RE: Darden Family Lawsuit
Dear Councilwoman Gyna Bivens,
I read in the newspaper where the Darden family is suing the City and the Fort Worth Police Department over the death of Jermaine. I also saw the horrific footage of the police raid that led to his death.
As you know, I spoke on behalf of the Darden family before the city council, and you were gracious enough to meet with me and Angela Tyson, the sister of Jermaine. She expressed to you her family’s grievance and hardships of his death. And, you also know that she and I met with Chief Jeff Halstead.
Frankly speaking, I do not know if there was anything that could have been done to prevent this lawsuit. But I do wish to remind you also, as a matter of record, of my extensive correspondence with the former chief about the use of force and excessive tasering. My correspondence led to the Chief going to TASER International, and convincing the company to modify its taser design, because we found in the tasering death of Michael Jacobs Jr that the continuous discharge of 50,000 volts of electricity to the body will indeed kill a person, contrary to the company’s previous non-lethal claim.
The City should have learned from the $2 million settlement with the Jacobs family that tasers can become excessive force, if it exceeds the 5-second safety shutoff that was built in. And, there are only rare exceptions where an officer is allowed to redeploy beyond that limit.
After reading the police report and seeing the body camera videos, it is evident that the officer fired his taser into Darden body on two occasions, which meant that he overrode the shutoff. Coupled with that fact, this just so happened to be the very same officer who had turned his body camera off before the raid, while the other four officers kept recording their involvement.
The shutoff and body cameras were created, designed and intended to be safeguards against excessive force, whether intentional or accidental. To exceed those constraints is the very definition of “excessive”.
I also noted that the cause of death in Jermaine Darden’s case was attributed to cardiac arrest and “application of restraint” by the Tarrant County Medical Examiner, instead of electrocution from tasing. Historically, medical examiners avoid attributing the cause of death to tasers, because TASER International has sued every ME who has, and the company has won every case.
But when I look at the video again, I cannot determine if death was caused by taser of chokehold, the same technique that killed Eric Garner in New York. We see that Darden was obese and asthmatic, and we hear people in the house screaming that the man could not breathe. Again, like Eric Garner’s I CAN’T BREATHE plead.
But the most unnerving thing about the body cam tapes was that this was not a drug house, but the home of a poor family, with no lavish amount of money, no drugs, and no alcohol strewn about in front of small children. The man that the officers sought, Jermaine Darden, was sickly and disabled, and on a ventilator, when the officers battered through the door in SWAT gear. It was physically impossible for Darden to comply to roll over on his stomach. That would be like asking a man to suffocate himself. The human body would not allow it, but the officer’s knee in the back forced him into this fatal position.
Of course, it is too late to fix the unfixable and rectify mistakes. And I am sure Jeff Halstead will attest to those mistakes, especially the negligence of having a comprehensive policy to govern the use of policy body cameras.
But let me remind you that the Obama administration chose Fort Worth as a test site for community policing, based upon the Fort Worth Police Officers Association endorsement of the use of body cameras. At issue is how much disclosure constitutes sufficient transparency. The FWPOA wants less, the public wants more. This federal grant may provide a forum whereby we can reach an agreeable medium. But, in the meantime, we have what we have, and the tapes do not lie. Therefore, it is incumbent upon you and other council members to redress this terrible grievance done upon the Darden family.
P. S. The response from the Fort Worth city councilwoman came as expected.
Thank you Eddie. As you are aware, with litigation underway, I have no remarks to offer, but do acknowledge receipt of your email... Gyna M. Bivens, City Council Member, District 5