Attorneys for the estate of Marlon Bryan Lewis filed the lawsuit earlier this month against Axon Enterprises, formerly Taser International, deputies Cpl. Timothy Hill and Andrew Furr as well as the Stanly County Sheriff’s Office.
Lewis died during the early morning hours of Dec. 15, 2016. after he allegedly attacked Badin police officer Brad Lowder while responding to a 911 call at the corner of Mayo and Dewey streets. Lewis is believed to have made the 911 call, citing that someone was after him, police said.
“I believe (the deputies) showed commendable restraint,” said Scott MacLatchie, the attorney for the sheriff’s deputies. “When someone tries to remove your gun from your holster, you are authorized to use deadly force. And they did not elect to do that here.”
The government pathologist who conducted Lewis’ autopsy said she did not believe the electrical shocks killed him. Instead, the pathologist wrote, it was her opinion that Lewis died from cocaine toxicity.
But the lawsuit — filed this month against the Stanly County Sheriff, two of his deputies and the company that manufactures the Taser device — asserts that Lewis died “as a direct and proximate result” of being tased 26 times in less than five minutes. Furr used a Taser on Lewis four times during that same span, for a combined total of 27 times, according to court records filed Oct. 16 with the Stanly County Clerk of Superior Court.
The lawsuit further contends Hill’s certification to operate a Taser expired in December 2015, a year before Lewis’ fatal confrontation, and a policy violation within the Sheriff’s Office.
Attorneys for the family allege in court documents the officers misrepresented facts of the deadly encounter to the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation, which conducted an independent probe.
His encounter with law enforcement began shortly after 3 a.m. on Dec. 15, 1016, after he called 911 to report that he was in distress, according to the lawsuit. It happened in Badin, a small Stanly County town about 55 miles east of Charlotte.
When law enforcement officers arrived, Lewis began acting erratically, stating “someone is going to kill me,” according to a medical examiner’s report. Then Lewis got into a fight with law enforcement officers, who tased him, the report states. According to the lawsuit, Lewis was unarmed.
MacLatchie, the attorney for the deputies, said his investigation found that when a Badin police officer arrived, Lewis jumped on the hood of his patrol car, fought with him and tried to grab his gun. When the two sheriff’s deputies later arrived, Lewis also struggled with them and tried to grab their holstered handguns as well, MacLatchie said. At one point, Lewis grabbed the grip of one of the officer’s guns and refused to let go, the attorney said.
Lewis, who stood 6 feet tall and weighed 228 pounds, was exhibiting “an abnormally high amount of strength” and seemed impervious to pain, MacLatchie said.
There were no police dash cameras or body cameras to record the struggle, MacLatchie said. But a bystander did shoot grainy cellphone video after the officers finally had Lewis restrained on the ground, he said.
That video shows that Lewis had “purposeful movement for several minutes” after he was tased, according to the autopsy report. He had been placed “prone and handcuffed,” the autopsy states, but “became unresponsive several minutes after law enforcement agents ceased physical contact with him.”
Unsafe for the human heart?
The lawsuit also contends that Axon knew that the Taser models used on Lewis produce charges that are “significantly more powerful than the level that is safe for human cardiac function.”
One of the Taser models that was used to shock Lewis does not automatically cut off after five seconds, contrary to the company’s representations, the lawsuit asserts. In Lewis’ case, one of the electrical shocks lasted nine seconds, according to Taser logs filed with the lawsuit.
The logs also show that the two Taser devices used that night were fired a total of 26 times. That amounted to excessive force, the lawsuit maintains, and violated the Constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.