Officers involved at the time of the incident when he was sectioned under the Mental Health Act”.
My confidence in Cornelius and his Taser assault claim has now been proven. He has agreed to an out-of-court settlement of substantial damages from West Midlands Police following the issue of court proceedings.
Taser Assaults on Mentally Ill Black People
But what of the wider picture?
I have recently commented on statistics that suggest that black people are three times more likely than white people to be involved in Taser incidents.
The research shows the electric stun gun was drawn, aimed or fired 38,135 times in England and Wales over five years.
In more than 12% of cases Tasers were used against black people, who make up about 4% of the population.
I have long maintained that there is a growing trend for the unnecessary and unreasonable use of Tasers (see here, for example).
This latest research proves a disproportionate use against a certain ethnic group.
Of that community, can it also be said that there is yet further disproportionate and excessive use of Tasers against those with mental health issues?
Matilda MacAttram of the campaign group Black Mental Health UK, maintains that there is emerging evidence that police are using Tasers against people with mental health problems, particularly those from African-Caribbean communities.
She is quoted as telling the BBC, “There’s an increasing amount of data, both anecdotal and also concrete, which show this supposedly “non-lethal” weapon is being used against people who are in a very vulnerable state”.
Cornelius Thomas would, no doubt, agree.
Contact me for expert advice if you have suffered a Taser assault through no fault of your own.