Jury selection begins Tuesday in a civil trial to determine whether a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer used excessive force with a Taser on 21-year-old La-Reko Williams, leading to his cardiac arrest and death.
Temako McCarthy and Victor Williams, La-Reko Williams’ parents, filed the federal case in December 2012 for compensatory and punitive damages, according to court documents.
At 10:39 p.m. on July 20, 2011, Officer Michael Forbes responded to a call at the Woodlawn Lynx station, a raised platform on the 4700 block of Old Pineville Road, after observers saw Williams and his girlfriend in a physical altercation.
According to a police statement, Forbes fired his department-issued X26 Taser “in an attempt to gain compliance” from Williams, according to court documents. Forbes fired a second time after telling Williams to turn onto his stomach. Williams was unarmed.
After the second shock, Williams was unresponsive, and Forbes called paramedics. Williams was pronounced dead about an hour later.
Video footage from Forbes’ police car did not record the incident.
“The officer and La-Reko were behind the car,” said Charles Everage, an attorney representing the family. “None of it is recorded on camera.” Everage said Forbes’ audio recorder cut off before the second shock.
The complaint states that shocking Williams in the chest increased “the likelihood of cardiac capture, cardiac arrest and death.”
The court determined in an earlier summary judgment that Forbes was acting in his capacity as a police officer when he fired the first shot. The jury will decide whether other shots were justified.
Additional injuries on Williams’ body will also be reviewed by the jury.
Originally, the city of Charlotte was also a defendant on counts of excessive force and failure to train officers about the dangers of shocking the chest. But the court dismissed the city in the earlier summary judgment. Forbes has returned to active duty.
After La-Reko Williams died, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department halted the use of Tasers for six months, before switching to X2 Tasers in January 2012. The X2 model has different safety features. It can shoot 50,000 volts of electricity as the X26 model does, but it cuts off after five seconds to prevent injury from shocking someone too long.
In 2008, Darryl Turner, 17, was killed after being shocked for 37 seconds by a CMPD officer. The day before Williams died, a federal jury awarded $10 million to Turner’s family after it found that TASER International Inc., the company that manufactured Tasers used by CMPD, failed to warn that the weapon caused cardiac arrest. An appeals court has since set aside that monetary award.
The Williams family’s case also initially involved TASER International on questions of product liability, but later the plaintiffs dismissed them voluntarily, Everage said.