03/03/2009

TASER use and hogtying of mentally ill man yields $3 mil award

Editor's note: PoliceOne columnist Dr. Laurence Miller says, "Like it or not, in almost every community there are citizens with one or more kinds of mental disorder, many of them homeless, and most of them not receiving any effective treatment. Dealing with these individuals is a necessary part of police patrol work. Many officers actually feel less comfortable handling mentally ill citizens than they do criminal suspects because the latter, ironically, are often more predictable and more clearly responsible for their behavior than the former." In his 4-part series Dealing with mentally ill citizens on patrol, Miller provides insight into the variety of symptoms, syndromes, and disorders that officers are likely to encounter in their patrol work, and discuesses some practical strategies for dealing with mentally ill citizens.

The Associated Press

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HOUSTON — A Harris County jury on Monday awarded $3 million to the mother of a mentally ill man who died after he was shocked 18 times with a TASER gun and hogtied during an arrest four years ago.

Shirley Nagel sued four deputies with the Precinct One Constable's Office after they arrested her schizophrenic son, Joel Don Casey, in 2005 on a mental health warrant and he died.

Casey's death was later ruled a homicide. An autopsy concluded he died of psychotic delirium with physical restraint associated with heart disease.

The jury found three of the four deputies used unreasonable and excessive force during the arrest, the Houston Chronicle reported on its online edition Monday.

Nagel, 74, wept after the jury's verdict was read.

"The jurors were listening," she said. "We need a policy change. They really need to outlaw hogtying."

Nagel indicated she and others are forming an advocacy group to outlaw such restraint practices and to push for humane treatment of the mentally ill.

Assistant Harris County Attorney Frank Sanders said the deputies were not trying to hurt Casey, 52, or violate his constitutional rights. The county planned to appeal the verdict.

Casey was arrested in his mother's home. After he complained one of the handcuffs hurt him, deputies used a TASER on him multiple times, said Nagel's attorney, Kent Spence.

Casey was thrown down on the street and hogtied before one deputy dropped a knee on his neck and popped his head back, Spence said.

Sanders, who alleged that Casey was resisting the deputies, said the deputies have a dangerous job, doing 5,000 to 6,000 mental commitments a year.

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