Lawsuit in death of Pa. man killed after stun gun

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The family of a Lancaster County man who called police about a stolen bicycle and died after officers repeatedly shocked him with a stun gun filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against police and the device's manufacturer.

Robert A. Neill Jr., 61, died outside his Mount Joy home in 2010. Officers said he became combative and charged at them.

The civil suit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia alleges police used excessive force and Taser International designed an excessively dangerous device and failed to adequately train officers in its proper use.

"Mr. Neill was a decorated Vietnam veteran ... and he was a decent, a calm and a giving person in the community," said Stewart Eisenberg, an attorney representing plaintiffs Nicole and Robert E. Neill, two of Neill's children.

Eisenberg said officers shocked Neill at least three times from a distance with electrode-tipped barbs and an unknown number of times up close with the stun gun pressed to his body. He said Neill also was hog-tied and pepper sprayed.

"This was an unarmed, nondangerous person who was Tasered multiple times, who posed no danger to anyone or no danger to himself," Eisenberg said.

The Lancaster County coroner concluded that Neill died of cardiac dysrhythmia, or abnormal heartbeat, and had no serious heart maladies. Toxicology tests found no illegal drugs or alcohol in his body.

Named in the lawsuit are local, regional, county and state police departments that responded to the scene and Arizona-based Taser.

Robert E. Neill said his father's military service left him with post-traumatic stress disorder but he had recently retired and "was beginning to really enjoy life."

"He began spending more time with the family, with the grandchildren, with friends, and traveling" as well as volunteering and going to the local senior citizens center, Neill said. The family is struggling to accept his father's death while not knowing exactly what happened the day he died, he said.

Taser said it has sold 607,000 of its devices in 107 countries to nearly 17,000 law enforcement and military agencies.

"We continue to stand by the independent peer reviewed medical studies that have shown that the Taser electronic control devices are generally safe and effective," spokesman Steve Tuttle said in a statement.

He added that "these highly publicized cases represent a small percentage of arrests where it has saved numerous lives, dramatically reduced injuries to both officers and suspects while reducing excessive use of force litigation."

A state police spokeswoman said the agency does not comment on pending litigation. Calls to the other police departments were not immediately returned.

An earlier investigation by the state attorney general's office found no evidence of police wrongdoing.

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