BALTIMORE — An ex-sheriff's deputy from Maryland is not liable for a suspect's electric stun gun death because his actions were reasonable and defended himself and others, a federal jury found on Wednesday.
Retired Frederick County Cpl. Rudy Torres did assault Jarrel Gray in 2007, the 10-member jury in Baltimore said after deliberating for a day. But he was shielded from liability.
Torres had responded to a fight. He said he shocked Gray once after the 20-year-old ignored commands to get down and show his hands. He said he delivered the second jolt after Gray fell face-first and didn't respond to further commands to show his hands.
A medical examiner listed the cause of death as undetermined and found that it was associated with restraint and alcohol intoxication.
The only means of restraint mentioned in the report was the stun gun. Defense attorney Daniel Karp suggested during the trial that began Jan. 17 that Gray succumbed to an irregular heartbeat caused by unaccustomed binge drinking, a condition called "holiday heart."
A Frederick County grand jury ruled in 2008 that Torres' actions were justified and that he followed police protocol. Expert witnesses at the trial disagreed about whether Torres reasonably believed that Gray still posed a threat after the first shock.
Gray's death and eight others in Maryland linked to stun guns led the state attorney general's office in 2009 to recommend more stringent training on the use of the devices.
Last year, the U.S. Justice Department advised police officers to avoid shocking suspects multiple times or for prolonged periods to reduce the risk of potential injury or death.
The report came after a study of nearly 300 cases in which people died from 1999 to 2005 when police shot them with stun guns. It found that most of the deaths were caused by underlying health problems and other issues. Of those cases, the experts examined 22 in which the use of stun guns was listed as an official cause of death.
Torres retired from the sheriff's office after serving as a deputy for 13 years and now works as a Fairfax County, Va., dispatcher.
Gray's parents also sued the sheriff's office and the Frederick County Commissioners, but the cases against them were postponed pending the outcome of Torres' trial.