A federal jury Monday awarded $5.5 million to the parents of a Marine veteran who died after an LAPD officer stunned him six times with a Taser three years ago during an incident in which other officers hit the man with their batons and fists, pepper sprayed and restrained him.
"This is one of the largest wrongful death civil rights verdicts ever," said Mears family attorney Dale Galipo, who added that he believes it is also one of the largest verdicts involving the use of a Taser.
Michael Frederick Mears, 39, suffered cardiac arrest about an hour after the Christmas Eve 2014 incident and died two days later. The coroner’s report said he died from ventricular dysrhythmia due to an enlarged heart with other significant conditions of cocaine intoxication "and police restraint with use of Taser."
Mears’ roommate had called paramedics to their South L.A. apartment when Mears told him "someone was coming after him," according to the parents’ civil lawsuit against the city. Paramedics found him combative when they confronted him in the hallway of the apartment complex and called LAPD officers to help them restrain him.
Four officers and a sergeant eventually arrived on the scene and attempted to restrain Mears using their batons, pepper spray,their fists and eventually a Taser. Officer Jonathan Gan used the Taser on Mears six separate times over the course of 3 minutes, once for 32 seconds straight, said Galipo.
"Personnel should consider that exposure to the [Taser] for longer than 15 seconds (whether due to multiple applications or continuous cycling) may increase the risk of death or serious injury," according to the Police Executive Research Forum, a national, an independent research organization based Washington D.C.
The jury found that Gan used "excessive and unreasonable force in violation of the 4th Amendment," and that his use of the Taser, along with the other three officers' "negligent" treatment of Mears, caused his injury and death, said Galipo.
The jury also found that the LAPD's inadequate training with respect to the use of Tasers contributed to Mears' death, Galipo added.
A spokesman for the L.A. City Attorney's office said staff are reviewing the verdict and have not yet decided whether to appeal.
The LAPD has increasingly turned to Tasers in recent years as an alternative to deadly force.
"Rather than act reasonably by responding to the call in a manner conducive to assisting someone who is mentally ill," the officers treated Mears "as if he had committed a crime," the lawsuit claimed.
A Gulf War veteran, Mears suffered from untreated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after seeing atrocities while serving in Somalia and Afghanistan from 1993-1997, his family said.
"He was a guy who jumped out of helicopters," said Galipo, who said Mears suffered a spinal cord injury that forced him into a wheelchair for a time and left him with numbness in his lower legs.
Attorneys for the city who defended the LAPD officers’ action said Mears was responsible for his own death because of his cocaine use - and that the officers were trying "to stop a man in self-destruction."
They called Mears "a man absolutely out of control" as he refused to comply with officers orders to be handcuffed.
The jury's verdict was "the right and courageous decision," said Galipo, adding, "we believe this decision will save lives."