CINCINNATI (AP) -- The family of an Ohio man who suffered brain damage after a police officer used a stun gun on him while he was atop an 8-foot fence, causing him to fall head-first to the concrete below, has settled a federal civil rights lawsuit for more than $2 million, his attorney said Wednesday.
Under the settlement, Matthew Hook's family will drop the lawsuit against the Columbus suburb of Perry Township, its board of trustees and the police officer, said attorney Al Gerhardstein of Cincinnati. In exchange, the township's insurer will pay $2.25 million, to be divided among Hook, his parents and his 6-year-old daughter, who live in the Columbus suburb of Dublin.
The lawsuit, filed in November 2011, accused Officer Shawn Bean of using deadly force on Hook, then 23, by stunning him in the back with a Taser while he was unarmed and scaling a fence Aug. 9, 2010. Police said Hook had been driving a stolen vehicle, was implicated in two burglaries and was fleeing police.
Hook, 27, now suffers from seizures, is emotionally unstable and requires constant monitoring, Gerhardstein said.
"At no time had Mr. Hook made any threatening gestures, possessed or displayed a weapon, or posed any physical threat in any manner to Officer Bean or any other person," the lawsuit said. "The Taser worked as intended. The electrical shock paralyzed Mr. Hook's muscles. Unable to control his movements, Mr. Hook plummeted, head-first, to the other side of the fence."
Ned Dowd, a Miamisburg attorney representing the township, said the settlement was not an admission of liability and Bean's use of force in the case was justified. Also, he noted, the insurance company will pay the settlement, not taxpayers.
Dowd said the decision to settle was based on a risk analysis by the township's insurance company and estimates that the township could have been found liable for up to $12 million for Hook's current and future medical bills.
"It's important to note that anytime these officers are out there, they're required to make split-second decisions -- they don't have the benefit of sitting around and pondering what to do," Dowd said. "The person's fleeing, you're commanding them to stop and unfortunately this was the consequence ... Everyone felt badly about what occurred."
Neither Bean nor attorneys for the officer responded to messages seeking comment.
In a police report justifying his use of the Taser, Bean wrote that he thought he could safely immobilize Hook with the Taser but that Hook scaled the fence "very quickly."
"It was my intent to stop the suspect to apprehend him and to bring the situation safely and effectively under control," Bean wrote.
The settlement comes after U.S. District Judge Edmund Sargus Jr. declined to grant a request by Bean and Perry Township to dismiss the lawsuit, saying a jury could reasonably conclude that Bean had violated Hook's constitutional rights and that the township's "lack of guidance" in training materials was the moving force behind the incident.
The lawsuit accused Perry Township of contributing to Hook's injuries with a use-of-force policy that failed to warn officers that deploying Tasers on suspects who are on elevated surfaces could be deadly, a warning that the maker of the device had already issued. The lawsuit also criticized the policy for authorizing officers to use Tasers on fleeing suspects even if they were only suspected of nonviolent property crimes.
Perry Township has since changed its Taser policy to warn officers of using the device on suspects who are elevated.
Seven charges of receiving stolen property, theft and failure to comply with an order were filed against Hook, but the judge found Hook incompetent to stand trial because he has no memory of about three months of his life, including when he fell from the fence, said his defense attorney, Lawrence Riehl. He said he expects the case will be dismissed at any time.
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