Two former East Point police officers violated the department’s policies when they repeatedly activated their Tasers to shock a handcuffed 24-year-old man, who died in a creek, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday.
Unlike other recent instances in New York and Ferguson., Mo., in which men died while interacting with police, there are no claims Gregory Lewis Towns Jr. was resisting, according to police reports and a Fulton County State Court lawsuit. Also in the case of Towns, everyone involved was black.
Records show police found Towns, who weighed 281 pounds, sitting on the ground, catching his breath, after a chase of less than a mile, and he asked officers at least 10 times to be allowed to rest before going with them. According to the suit and logs from the Tasers, the devices were activated 14 times over the following 29 minutes with the two officers pressing the electrified prongs against Towns’ skin.
Towns family said they were told Cpl. Howard Weems claimed the first time he activated his Taser he did not touch Towns and only used the sound to intimidate him. But at least 13 times, the lawsuit says,Weems or Sgt. Marcus Eberhart used their Tasers in the “drive stun mode” to repeatedly deliver several seconds of a 50,000 volt charge by pushing the prongs directly into Towns’ skin.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Towns’ 7-month-old son, does not ask for specific monetary damages. Towns family says they want change. The Towns wrongful death lawsuit emphasizes that the department’s policies were not followed and does not claim Towns was wrongly detained.
“I’m angry and something has to be done,” said Towns’ mother, Claudia. Officers came to her house shortly after the April 11 encounter to ask questions about her son but they did not tell her at the time he had died. She learned of her son’s death six hours later.
Still, the police chief acted almost immediately when he learned of Towns’ death.
Woodrow Blue fired Weems and Eberhart resigned in lieu of termination.
The chief then asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to look into the incident and he also ordered an internal review. Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard has reports from both investigations but he is waiting on a “crucial piece of evidence” before deciding if the case will be presented to a grand jury for possible criminal charges, his office said.
Then on Aug. 17, Blue abruptly resigned for “personal reasons.”
Blue did not respond to a telephone message left with his wife on Thursday.
Weems’ attorney said in a statement Towns death should be attributed to his hypertension and his weight and should not be blamed on the officers. Eberhart could not be reached for comment Thursday.
According to reports from officers involved that day, the Tasers were used to force the handcuffed Towns to comply when told to stand up and walk. East Point PD’s policy says Tasers cannot be used on someone who is handcuffed or to prod someone.
Though Towns ran when an officer first approached him as he was leaving the property of the townhome complex where he had been arguing with his girlfriend, he was sitting and resting when they caught up with him, according to documents.
According to the lawsuit, some of the evidence of malicious intent were comments by Eberhart. The lawsuit said Eberhart commented, “Tase his ass and make him get up.” Eberhart also said their were repercussions if he had “to cross that creek.” Eberhart wrote in his report that he shocked himself when he used his Taser on Towns when he was in the creek.
The Fulton County medical examiner said Towns’ death was a homicide due to hypertensive cardiovascular disease exacerbated by “electrical stimulation.”
For years, some in the medical field have warned that Tasers can be lethal, especially on people with medical problems. The American Medical Association and the American Heart Association have both issued reports warning against their use.
Dr. Robert McAfee, a retired surgeon in Portland, Maine, and the former president of the AMA who has spoken against use of Tasers, said officer must be aware that shocks from the devices can have more severe consequences on people with health problems.
“If you continue to pull the trigger, the likelihood of an adverse response goes up exponentially,” McAfee told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Thursday. “This is not a toy. This is not a BB gun. This is a lethal weapon when used in the wrong hands.”