Police Not Liable in Death of Man Subdued With Taser

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By Bernie Pazanowski

Sheriff deputies aren’t liable for the death of a mentally ill man who died after a struggle to subdue him during which a taser was used, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held ( Roell v. Hamilton, Cty., Ohio , 2017 BL 311056, 6th Cir., No. 16-4045, 9/5/17 ).

The deputies were entitled to qualified immunity on the civil rights claims brought by the man’s wife because the force they used to confront a threat was reasonable, Judge Ronald Lee Gilman said in the opinion for the court.

Gary Roell had a chronic mental illness. One night while his wife was out of town, deputies were called because Roell threw a flower pot through a neighbor’s window. They found Roell half-naked in the neighbor’s yard muttering incoherently and swinging a hose with a metal nozzle.

They tried talking to him, but Roell charged them, according to the court summary. During a physical struggle, the deputies deployed a taser multiple times. Once restrained and on the ground, Roell stopped breathing and died.

Although she noted wounds from the taser barbs, the coroner found no electrical burns on his body or signs of asphyxiation, and ruled that his death was caused by excited delirium due to schizoaffective disorder.

Roell’s wife sued the deputies and the county where they work, but the district court dismissed the case.

Degree of Force Justified

Some degree of force against Roell was justified, the appeals court said because he posed a threat to the deputies and his neighbor. The court found that the degree of force was reasonable, given the circumstances.

Roell’s wife’s claim under the Americans With Disabilities Act failed because she didn’t show that the deputies were required in this instance to accommodate his disability by using verbal or other techniques to deescalate the situation.

Judge Deborah L. Cook joined the opinion.

Dissenting Judge Karen Nelson Moore argued that summary judgment was inappropriate because questions existed regarding how aggressive Roell was and whether he was armed.

Gerhardstein & Branch Co. LPA, represented Roell’s wife. Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office represented the sheriffs and county.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bernie Pazanowski in Washington at bpazanowski@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bna.com

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