Utah judge rules Taser death lawsuit can go to trial
A federal judge on Wednesday ruled a lawsuit filed by the family of Brian Layton Cardall who died after being shocked with a Taser may move forward to trial.
Cardall died on the side of a southern Utah highway in 2009 after police shocked the 32-year-old twice as he suffered a bipolar manic episode.
U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups ruled the family may not bring some of their claims to trial, but the judge allowed the central claim in the case: that officers should never have used a Taser on the naked, unarmed Cardall. A trial date has not yet been set.
"The Cardalls are anxious for a jury to hear the evidence that is set forth in the judge's 27-page opinion," Karra Porter, the family's attorney, said Wednesday."Overuse of Tasers is a growing concern in this country."
Listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Cardall's wife, Anna; his daughters, Ava and Bella; and his parents, Duane and Margaret Cardall. The complaint names Hurricane Police Chief Lynn Excell, Officer Ken Thompson, and the City of Hurricane as defendants.
The lawsuit alleges the actions of Thompson and Excell amounted to willful misconduct, wrongful death, intentional infliction of emotional distress and the deprivation of constitutional rights. When Anna Cardall asked officers if her husband was going to be OK following the Taser deployments, they ordered her to return to her vehicle, preventing her from helping her husband. The officers also did not render aid to Cardall before paramedics arrived, which may have contributed to Cardall's death on June 9, 2009, according to the Cardall's wrongful death claim.
Waddoups last month heard arguments from both sides as part of a motion in which the defendants had asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit before trial.
Peter Stirba, a Salt Lake City attorney who has represented Hurricane during the Cardall case, argued his clients never intended to fatally harm Cardall and were trying their best to handle the situation after 911 calls reported Cardall was nude and running erratically into traffic.
Stirba said Wednesday he is investigating whether he can appeal Waddoups ruling under immunity arguments. He said he is pleased the judge dismissed some of the claims.
Attorney Karra Porter, who represents the Cardalls, argued the department was negligent with its use of vague use of force policies. She also argued Cardall's rights were violated when he was handcuffed after being shocked by the Taser and that law enforcement did not act quickly enough when Cardall stopped breathing on the side of the road.
She said a jury could classify law enforcement's behavior as "willful misconduct."
The Cardall's lawsuit also alleges police could have contained Brian Cardall differently. The complaint alleges several missteps made by Thompson and Excell at the scene including that:
Â» Thompson deployed a Taser 42 seconds after arriving at the scene, despite information from a 911 dispatcher that Cardall was bipolar and had taken medication and was waiting for it to take effect. Dispatchers told officers that Cardall spoke of meeting the president and was going in the road and jumping in front of cars indications of mental illness.
Â» Thompson and Excell responded to the scene, despite the fact that the incident was outside of Hurricane city limits and should have been handled by Washington County deputies, who were en route at the time Thompson used his Taser.
Â» When Thompson arrived at the scene, the 156-pound Cardall, nude and unarmed, was no longer running in the road. Thompson drew his Taser immediately and began shouting commands, without ever trying to engage Cardall in a conversation to defuse the situation. When Thompson yelled "come here," Cardall put his hands in the air by his head.
Â» Cardall took a step toward Excell and then a step back toward his wife, and then steps toward Thompson without ever aggressively moving toward anyone.
Â» Thompson and Excell did not make any efforts to take Cardall into custody after he was shot with a Taser once and remained on the ground. Cardall was breathing and moaning after the first Taser cycle. Thompson waited only two seconds before firing a second shot at Cardall and Excell then rolled Cardall face down in the gravel and handcuffed him.
Â» Thompson did not use a can of pepper spray as a first method of force. Neither officer tried to use their hands to restrain Cardall.
Â» Thompson and Excell did not render aid to Cardall before paramedics arrived, although the man 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.
• Police took a pregnant Anna Cardall into custody. They demanded she drive her vehicle to the Hurricane jail, where she sat in an interrogation room as her husband lay in an ambulance. Although she was not a suspect in any crime, police refused to let her leave the jail, even to get a clean diaper for her 2-year-old daughter, according to the lawsuit. Anna Cardall also was not allowed to go to Dixie Regional Hospital in St. George to be with her husband, who was pronounced dead after about an hour of resuscitation efforts at the hospital. Police officers came into the interrogation room to inform her that Brian Cardall had died.
Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap, who reviewed findings by the Washington County Critical Incident Task Force, announced in November 2009 that Thompson was justified in using force on Cardall. Belnap's statement said Thompson's decision to deploy the Taser was legal under Utah law and the Hurricane Police Department's use-of-force policy.
Training for police
A resolution signed by Gov. Gary Herbert last year encourages Utah police departments to participate in a training program for officers who encounter the mentally ill. Supported by the family of Brian Cardall, it endorses the Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) Academy and calls for law enforcement to recognize that the training improves the outcomes of police officers' encounters with the mentally ill.
Salt Lake City Detective Ron Bruno, who oversees the academy, has previously said 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.