Utah city makes ‘confidential’ settlement in Taser death suit
When a city government settles a lawsuit claiming one of its police officers killed someone with a supposedly non-lethal weapon, you’d want to know the details, right?
Well, in the case of the suit against Hurricane, Utah, and its police chief and a police officer, the public is in the dark.
As reported in The Salt Lake Tribune, Peter Stirba, the attorney representing the southern Utah city, said the details of the city’s settlement with the family of Brian Cardall is confidential. The only details we know is that Police Chief Lynn Excell and Officer Kenneth Thompson were dropped as defendants.
Cardall, his wife and daughter were driving back to their home in Flagstaff, Ariz., on June 9, 2009, when he began having a bipolar episode. His wife gave him his medication, and they pulled over to wait for it to take effect. But he became agitated, began removing his clothes and darting into the roadway.
Cardall’s wife called 911 for help, but when Excell and Thompson arrived on the scene, Thompson reportedly took out his Taser pistol and delivered an electrical shock into Cardall’s chest. Thompson delivered a second shock to Cardall when he was on the ground. After that, court records stated, Cardall had trouble breathing and, when paramedics arrived, he had no pulse. The family alleged that Excell and Thompson did not render any aid, and left him face-down, handcuffed on the shoulder of the road while ordering Cardall’s wife back into her car.
Cardall’s death led to the Utah State Legislature passing a resolution encouraging police officers to get training in dealing with people with mental illness.
But keeping the details of the settlement confidential not only fly in the face of the state’s Government Records Access and Management Act, it also flouts the basic concept of government accountability. The public has a right to know why Excell and Thompson were dropped from the suit, how much money was paid out over this and what steps are being taken to prevent a recurrence.
Unfettered access to those in power, a push for government transparency and a vigorous defense of the First Amendment are perhaps more important now than ever before. Join us as we fight for the public’s right to know as an SPJ Supporter. Or, if you’re a journalist, we welcome you to stand with us as a Professional, Student or Retired Member.