Does an Unjustified Taser Assault Point to a Wider Trend?

Iain Gould solicitor, asks if Taser assaults point to a wider trend.
Iain Gould solicitor, asks if Taser assaults point to a wider trend.

By Iain Gould, solicitor

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.

You can read more about Cornelius’ experience in The Mirror.

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.

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British Transport Police ordered to pay compensation after police fabricated evidence

Picture of Iain Gould, Solicitor (lawyer) and specialist in actions against the police claims.
Iain Gould, Solicitor (lawyer)

By Iain Gould, Solicitor

Yesterday, British Transport Police (‘BTP’) were ordered to pay £13,000 plus legal costs to my client Peter Garrigan after serving police fabricated evidence.

Peter, a 26-year-old Liverpool man, was awarded compensation after a unanimous jury verdict following a four-day trial at Liverpool County Court.

The jury found that:

  • PC Paul Quest of British Transport Police unlawfully assaulted Mr Garrigan;
  • the police unlawfully arrested him, issued him with a Fixed Penalty Notice for breach of s.5 of the Public Order Act and, most shockingly of all;
  • one or two serving officers of British Transport Police fabricated evidence against my client ‘in order to cause him to be punished for  something they knew he had not done or to escape punishment for their own misconduct’.

Compensation claim against the police after fabricated evidence

Peter (shown below and details used with permission) instructed me as I specialise in civil compensation claims against the police. You can read more about me and the work I do by clicking on the link.

Picture of Peter Garrigan, a man who won a claim against the police after they fabricated evidence against him.
Peter Garrigan, showing a black eye caused after a police assault.

I previously wrote about his case as it involved a jury trial, where unfortunately a jury failed to reach a verdict. After another jury heard the evidence, they all agreed that the allegations of police assault, misconduct and police fabricated evidence were proven.

Mr Garrigan bravely took on the police, endured three trials where his evidence was tested under cross-examination, and waited four years for justice. He had never been in trouble with the police before, or since. His impeccable character has been confirmed by this significant court judgment.

His case has parallels with the Andrew Mitchell ‘plebgate’ story, which I have written about here. Mr Mitchell is currently dealing with his own case where the police allegedly fabricated evidence.

This is yet another example of abuse by serving police officers that proves that the experience of Andrew Mitchell is not unique.

Both my client and I hope that the negative publicity and judicial criticism British Transport Police have received will make serving police officers think twice before fabricating evidence in future.

You can read a full case report by clicking on the link.

If you believe that the police fabricated evidence to prosecute you and want to claim compensation, contact me using the online form below, on 0151 933 5525, or via my firm’s website. Alternatively, read more by clicking the home page link.

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Do Merseyside Police use excessive force with their Tasers?

By Iain Gould, Solicitor

I was saddened to hear about another Taser (‘stun gun’) attack by the police over the weekend.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, James McCarthy, a 22-year-old from the West Derby suburb Liverpool, was allegedly Tasered four times by a Merseyside Police officer. He was rushed to hospital by ambulance and is now in a ‘stable’ condition.

You can read the preliminary reports on the incident here.

I asked in my blog last year if the police are using tasers correctly. The Taser is a powerful and potentially deadly weapon. Training ought to emphasize the risks to the individuals concerned, especially if multiple discharges are made.

Given the physical and emotional trauma of just one discharge, if the family’s claim that Mr. McCarthy was Tasered four times is proven to be correct, it is difficult to imagine how that was a necessary, reasonable and proportionate use of force. If the police officers involved are shown to have used excessive force, serious disciplinary action and a compensation claim against the police ought to follow.

As a solicitor who specialises in these cases, I routinely receive instructions from people who have been victims of police brutality. Often my clients tell me that they pursue compensation claims so that the officers involved are disciplined and then trained properly about the use of force.  This, rather than the money they receive, often helps them come to terms with the emotional trauma caused by such a serious assault, which can linger long after the physical symptoms have resolved. It is not uncommon for people to become withdrawn, depressed and anxious after a Taser attack. The effects of being assaulted by the police, who represent authority and ought to be trusted, cannot be dismissed lightly.

Merseyside Police have rightly referred Sunday’s incident to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Even if the IPCC find no evidence of wrongdoing, the fact that James McCarthy is still in hospital should serve to remind all police forces about the need for proper training, and for the officers issued with Tasers to think twice about their devastating effects before using them.

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