COLUMBIA — The city has agreed to pay $300,000 to a man who was critically injured in July 2008 after being shocked with a Taser by Columbia police.
As part of a settlement agreement finalized last month, the city will pay $233,544.63 to Phillip Lee McDuffy and $66,455.37 to the Family Support Payment Center to cover McDuffy’s overdue child support payments, according to Sarah Perry, the city's risk manager.
She said the city’s insurance fund will cover the settlement.
“We felt that the city was at risk if it went to trial, so we figured this was in our best interest,” Finance Director Lori Fleming said. Although there was no lawsuit in this case, the city believed future legal proceedings would have cost the city more in the long run, she said.
According to previous Missourian articles, McDuffy, 46, was critically injured on July 25, 2008, after police shocked him with a Taser and he fell about 15 feet off a pedestrian walkway over Interstate 70 at Providence Road. He broke his jaw and both arms and suffered an orbital fracture in the fall.
Police had been negotiating with McDuffy for about 90 minutes before shocking him with a Taser. Traffic was backed up in all directions as he threatened to jump off the overpass.
A Police Department investigation found the use of a Taser against McDuffy was appropriate. No officers were found at fault in the incident, and no disciplinary action was taken. The department could not be reached for comment on the settlement.
The agreement comes almost a year after McDuffy submitted his original settlement offer — for $500,000 — to the city. In that time the Police Department has acknowledged two instances of improper Taser use — but not the incident involving McDuffy — and agreed to adopt new guidelines for the device.
In a letter submitted in December 2008 to the city, McDuffy’s attorney, Todd Johnson of Baty, Holm & Numrich, P.C., in Kansas City, argued that Columbia police should not have shocked McDuffy with a Taser because its policy says not to use the device on individuals who are standing near a ledge.
In a report following the investigation, the Police Department said McDuffy was only standing at a height of 5 feet when he was first shocked with a Taser, but he then moved toward the middle of the bridge, which was 15 feet above the ground. Four Taser shots were fired at him.
The report did acknowledge several mistakes made in command and communications at the scene and stated the department must address the weaknesses the incident exposed.
In April, as one of his first orders in the position, Police Chief Ken Burton chose to adopt a set of nationally recognized guidelines for Taser use.
After the incident, McDuffy underwent three surgeries and “has yet to regain normal range of motion in his arms, and his dominant arm is essentially locked at the elbow area,” Johnson wrote in his letter to the city. The letter also stated Johnson would receive 40 percent of the settlement. Neither he nor McDuffy could be reached for comment.
Fleming, the city's finance director, said the cost of McDuffy's medical treatment had been considered when deciding on a final settlement amount. The settlement was coordinated by the city’s claims administrator, Corporate Claims Management. The private company conducted an independent investigation and made the recommendation for the settlement, Perry said .
Opponents of the Police Department's use of Tasers have argued that the device could become a financial liability to the city. In October, a group of community organizers calling itself the “TASER-Free Columbia Campaign" announced plans to introduce a ballot initiative that would ban all use of Tasers inside city limits.
Another high-profile Taser case also recently ended in an out-of-court settlement. It was announced in June that family members of Stanley Harlan, 23, who died after being shocked with a Taser in August 2008, will receive $2.4 million from Moberly.