Grandmother Sues Police Department, Officers After Being Tasered

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An elderly, disabled woman who was incapacitated and burned by a police officer’s stun gun has filed a lawsuit against the city of El Reno, Oklahoma, as well as against several of its police officers.

Lona M. Varner, now 87, and her grandson, Lonnie D. Tinsley, filed the federal lawsuit in Oklahoma City. In it, they allege that their civil rights were violated, and that the city has failed to adequately train and discipline its officers.

The incident occurred on December 22, 2009. Tinsley had called 911, requesting a paramedic to check on his grandmother, whom he believed may have tried to commit suicide. When police arrived, Varner was brandishing a kitchen knife from her hospital-style bed. According to the police report filed by Officer Thomas Duran, he “tried talking to Varner and calm her down but nothing would work.”

When other officers entered the room, Duran says, Varner took “a more aggressive posture on the bed,” raising the knife above her head and saying, “If you come any closer, you’re getting the knife.” Duran was afraid that she would injure someone, so he attempted to stun her using the Taser. Only one of the prongs made contact, however, so he told a fellow officer that his Taser was not functioning properly.

Officer Joseph Sandberg then deployed his Taser, rendering Varner incapacitated enough that the officers were able to remove the knife from her hand. Varner suffers from numerous health problems, according to her attorney, including using oxygen and an electric cart to get around, and being blind in one eye.

The lawsuit alleges that as many as 10 officers pushed their way into Varner’s bedroom; that one of them stepped on the hose of her oxygen tank, causing her to experience oxygen deprivation; that she suffered burns to her chest from the stun gun; and that the officers ripped the flesh of the then-86 year-old’s arms.

Tinsley was also handcuffed and taken to an officer’s car, although he was later released and allowed to ride in the ambulance with his grandmother, who was taken first to an El Reno hospital and then to a psychiatric ward. She was held there for six days and then released.

A lawyer for Varner and Tinsley said that the policemen’s actions were inappropriate, and that the disabled woman could have been killed by the shock of the Taser. At least one expert in the use of force, however, has called the police officers’ actions justified due to the threat and expressed intent of violence that Varner exhibited.

 

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