Oxford settles Taser case for $750,000

The city and officers who tased Mary and Charles Piskura’s son settled the case March 6.

The city’s insurance company will pay the $750,000 settlement, City Manager Doug Elliott said.

“Our insurance pays for that,” he said. “We had a deductible early on and that was $5,000.”

In April 2008, 24-year-old Kevin Piskura was tased outside Brick Street Bar at around 2 a.m., while police were trying to break up a fight. Piskura, of Chicago, went into cardiac arrest at the scene and died five days later at University Hospital in Cincinnati.

The allegations against the city and police department were that excessive force was used and the city failed to adequately train, supervise and control its employees, among other complaints.

The Piskuras got the go-ahead from U.S. District Court Judge Herman J. Weber on Thursday to proceed with the wrongful death case against Taser International.

The Piskura’s lawsuit originally included products liability claims, but a magistrate tossed those out. The main remaining claim that will go to a jury involves Taser’s responsibility to warn users of the dangers related to the stun guns, Weber said. He also said it was premature to take punitive damages claims off the table.

The Scottsdale, Ariz., company sought to have the case dismissed for a number of reasons, including evidence they have that shows two prongs allegedly didn’t enter Piskura’s body, so no electrical charge could have caused his heart to stop. Taser also wanted testimony from cardiac specialist Dr. Douglas Zipes excluded. The judge ruled the doctor’s testimony will remain.

Taser spokesman Steve Tuttle said the company cannot discuss pending litigation. The Piskura’s attorney could not be reached for comment Friday.

Judge won’t dismiss Mason Taser case

Another federal judge last week refused to dismiss a Taser case against the city of Mason and two officers who tased Douglas Boucher at a Speedway in December 2009. The coroner ruled Boucher died from a skull fracture when he fell face first on the pavement. However, Dr. James Swineheart, who performed the autopsy, said he couldn’t rule out “Taser-induced heart failure.”

Mason’s attorney Gary Becker said he may appeal the qualified immunity decision by the judge to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. He said Tasers, if used properly, are a valuable tool for police and in most cases are preferable to guns, batons and hand-to-hand combat. He is concerned lawsuits like this will have a negative impact.

“As I see it, one significant risk is that if you call into question an officers’ perceived legitimate use of a Taser, which had an unintended consequence, you risk having departments withdraw the tool in its entirety because the risk of significant liability for unintended consequences is simply too great,” he said.

Alphonse Gerhardstein, attorney for Boucher’s family, said he doesn’t think police should pack away their stun guns, but reform is needed.

“These two decisions make it clear that Tasers can cause death. This means that law enforcement must only tase in the chest when deadly force is permitted,” he said. “We have studied Taser policies from law enforcement agencies across Hamilton County and recommended reforms they should follow to make Taser use more safe. The need for reform is more important than ever.”

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