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Utah's Cardall family settles lawsuit over Taser death

Published December 29, 2012 4:09 pm

Courts • Case involving Brian Cardall had been set for a jury trial.
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The family of Brian Layton Cardall, who died in 2009 after a Hurricane police officer shocked him with a Taser, has settled its wrongful death lawsuit against the officer, police chief and the city.

Documents filed in U.S. District Court state only that the parties entered into a "mutual general settlement agreement and release of all claims," without disclosing terms of the settlement.

A federal judge ruled in January that the case could proceed to trial, but attorney Peter Stirba, whose firm represented the defendants, released a joint statement Friday that said the parties believed a settlement was in the best interest of all involved in the "tragic events" of June 9, 2009. The settlement included dropping Police Chief Lynn Excell and police Officer Kenneth Thompson from the case.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit were Cardall's wife, Anna; his daughters, Ava and Bella; and his parents, Duane and Margaret Cardall. Duane Cardall is the retired editorial director at KSL.

"The ultimate outcome in this case would have required a jury to consider many facts, a number of which are in dispute," the statement said. "However, substantial expense would be born by both sides if this case went to trial, and the emotional burden on the Cardalls and on Chief Excell and Officer Thompson would have been very real and very difficult. After a full consideration of all the factors involved, the parties are satisfied that the settlement reached in this case represents a prudent assessment of the risks of going to trial and the implications that the burdens of trial would have for everyone involved."

Stirba said the settlement amount was confidential. Legal agreements involving municipalities are typically public record in Utah.

Cardall's death started a statewide discussion over the use of Tasers and the police response to the mentally ill. The Utah Legislature passed a resolution encouraging police departments to provide officers with better training in how to respond to encounters with those who have mental illness. Gov. Gary Herbert signed the resolution in a May 2011 ceremony with Cardall's survivors in attendance.

Cardall, 32, died after Thompson shocked him twice as he stood naked and unarmed on the side of State Road 59, which runs from Hurricane to Fredonia, Ariz.

Cardall, who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and his wife, Anna, were returning to their home in Flagstaff, Ariz., after attending a wedding in Salt Lake City when he began to act out. They pulled to the side of the road so Cardall could take some medication.

The couple got out of the car, leaving their daughter inside. Cardall, a doctoral student at Northern Arizona University, took the medication, but before it took effect, he became agitated and began removing his clothing. When he began darting into the roadway, Anna Cardall, aware it would take about an hour for the medication to work and fearing her husband might get hurt, called 911.

Thompson and Excell responded to the scene. In an episode that lasted just 42 seconds, Thompson drew his Taser as he approached Cardall and ordered him to get on the ground. Cardall immediately raised his hands into the air and, as Thompson continued to order him to get on the ground, Cardall pleaded with him to not shoot.

At one point, Cardall got down on one knee in the gravel but stood back up and took a step toward Thompson, who fired his Taser. Cardall fell back onto the ground. Thompson shot Cardall a second time after he made a slight movement while lying prone alongside the road. Both Taser barbs struck Cardall's chest over his heart.

The officers then rolled Cardall over and cuffed him. A third officer who arrived on the scene noticed Cardall did not appear to be breathing normally, at which point Excell checked and found Cardall had no pulse. Neither Thompson nor Excell provided aid to Cardall, the family's complaint stated. Anna Cardall, who was pregnant with their second child, asked the officers if her husband was going to be OK and was ordered to return to her vehicle.

Karra Porter, the Cardalls' attorney, argued the officers' acts constituted willful misconduct and that the department's use-of-force policies were negligently vague. Stirba had argued that his clients never intended to fatally harm Cardall and acted appropriately to control the situation.

brooke@sltrib.com

Twitter: @brooke4trib