crimesider

Mother Watched Son Tasered To Death

MOBERLY, Mo. (CBS/AP) It was a mother's worst nightmare; her son tasered to death before her eyes. And the culprits, says a lawsuit, were the police.

The case came to a head last week, when a northeast Missouri city agreed to an indefinite moratorium on the use of stun guns and will pay $2.4 million to the man's family.

Taser International, which makes the weapon, says Tasers are "incapable of causing death." The Department of Justice said Taser shock contributed to 36 deaths during arrests in 2003. Amnesty International documented 50 cases.

In August 2008, Athena Bachtel, watched as her son was tasered after arguing with Moberly police during a traffic stop. Stanley Harlan, 23, was stunned three times for a total of 31 seconds. He collapsed and went into cardiac arrest. For 14 minutes he received no medical attention. By the time paramedics arrived, it was too late.

Authorities have said Harlan was suspected of drunken driving. A statement from his family's lawyers said he was accused of speeding.

Bachtel sought the moratorium as a way to prevent other deaths, said the family's lead attorney, Stephen M. Ryals.

"The pursuit of justice for her son and specifically reforms of the behavior of Moberly police was paramount," Ryals said. "The monetary settlement was really unimportant to her."

Bachtel, along with Stanley Harlan's father and his 1-year-old son will share in the settlement.

The readout on the officers' Taser indicated Harlan was stunned three times, Ryals said. Harlan lost consciousness and died a short time later.

Calls to attorneys for the city Monday night were not immediately returned. But the city said in a news release that no fault was admitted in the settlement and its insurance company will pay the entire settlement.

"It is never the goal or desire of any police officer to cause or contribute to the death of any person," the release said. "Mr. Harlan's death was certainly unanticipated and unintentional."

The release from the city noted that the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the FBI investigated the death and found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. No criminal charges were filed.

But Ryals said his clients haven't given up on the possibility of a criminal prosecution.

He said he also is considering a lawsuit against the maker of the stun gun, Taser International Inc. of Scottsdale, Ariz.

The stun gun moratorium in Moberly will continue until two town hall meetings have been held, and the police department has issued a revised Taser policy. The city also has agreed to assign at least one automatic external defibrillator to an on-duty patrol unit and require additional training on topics including recognizing and responding to medical distress.

  • Edecio Martinez

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