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Expert tells jury second Taser jolt 'justified'

Tuesday - 1/24/2012, 12:58pm  ET


BALTIMORE — The defense rested Monday in the civil case filed against a former sheriff's office corporal in the Nov. 18, 2007, death of a 20-year-old Frederick man he tasered twice after a disturbance.

The jury heard the final defense witnesses before attorney Dan Karp rested. Karp filed a motion asking U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles Jr. to grant judgment for Rudy Torres, who he said is protected from such claims by his status as a public official. Quarles denied the motion.

Jarrel Gray's parents are seeking $145 million in damages.

Expert witness Robert F. Thomas Jr. of the Mecklenburg County (N.C.) Attorney's Office, who has helped draft use-of-force policies for law enforcement agencies throughout the country, told the jury Torres was justified in tasering Gray twice, the second time as he was lying on his stomach after falling to the ground.

"It was reasonable, prudent and consistent with widespread law enforcement practices," Thomas said.

Thomas said Torres had reason to perceive Gray as a threat, and that -- despite not speaking or moving -- Gray was actively resisting by failing to show his hands, which the defense claims were under his body and near his waistband.

The plaintiff's witness Jerame Duvall testified that Gray -- who he claims was starting to get on the ground when he was tasered -- didn't put his hands in his waistband and that his hands were not under his body as the defense describes.

Thomas said suspects have been known to fool police officers by pretending to be passive and compliant before assaulting them, and that Torres could have reasonably feared that Gray had a weapon in his waistband. He said Torres had no reason to suspect Gray was unconscious.

Thomas acknowledged a link between Tasers and what he said was a small number of deaths, but said the weapons have reduced injuries to suspects and officers in all the studies he has seen. He said between one and 11Ú2 seconds is sufficient time to give someone to comply before tasering them.

"Starting to get on the ground takes no more than that," he said.

Two witnesses who live in the area of Gresham Court where the disturbance took place took the stand as the defense tried to support the claim that Gray and Duvall were in a serious fight, not horsing around as the plaintiff's lawyer Gregory L. Lattimer has maintained throughout the trial.

Joyce Fitzgerald said she heard two men yelling and saw them pushing and shoving each other. She said she called 911 when the altercation looked like it was "getting serious." Fitzgerald said she went back to sleep and didn't see Torres arrive or Gray being tasered.

Roberto Rodriguez said he saw two men in fighting stances and heard one yell, "Let's fight, one on one." He said he then saw headlights stopping at the scene, and heard orders to get on the ground and the sound of a Taser being deployed, which he said he was familiar with as a Takoma Park police officer.

Closing arguments are scheduled to begin this morning.