Coweta deputies used Tasers repeatedly on man who then died

Coweta County sheriff’s deputies repeatedly used Tasers on a 32-year-old man who died during their struggle, newly released video showed on Friday. Struggling in the back of a car, the deputies continued to tase Chase Sherman, 32, even after he declared, “I’m dead!” and “I quit!”

The video, from the deputies’ body cameras, also appeared to confirm a claim by Sherman’s father that he saw the officers exchanging high fives after his son died.

Meanwhile, after questions from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation acknowledged on Friday that it had not conducted its own interview of the three civilians — Sherman’s parents and his fiancée — who witnessed the killing.

GBI spokesman Scott Dutton said Coweta sheriff’s officers interviewed the witnesses that night and a GBI agent sat in for part of the session. The GBI, the official investigating agency, should have done its own interview, spokesman Scott Dutton said.

“We’re aware of the error of not interviewing the family in this case and we’re going back to correct it,” Dutton said.

The footage recording Sherman’s harrowing final moments was released Friday by the Coweta County district attorney.

The Sherman family’s attorney said Sherman was hit by Tasers 15 times, although the deputies claimed they’d used the weapons five times. In any event, the video raised troubling questions about the deputies’ conduct during, and after, the altercation with the Destin man.

“I’m dead. I’m dead!” said Sherman as he lay, handcuffed, face down on the floorboard of his parents’ car. He was being held down by the weight of an EMT after being tased repeatedly by the deputies. Then, “I said I quit. I quit!”

One of the deputies tased him again, ordering him to stop resisting. The EMT said Sherman was no longer able to put up a fight, but a final, prolonged shock from the Taser was administered anyway, followed by an anguished cry from Sherman.

“Okay. I’m dead,” he said, finally.

As they watched just a few feet away, Mary Ann Sherman turned to her husband and said, “They’re killing him,” her husband told the AJC.

Chase Sherman died after his torso was compressed “by the body weight” of an EMT following “several trigger pulls of an electronic control device,” according to his death certificate.

No one has been charged with a crime in connection with the episode. On Friday, during a press conference at their attorney’s office, Sherman’s parents said they will seek federal criminal charges against the deputies if the state opts not to bring charges of its own.

“These dirty dogs didn’t know when to quit,” said Kevin Sherman, Chase’s father. “I want these guys off the streets and in jail.”

The incident occurred Nov. 20, as the Sherman family and Chase’s fiancée were driving home to Florida from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. As they traveled south on I-85 in Newnan, Mary Ann Sherman called 911 asking for help because her son was having a “nervous breakdown” and was trying to leap from the car. The vehicle ultimately parked against the median wall on the interstate.

This is where, in the back seat of the Shermans’ car, Deputies Samuel Smith and Joshua Sepanski began their struggle with Chase Sherman.

In a statement Friday, District Attorney Pete Skandalakis said Sherman was “physically combative and would not cooperate in getting out of the back seat.”

The statement continues, “The deputies responded with the use of Tasers in order to force Mr. Sherman to comply with their commands. Multiple attempts were made to subdue Sherman but the Tasers did not seem to have an effect.”

Later, as Chase, already dead, was being taken to a local hospital, Kevin Sherman said he saw the deputies high-fiving each other. A close examination of the body camera footage confirms his account.

“I was dumbfounded,” he said.

Then, with the body camera still rolling, one of the deputies says he’s afraid Sherman’s death will mark the end of his law enforcement career.

“We are (expletive). I’m (expletive) fired,” he told the other officers gathered along the interstate.

“No you ain’t,” an unidentified supervisor reassured him. “You’re good.”

The video will increase pressure on Skandalakis to seek charges, but he said Friday he is still reviewing the incident.

“This case will be evaluated closely by examining the facts and applicable law before any conclusion is formed,” Skandalakis said.

The GBI concluded its investigation of the Nov. 20 incident in February and forwarded its report to Coweta authorities. Now, with additional interviews to be conducted, that report may change.

The video raises questions about the department’s training as to use of force and dealing with mentally ill or those under the influence of drugs, said Philip Stinson, a professor and criminologist at Bowling Green State University and a nationally recognized expert in police use of force.

Stinson reviewed the video and told the AJC that repeatedly tasing a man in handcuffs was both disturbing and criminal.

“That’s terrible,” said Stinson, a lawyer and former police officer. “I can think of no circumstance where it would be appropriate to tase someone 15 times. That’s outrageous. They are likely to know that if you shock someone 15 times you can kill them. A taser is a lethal weapon.”

In their report, deputies Smith and Sepanski said family members told them Chase had used “spice,” or synthetic marijuana, before their trip to the Dominican Republic for their other son’s wedding.

The Shermans confirmed their son’s admitted drug use and paranoid behavior to the AJC but disputed the police reports that their son had acted “violently” in the car.

The family’s attorney, Chris Stewart, described what happened in the back seat as a “four-minute torture session.”

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