Shocked and suing
Tased epileptic sues jail guards
A man with epilepsy has sued three Sangamon County jail guards, saying that he was tasered in the jail last year while helpless after suffering a seizure.
“This man did nothing wrong except have epilepsy,” says Carl Draper, attorney for Richard E. Haley, who is demanding $250,000.
Sheriff Neil Williamson said he wasn’t aware of the case or the accusations.
“Honestly, this is the first I’ve heard of it,” Williamson said. “That’s his version. I’m sure there’s another version of it.”
In his federal lawsuit filed today, Haley says that he suffered three seizures in February of last year after being booked into the jail and was taken to an emergency room after one episode.
When he lost consciousness in his cell during the night after a fourth seizure suffered on March 20 of last year, Haley says his cellmate summoned three guards, William Smith, Thomas Pipkin and Aaron Conard. The guards ordered him out of his cell and threatened to deploy pepper spray, Haley says in his lawsuit.
“When Plaintiff failed to wake up or be able to respond or move on his own, one or more of the defendants sprayed him with mace or pepper spray,” attorneys for Haley write in the federal complaint. “Defendants continued to yell at Plaintiff to get up or else Defendants would shoot him with a Taser gun. Plaintiff remained unconscious or unable to comply. Immediately thereafter, Defendant Smith or the other Defendants shot Plaintiff with the Taser darts at close range. Defendants repeated the commands that they were yelling at Plaintiff and then shot him with the Taser at least one more time.”
Instead of summoning medical help, Haley says, guards handcuffed him to a wheelchair and a bench for the rest of the night. Draper said he does not know how long Haley remained in handcuffs.
“He was left there (in handcuffs) until morning,” Draper says. “He hurt for several days.”
Court records indicate that Haley was serving time for a misdemeanor domestic battery charge.
Draper said that Haley typically suffered seizures while sleeping. He said his client was “dazed and confused” and just starting to recover from his seizure when he was tasered and sprayed with pepper spray. The pain provoked loud screams, according to Draper, who says that as many as six inmates witnessed the encounter.
The lawsuit is one of several filed in federal court in recent years alleging that sheriff’s employees inappropriately deployed Tasers. A pending lawsuit filed by the widow of A. Paul Carlock, who died after being tasered by guards in 2007, has cost the county more than $2.3 million in legal fees. A lawsuit filed by the family of Patrick Burns, who died in 2010 after deputies deployed tasers more than 20 times while arresting him, is also pending in federal court. Tamara Skube, who was tasered after a traffic stop that resulted in no charges filed against her, has also sued in federal court.
Draper has not named the county or any sheriff’s administrators as defendants. He said he may eventually do so, depending on what comes to light as the case proceeds.
“We’ll certainly be investigating further,” Draper said. “We have serious concerns about training and supervision in the jail, and the sheriff’s responsible for that.”
Draper said he tried to resolve the case short of litigation. When the sheriff didn’t respond to a letter, Draper said he contacted the state’s attorney’s office, but there was no talk of settlement after a conversation with an assistant state’s attorney.
The lawsuit comes less than six weeks before the March 18 primary election for sheriff that includes two Republicans and a write-in candidate for the Democratic nomination. Draper dismissed any notion that the lawsuit is politically motivated.
“I’m not affiliated with either of the candidates,” Draper said. “I didn’t name either of the (Republican) candidates.”
Contact Bruce Rushton at firstname.lastname@example.org.