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Cardall's Taser death inspires Utah police training

Published May 12, 2011 1:23 pm

Resolution • Herbert pushes for more police education on situations involving mental illness.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

He was supposed to be finishing school this week.

Two years ago, Brian Layton Cardall, 32, earned a prestigious fellowship to conduct research for a doctorate in biological sciences at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.

His dreams of embarking on a career in science were cut short on the side of a southern Utah highway in 2009 when a Hurricane police officer deployed a Taser on him as he experienced a bipolar episode. Cardall's wife, Anna, called 911 to ask for medical help, and watched as police instead used a stun gun on her confused husband, who later died.

On Wednesday, Anna Cardall brought her daughters Ava, 4, and Bella, 18 months, to the state Capitol to celebrate their dad's legacy in a way the family never envisioned: By observing Gov. Gary Herbert hold a symbolic signing of a resolution that encourages the state's police departments to participate in a program designed to better train officers on how to handle encounters with the mentally ill.

The Cardall family listened as Herbert complimented the family for sharing their story about losing Brian — and highlighting the need for a better understanding among police forces about mental illness.

"Out of tragedy comes good things," Herbert said, before signing the resolution known as S.C.R. 1. "Our state is in a better place in many ways because of the Cardall family and their tragedy."

State Sen. Patricia Jones, D-Holladay, introduced the resolution during the last session to endorse the CIT Academy and the education and training it brings law enforcement. Her resolution, which came after working in conjunction with the Cardall family and the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Utah, calls for law enforcement to recognize that the CIT Academy improves the outcomes of police officers' encounters with the mentally ill. It asks police agencies to put officers through the academy.

Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank praised the program at Wednesday's ceremony at the Capitol, saying that officers who have a sharper understanding of mental health issues are able to help the community. The department adopted the program in 2001.

The Salt Lake City Police Department was recently chosen by the Council of State Governments Justice Center as a "mental health learning site" — a place where other law enforcement agencies can look for guidance on how to improve their responses to the mentally ill. Only six police departments in the U.S. received the designations, which were chosen by national experts and the U.S. Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Assistance.

Salt Lake City Detective Ron Bruno, who oversees the CIT Academy, has previously said the Brian Cardall case appears to have motivated other police departments to enroll in the program. The Hurricane Police Department is among the agencies that started attending the CIT Academy after Cardall's death.

About 12 percent of Utah's 1,200 law enforcement officers hold CIT certification; more have likely undergone the training but have had their certifications expire, Bruno said.

A recent study on CIT training unveiled last spring and published in the journal Schizophrenia Bulletin found that police officers who undergo CIT instruction are less likely to use force when handling a situation involving a mentally ill person.

Duane Cardall, Brian Cardall's father, said the family would find it gratifying if his son's legacy could include not only the accomplishments he made as a published scientist but also a greater understanding by police officers of how to deal with the mentally ill. He said he hopes other families won't lose loved ones because of missteps by police.

"His death was tragic and completely unnecessary," said Duane Cardall. He became emotional at the podium recalling plans to celebrate with his son when Brian Cardall completed his doctoral dissertation.

"Our family had other plans. Had our son not died, we would most likely be in Flagstaff today." The Cardall lawsuit

The family of Brian Cardall has filed a federal lawsuit against two Hurricane police officers involved in the use of a Taser on the 32-year-old man as he suffered a bipolar episode on the side of State Road 59 near Hurricane on June 9, 2009.

Anna Cardall had called 911 to report her husband behaving erratically, and told dispatchers her husband was unarmed, had bipolar disorder and had taken Seroquel, a medicine used to treat manic episodes associated with the disorder. The lawsuit alleges police could have contained Brian Cardall differently. The complaint, which is pending in federal court, alleges several missteps were made by Officer Ken Thompson and Hurricane Police Chief Lynn Excell at the scene.

Thompson deployed a Taser 42 seconds after arriving at the scene, despite information from a 911 dispatcher that Cardall was bipolar and was waiting for medication to take effect. Dispatchers told officers that Cardall spoke of meeting the president and was jumping in front of cars on the road — indications of mental illness.

Thompson and Excell went to the scene, even though the incident was outside of Hurricane city limits and within the jurisdiction of the Washington County sheriff's deputies who were en route.

When Thompson arrived at the scene, the 156-pound Cardall, nude and unarmed, was no longer in the road. Thompson drew his Taser and began shouting commands. When Thompson yelled, "Come here," Cardall put his hands up.

Thompson and Excell did not make any effort to take Cardall into custody after he was hit by a Taser. He remained on the ground, breathing and moaning after the first Taser cycle. Thompson waited only two seconds before firing a second shot at Cardall; Excell then rolled Cardall facedown in the gravel and handcuffed him.

Thompson did not use a can of pepper spray. Neither officer tried to use their hands to restrain Cardall.

The officers did not render aid to Cardall before paramedics arrived, even though he appeared not to be breathing. They did not evaluate Cardall's airway or turn him on his side so he could breathe more easily. Cardall was left handcuffed.

Peter Stirba, a Salt Lake City attorney representing the Hurricane Police Department, maintains Hurricane police responded to the Cardall situation in accordance with their training. After an investigation last year, Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap found the officers were justified in using a Taser on Cardall. —

What's next in court?

A 10-day jury trial in the Cardall case is tentatively set to start in U.S. District Court on Nov. 28 before Judge Clark Waddoups.