Merced officer defends Taser use

Amputee suing city, officer claiming civil rights violations

vpatton@mercedsunstar.comJuly 15, 2013 

Merced Tasing

Gregory Williams, seen here in 2009, claimed the city and Officer John Pinnegar violated his constitutional rights when the 14-year police veteran used a Taser on him after responding to a domestic violence call on Sept. 11, 2009.

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— Jurors in a civil lawsuit against the city of Merced and a Merced police officer who used a Taser on a legless man who did not have a weapon had an opportunity Wednesday to hear from the officer.

Officer John Pinnegar took the stand to testify about the September 2009 incident in which he used a Taser on Gregory Williams, 44, after responding to a domestic violence complaint.

Williams, a wheelchair-bound double amputee, is suing Pinnegar and the city, claiming his constitutional rights were violated by the officer.

Wednesday was the second day of the civil trial, which is expected to last four days. Williams is seeking unspecified monetary damages. Williams claims that he suffered injuries and emotional distress from the episode in addition to the violation of his rights.

The defense doesn't deny that Pinnegar used the Taser, but maintains he was justified because Williams wouldn't comply with officers' orders after the plaintiff was told he was being arrested.

Pinnegar, an officer of about 14 years who's still on the force, was the first to arrive at Williams' 2355 K St. apartment on Sept. 11, 2009, after the department received the domestic violence call.

He testified that Williams' wife, Demetrice Phifer, had complained that her husband had struck her three times in the stomach and had struck her in the eye about eight days before.

Under questioning from Williams' attorney, Adante Pointer, Pinnegar admitted that he initially wasn't planning on arresting Williams because he didn't believe Phifer.

Pinnegar said he saw no marks on either party to indicate there had been a struggle.

Pointer played audio for jurors that was recorded at the scene. Pinnegar can be heard telling a fellow officer that he thought Phifer's domestic violence allegations against her husband were "crap." On the recording, Pinnegar told his fellow officer he thought Phifer was a drug addict.

Phifer was taken into custody during the Sept. 11 incident for an outstanding misdemeanor domestic violence warrant from several years before, according to Pinnegar's testimony.

Although Pinnegar acknowledged he initially told Williams he wouldn't be arrested, he told jurors that decision changed after Cathy Clark, a caseworker with Merced County Child Protective Services, arrived at the scene.

After Clark told Williams she was investigating allegations of drug use and domestic violence at the home, Williams said he did not want to answer any more questions. "It appeared to me he was hiding something," Pinnegar testified. "It appeared he didn't want (his 2-year-old daughter) to be taken from him."

Pointer asked Pinnegar about the moments before he shocked Williams in the left shoulder with the Taser.

Pinnegar testified that he and Sgt. Rodney Court were trying to arrest Williams, holding his arms and asking him to put his hands behind his back, but he refused.

"And that's when you applied 50,000 volts to this man in this wheelchair?" Pointer asked.

"Correct," Pinnegar replied.

Pinnegar said he shocked Williams with the Taser in a mode referred to as a "drive-stun." In drive-stun mode, the user removes the Taser's cartridge and delivers the shock by directly applying the device to the target's body.

Pinnegar said he asked Court, his supervisor, whether he should apply the Taser to Williams, and Court gave the OK.

Pointer read from a transcript prepared from an audio recording of the incident, just before the Taser was used. According to Pointer, Pinnegar asked Williams, "Do you want me to Tase you?"

"Mr. Williams said, 'No, no' and essentially gave up," Pointer said.

"Apparently he said that, but he wouldn't give us his hands. That's why he was Tased," Pinnegar replied.

Williams also took the stand on Wednesday, completing his testimony from the day before.

Under questioning from Dale Allen Jr., the attorney representing the city of Merced, Williams denied physically abusing his wife, saying the argument that caused officers to respond to his home was only verbal.

Williams said the argument happened about a half hour before police responded to his residence, saying he was upset because Phifer had disappeared for four days.

Williams revealed on the stand that he's still married to Phifer. "She's my wife and I love her," Williams said. "God doesn't believe in divorce."

City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsunstar. com.

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