A federal jury in Baltimore returned a verdict in late January in favor of former Sheriff’s Deputy Rudy Torres, finding that he was not liable in the 2007 death of 20 year-old Jarrel Gray. While responding to a report of a fight, Torres used his electric stun gun on Gray twice. Gray died while waiting for an ambulance at the scene.
In the early morning of November 18, 2007, multiple people in a neighborhood just south of Frederick called police to report a fight. Torres responded to the call. One witness said he heard someone say “Get on the ground” and then heard a “pop noise” he recognized as a stun gun. Another witness at trial said that Gray was complying with Torres’ instructions when he used the stun gun the first time. A witness testified that he heard Gray say that his hands were on the ground.
After the first shock from the stun gun, Gray reportedly fell to the ground and did not move. He reportedly had his hands on the ground in front of him. Torres used the stun gun on Gray a second time, which Gray’s family’s attorney called “sadistic.” All parties agree that Gray was already dead by the time the ambulance arrived. The medical examiner reported that Gray died from “sudden death associated with restraint and alcohol intoxication.” According to Baltimore’s CBS affiliate WJZ, the medical examiner did not specifically identify the stun gun as the cause of death, but the stun gun was the only means of restraint included in the report.
Gray’s parents sued Torres, the Sheriff’s Department, and Frederick County for wrongful death. They alleged that Torres used excessive and unnecessary force. The suit demanded $145 million in damages.
A trial occurred in January that only addressed the Grays’ claims against Torres. Another trial against the sheriff’s office and the county may proceed at a later date. Torres argued that the use of force was reasonable and necessary under the circumstances. He testified that Gray had his hands in his pants and was behaving erratically, although other witnesses reportedly contradicted that account. Torres said that the second use of the stun gun was necessary because Gray refused to show his hands.
A “law enforcement expert” retained by Torres’ defense team testified that Torres was reasonable in viewing Gray as a threat both times he used the stun gun. The expert reportedly told jurors that Gray’s lack of response after the first shock could have been an act.
The jury returned a verdict in favor of Torres on January 25, 2012. According to CBS News, the jury concluded that although Torres assaulted Gray, his use of the stun gun was a reasonable use of force to defend himself or others. Because they concluded that Torres used a reasonable amount of force, he was shielded from liability.
According to WJZ, at least ten people have died from police use of stun guns in Maryland. The Maryland attorney general recommended stricter training on stun gun use in 2009, based in part on Gray’s death. Unreasonable and excessive use of force may expose police, both individually and at the department level, to liability for injuries that result.
The Maryland personal injury lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen are skilled at pursuing justice for people injured due to the negligence or illegal acts of others. Contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949 for a free and confidential consultation.
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Photo credit: ‘Taser-x26’ by jasonesbain (Taser) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons