COLUMBIA — The man suing two Columbia Police Department officers after being tasered had two knives on him at the time, said Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Ryan Haigh.
Cadilac Derrick’s attorney, Samuel Trapp, filed the civil suit against Officers Tim Giger and Jonathan Logan* at the federal court in Jefferson City on Thursday afternoon.
The lawsuit stems from a traffic stop on Feb. 24, 2009. According to the lawsuit, Derrick, 23, was driving on Providence Road in his Subaru with his girlfriend, Amanda Reed, and her 3-year-old child.
Officers Giger and Logan then pulled over Derrick’s car. According to the lawsuit, Giger and Logan had mistakenly arrested Derrick several weeks earlier, so Derrick stopped in a shopping center parking lot near the intersection of Park Avenue and Providence Road instead of at a "secluded area" where the officers had told him to park.
What followed next was captured on the dashboard camera of the officers' squad car.
According to the video of the incident — posted to YouTube by Derrick's attorney — the two officers approached each side of Derrick's car. One officer, identified in the lawsuit as Logan, asked for Derrick's insurance information and then asked Derrick to step out of the vehicle.
Derrick declined to get out of his car and, about six seconds later, the other officer — identified in the suit as Giger — fired a Taser at him through the car’s passenger side window.
In the video, after being stunned by the Taser, Derrick fell out of the car screaming and ran off-camera as both officers tried to grab him.
Once off-camera, the lawsuit says, Logan and Giger physically assaulted Derrick by placing him in a chokehold and beating him. The lawsuit also states that Giger jammed and fired his pepper spray canister into Derrick’s left eye.
Derrick was charged with resisting lawful detention, and a trial held in March 2010 resulted in a hung jury, Trapp said.
"To be lawfully detained, you have to know what you’re being detained for, but he didn’t know," Trapp said. "He had no idea."
Haigh, who was involved in the criminal case against Derrick, said the video doesn't provide the necessary context of what was happening inside the vehicle. He said two knives were found on Derrick when he fell out of the car.
"When you look at the totality of the circumstances, I believe the officers acted appropriately," Haigh said.
Another trial was scheduled, but Boone County prosecutors dropped the charges against Derrick on July 15. Less than a week later, Trapp filed the suit against the officers.
"I would like to get a million bucks for the guy," Trapp said. "I think that's normal."
A statement from Columbia Police Department Public Information Officer Jessie Haden contested some of the lawsuit's claims.
"I'm surprised that this attorney even took this case," Haden said in an e-mail. She added, "Considering that (Trapp) is attempting to turn this into a circus act by posting his client's evidence, our evidence, on YouTube, before his client's case can even be heard, it begs the question of ethics and his client's best interest."
Haden said the officers smelled "burnt marijuana" after approaching the car. When the officers asked Derrick to get out of the car and Logan grabbed Derrick's arm, Haden said, Derrick "tensed up, pulled away, and moved his hands toward his waistband and toward the console," which is why Giger used the Taser.
"I would much rather an officer do this than wait and be shot," Haden said.
Haigh said the car and Derrick were searched for marijuana, but none was found.
She said Derrick fought the officers for several minutes after being stunned and wasn't subdued until more officers arrived on the scene. She said Derrick hit his head after falling and had scrapes on his hands and knees, as did the officers, but he declined treatment from paramedics.
He was pulled over for not having a front license plate, Haden said, for which he was let off with a warning. In addition to the resisting arrest charge, he was given a ticket for not having the 3-year-old in a child restraint seat. Haden's statement did not say whether the officers found marijuana or a weapon in Derrick's car.
Derrick has previously pleaded guilty to third-degree assault in 2005 in addition to receiving two traffic tickets in separate stops, according to Missouri Case.net.
The city of Columbia is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, but Trapp didn't rule out adding it later. Trapp said he would have to show that the department's Taser policies were negligent.
The department’s Taser policy has changed since this incident. The latest version of the policy, announced by Chief Ken Burton in early June, now requires officers to use a Taser only to defend another officer or another person.
Derrick's lawsuit comes less than two weeks before an ordinance banning the use of Tasers in Columbia is set to go before the City Council. The ordinance, which was a ballot petition, is up for a first reading at the Aug. 2 council meeting. Council members will then vote on it at the Aug. 16 meeting.
Second Ward Councilman Jason Thornhill said he hadn't seen the video as of Friday afternoon and didn't know whether the case constituted an improper use of a Taser. But he downplayed the incident's implications.
"In my opinion, (Tasers) are still a tool that is useful when used properly, and I don’t think this case is going to change that," Thornhill said.
Mary Hussman of the People for a Taser-Free Columbia — the group that promoted the measure — said she thought the ballot measure will draw more attention to the incident.
“I’ve seen a lot of videos like this," she said. "But when you see it happen right in your own town, its even more disturbing."