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Jury rejects damages in Taser death

A federal jury has found a Baltimore County police officer did not use unreasonable force in the arrest of a bipolar Middle River man, who died in 2007 after a Taser was used 10 times in an effort to subdue him.

Officer Stephen Mee used the Taser on Ryan Meyers seven times after Meyers was on the ground, and allegedly after he had stopped resisting arrest. A federal appeals court found that allegation of excessive force stripped Mee of qualified immunity and sent the case back down for trial in U.S. District Court.

Paul M. Mayhew, an assistant county attorney, said Mee “was relieved and felt finally vindicated” by the jurors’ verdict, which was reached Friday after a five-day trial and three hours of deliberation.

“They believed he only used the amount of force he needed under the circumstances,” said Mayhew.

An internal police investigation earlier had cleared Mee of any wrongdoing, and county prosecutors declined to bring charges against him, Mayhew said.

Meyers’ family was seeking $10 million in compensatory and punitive damages for his March 2007 death. Gregory L. Lattimer, a Washington, D.C., lawyer for the Meyers family, did not respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit originally named two additional officers, Vincent Romeo and Karen Gaedke, who responded initially to the 911 call. U.S. District Judge Benson E. Legg granted summary judgment for all three officers in September 2011, finding they had acted reasonably and therefore had qualified immunity from suit.

This February, though, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and reinstated the claims as to the final seven shots by Mee. Assuming the facts were as alleged, and Mee had fired those shots after Meyers was on the ground and had stopped resisting arrest, his actions would be “an excessive and unreasonable use of force,” the panel held. It sent the claims against him back to the trial court.

Meyers was 40 years old at the time of his death and had a history of mental illness, according to court records. He lived at home with his parents, who had called police three times since 1997 to forcibly remove Meyers and take him for psychiatric evaluation, according to court records.

On the night of Meyers’ death, police were again called to the Meyers household, this time because of a fistfight between Meyers and his brother, Billy. Ryan Meyers was in the house with a baseball bat when Romeo arrived. Gaedke, the second officer on the scene, had arrested Meyers two days earlier and knew of his condition, according to the lawsuit, filed in March 2010.

When police determined Meyers would not voluntarily leave the house, they called Mee, who was authorized to use the Taser, according to court records. Billy Meyers then gave police his key to the house, according to court records.

Lawyers for Meyers’ family claimed Mee used the Taser on Ryan Meyers as soon as Mee entered the house. Baltimore County’s lawyers countered Mee used the Taser only after Meyers refused to put down the bat. The Taser was initially set on “probe” mode, where two probes attached to wires attach to a person’s clothing or skin and the shock temporarily incapacitates, according to court records.

Both sides agreed Mee used the Taser on Meyers three times before Meyers went to the floor; additional police officers then jumped on Meyers to arrest him and the Taser was used seven more times — the last six while the weapon was set on “stun,” which is used for “pain compliance,” according to court documents.

The Meyers’ family claimed Ryan Meyers said he “gave up” after the second Taser probe.

“At no time while three police officers sat on him while he was face down on the floor, could any reasonable officer believe that Ryan Meyers posed a threat of any harm to himself, the officers or to any third party,” the lawyers wrote in the proposed pretrial order.

Mayhew said officers, including Mee, testified at trial that the 260-pound Meyers kicked and tried to bite the officers as he was being arrested.

“Everyone felt for what happened” to Meyers, Mayhew said, but Mee “was put in a violent situation.”

The county’s medical expert also testified the cause of death was not the Taser, but rather Meyers’ pre-existing heart condition combined with the prolonged struggle.

Following the appellate court ruling, the case was reassigned to Judge Ellen L. Hollander, who presided over the trial.

MEYERS ET AL. V. BALTIMORE COUNTY ET AL.

Court:

U.S. District Court, Baltimore

Case No.:

1:05-cv-00543-ELH

Judge:

Ellen L. Hollander

Outcome:

Defense verdict

Dates:

Event: March 16, 2007

Suit filed: March 17, 2010

Verdict: Nov. 22, 2013

Plaintiffs’ Attorney:

Gregory L. Lattimer and Ted J. Williams, Washington, D.C. solo practitioners.

Defendants’ Attorneys:

Paul M. Mayhew and Jordan V. Watts Jr., Baltimore County Office of Law.

Count:

Unreasonable use of force.