$295,000 settlement proposed for death in 2004 arrest

The Metropolitan Police Department has recommended a $295,000 settlement in the case of a handcuffed man who died after being restrained by officers.

The Fiscal Affairs Committee is expected to approve the settlement Monday.

Keith Tucker, 47, died in 2004 after officers responded to a call from his roommate that Tucker was acting erratically. He was handcuffed and on his stomach when officers stunned him with a Taser.

The case appeared to be the largest wrongful death settlement involving a stun gun in department history.

Police, however, said the death had little to do with the Taser.

Sgt. John Sheahan said Tucker died from “positional asphyxia,” meaning that Tucker couldn’t breathe while being restrained.

Sheahan said a police baton had more to do with the death than a Taser.

“Basically, it’s an in-custody death. But the Taser didn’t have anything to do with it,” he said.

Taser International, once a co-defendant with the Police Department, was later dropped from the lawsuit.

A medical examiner ruled Tucker died from cardiac arrest during “restraint procedures,” which included the use of the stun gun. A coroner’s inquest jury ruled the death “excusable.”

Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak, one of the five members on the police fiscal board, said the “substantial” settlement was surprising.

“This is significant. I can’t remember another Taser settlement coming before Fiscal Affairs,” he said. “Someone in the legal team must have felt there was some liability to settle for a quarter million dollars.”

Sheahan said the department won the first trial in Clark County District Court. But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for the plaintiff, and the case was sent back to District Court.

“Both sides realized there was tremendous financial risk if it went for trial and that there was no clear winner,” he said. “We most certainly would have paid double this amount in legal fees at trial defending this.”

Tucker’s death led to substantial changes to department Taser policy.

Several months after his death in 2004, the department stopped allowing officers to use a Taser on restrained subjects. Previously, that practice was simply discouraged.

The Taser policy was revamped this year after the death of Anthony Jones, 44, who died after being stunned several times in 2010.

Jones’ cause of death was cocaine and ethanol intoxication, with police restraining procedures and an enlarged heart as contributing factors.

Since Jones’ death, the Metropolitan Police Department has changed its policy to require officers to stop using the weapon, in most circumstances, if it is ineffective after three shocks. The policy also limits Taser discharges to a five-second maximum.

A lawsuit by Jones’ family is pending.

Contact reporter Mike Blasky at mblasky@review
journal.com or 702-383-0283.

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