Police brutality lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm announce that a federal jury recently found that a police officer in San Jose was guilty of using unreasonable force on a man by repeatedly tasering him, resulting in his death. The family brought a lawsuit against the police department, ultimately winning $1 million.
The 47-year-old man, Steve Salinas, died in 2007 at the Vagabond Motel in San Jose, California, after being Tasered ten times in 93 seconds. Four officers responded to a call of a potentially dangerous and naked man high on PCP at the motel.
Salinas was unarmed and not combative when the four officers approached him. Three of those officers were exonerated when they claimed to have no idea the fourth, Officer Barry Chickayasu, had fired the Taser gun numerous times already.
This is actually the first time the city of San Jose has lost a Taser-related death lawsuit since 2004, despite the guns killing more than five people in the last nine years. Three of those cases were able to be settled out of court for between $10,000 and $200,000.
Officer Chickayasu did not even show up for the trial and ultimately left the police force after being disciplined for an unrelated incident. This unanimous jury verdict is significant for many reasons; first, because Taser-related injuries are often blamed on other factors, such as, in this case, the presence of PCP in the victim’s system. The jury, however, decided that the Taser was at least in-part to blame for his death.
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This was due in no small part to the testimony of the medical examiner, who listed PCP as Salinas’ cause of death but also stated in court that the Taser was also a contributing factor. The city attempted to argue that the officer had to stun-gun Salinas so many times so the other officers could handcuff him. As stated, however, there were four other officers on the scene at the time, outweighing Salinas by a combined 600 pounds.
Salinas’ family argued that the officers knowingly violated their own department’s Taser policy, which had been in place since 2004. During training, officers are told to avoid more than one Taser applications (much less ten), and informed that prolonged use of a Taser can lead directly to death, particularly in drug users.
Taser International was initially also named as a defendant in the suit, however, the company successfully argued that it was not liable because it properly warned the San Jose Police Department of the risks of using the device.
Conversely, a lawsuit in North Carolina alleged that Taser International was to blame in the death of a 17-year-old, because it failed to warn police officers of its inherent dangers. A federal jury agreed, and awarded the teen’s family $10 million.
The incident occurred in 2008 after a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officer responded to a dispute between the teen and his boss. Surveillance videos showed an officer firing his Taser twice at the teen’s chest, holding the trigger first for 37 seconds and then for five. An autopsy concluded that the Taser alone sent the teen into cardiac arrest, which ultimately killed him.
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His family accused Taser International of failing to provide adequate warnings and instructions on stun gun usage to the police department, creating dangerous and foreseeable conditions. The teen’s family hopes the verdict will warn officers throughout the country of the fatal effects of firing a Taser directly to the chest of someone for an extended period of time.
Police misconduct lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm have decades of experience advocating on behalf of those seriously injured by rogue police officers. Our attorneys are available at any time of day or night to provide you with no-obligation, completely free legal consultations.