SALT LAKE CITY — A West Valley man who says he was left "profoundly disabled" after two West Valley police officers deployed a Taser on him, causing him to fall head first into a cement landing, has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit.
Fernando Coronado, 48, says he suffered a fractured skull and broken neck, and today has constant pain in his arms, trouble walking and short-term memory loss due to confrontation with police in 2016.
On Aug. 3, 2016, Coronado got drunk inside his apartment and threatened his common-law wife, Tabeththa Coronado, according to charging documents filed in 3rd District Court. She told police that Fernando Coronado threatened to kill her and that "during the altercation, Coronado exhibited a knife in an angry and threatening manner. He placed the knife against his throat and threatened to kill himself."
When police arrived, "Coronado barricaded himself in the house. Coronado repeatedly threatened to kill officers anyone who attempted to enter the house. He told officers he had been a sniper in the Marines and would kill any cop who entered the apartment. After several hours of negotiations, Coronado finally exited the apartment with his chest puffed out. He was given several verbal commands from officers which he did not follow," the charges state.
When Coronado came out of his apartment, he was wearing only shorts. As he walked toward a group of officers, he was shot with a stun gun twice.
Coronado was charged and pleaded guilty to threatening to use a dangerous weapon during an argument. In exchange for his plea, charges of threat of domestic violence, domestic violence in the presence of a child, threat of violence and interfering with an arrest were dropped. He was placed on probation.
But on Thursday, Coronado, sitting with his lawyer — civil rights attorney Robert Sykes — gave a slightly different version of what happened that day while announcing his lawsuit against the two West Valley officers that subdued him, Kenneth Olsen and Jacob Hill.
Coronado does not deny he was drunk. But he said he never threatened to kill any officers or refused to come out. Coronado also said he already was disabled from a hip injury and could not move fast, in addition to being deaf in one ear.
"As far as anything that they might have thought was a threat, I told them don't breach my door. Please don't breach my door. Don't come in here running with your guns all on me and everything that like that. There's no need for it. I'm coming out. And I told them I'm coming out," he said. "That's the reason I went outside with just shorts on. I wanted them to see I have no weapons. I have nothing but the cellphone."
When he was surrounded, he claims officers from behind him were yelling out different commands than those in front of him. When the officers behind him told him to put his hands on his head and get on his knees, Coronado said he was in the process of doing that, and that's when two officers in front of him tased him.
"And then this other guy said, 'Put your hands on your head and get down.' I said OK. So when I started to do it, that's it. They tased me. But they didn't just only tase me once. They tased me twice, simultaneously," Coronado said. "They knew I was disabled and they put 100,000 volts in me."
All of the officers on scene that day were wearing body cameras. Video from some of those officers was shown Thursday in Sykes office. Coronado is heard making a few terse statements toward one group of officers before walking away from them and toward another group. While he is walking toward the second group, Coronado is tased. He appears to hit head first into the area where the apartment wall and cement stairwell landing meet. Immediately an officer can be heard saying "He's got serious head bleed."
Sykes also said Coronado was never warned that a Taser would be used, which he said officers are required to do. Many times on the body cam video, officers can be heard encouraging Coronado to come out of his apartment and surrender and nothing would happen. Sykes said no officer is heard threatening the use of a Taser.
But Sykes said even if the allegations of having a knife and threatening police officers was true, at the time officers used their Tasers, Coronado was unarmed and did not pose a threat. An officer's appropriate use of force, according to Sykes, is determined by what's happening at the time the force is used.
"Now, he's out on the landing unarmed. What happened a half an hour before, threats made 10 minutes before, do not justify the use of severe force at that time. That's the law," Sykes said. "When he is on that porch, or that landing, there is no reason to use this kind of very severe force on him, a tasing, at that point and time because he doesn't have a knife. He doesn't have a gun. And he's not threatening to kill them either. And he can't escape."
Sykes contends Coronado's 4th Amendment rights were violated.
"The law is clear, you cannot use a Taser on a nonviolent misdemeanant," he said.
Coronado's reported injuries were visible Thursday. His forehead has visible disfiguration. Coronado uses a cane to help him move and stand up. When Sykes put his hand on Coronado's shoulder, his client quickly flinched and had a look of extreme pain come across his face.
The incident has left Coronado distrustful of police officers.
"I'm scared of 'em. I don't want one around me or nothin'. I don't trust them," he said.
West Valley police on Thursday responded by saying that had not been officially served with the lawsuit yet, but the department "intends to vigorously defend each and every allegation contained in the complaint."29 comments on this story
"The threat to the safety of surrounding apartments and open spaces necessitated an evacuation of the area and the call out of West Valley City Police Department SWAT officers. A skilled and specially trained Crisis Intervention Team negotiator from the West Valley City police spent multiple hours negotiating with Mr. Coronado to safely resolve the incident," the department stated in a press release.
"We work to bring every incident we encounter to the safest resolution possible for all involved. An injury to anyone involved in an incident is unfortunate, however, officers must act to ensure the safety of not only the suspect, but also the safety of the public, themselves and other officers. We look forward to an opportunity to defend the actions of our officers in this case."