Merced reaches $75,000 settlement in Taser lawsuit
11/06/2013 9:30 PM
11/06/2013 10:53 PM
A civil lawsuit filed against the city of Merced and a police officer who used a Taser on a legless man in a wheelchair was dismissed last month, after both sides agreed to a settlement.
Under the terms of the settlement, the city of Merced agreed to pay plaintiff Gregory Williams $75,000, according to Adante Pointer, Williams’ attorney.
The money was paid to Williams through the Central San Joaquin Valley Risk Management Authority, according to Merced City Attorney Greg Diaz. The authority provides services to all Merced County cities.
Williams, 44, 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. He claimed officers humiliated him by leaving him on the pavement with his genitals exposed after he’d been shocked with the Taser.
A federal jury heard the case in July, but it ended in a hung 4-4 vote.
Pointer, who handled the case with fellow defense attorney DeWitt Lacy, said his client’s decision to settle was motivated by his desire to put the case behind him.
“It takes a toll on a person. He wanted a resolution and fortunately the city came to its senses and did the right thing,” Pointer said.
Pointer said the fact the jury was hung did not play much of a role in Williams’ decision. “He feels his rights have been vindicated. The settlement is an acknowledgment that what happened to him was not proper and was incorrect. It helps set the record straight,” Pointer said.
Dale Allen Jr., the San Francisco-based attorney who represented the city of Merced in the case, said the settlement is not an admission of liability by the city. Allen said another trial could still result in a hung jury and cost the city nearly as much as the settlement. Rather than going to trial again and incurring additional legal fees, Allen said the city agreed to the settlement.
“It is still the city’s position the officer acted appropriately to the circumstances,” he said.
The incident happened when Pinnegar responded to Williams’ 2355 K St. apartment, on reports that Williams and his wife, Demetrice Pfifer, were involved in an argument.
During the trial, the defense didn’t deny Pinnegar used the Taser, but maintained he was justified because Williams wouldn’t comply with officers’ orders after he was told he was under arrest. Pinnegar, the first officer to arrive at Williams’ apartment, said the plaintiff’s wife claimed her husband struck her three times in the stomach and had struck her in the eye about eight days before.
The defense argued the officers had told Williams he was under arrest and he refused their demands to put his hands behind his back.
Attorneys for the plaintiff have said Pinnegar, with help from Sgt. Rodney Court, shocked Williams with a Taser after he refused to answer more questions. Williams’ attorneys questioned the level of force used by the officers, saying their unarmed client was just holding on to his wheelchair when Pinnegar used the Taser.
Williams’ attorneys maintained the only reason their client was holding the wheelchair was out of fear he’d fall onto the concrete.
A lifelong Merced resident, Williams said his legs were amputated in 2004 after he was diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis that led to gangrene in both legs.
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