mage of Taser use lingers
‘Blake is having a seizure, and they’re hurting him’
10:28 AM CDT on Sunday, May 18, 2008
By Donna Fielder / Staff Writer
Blake Dwyer remembers pain:
The agonizing burn of electrical shock.
“I thought a swarm of wasps was after me,” the 17-year-old Guyer High School athlete said. “I was trying to fight them off.”
He doesn’t remember the epileptic seizure he suffered July 18, 2007, when he was 16.
He doesn’t remember fighting to keep from being tied to a stretcher or hitting a paramedic.
His brother, Travis Baker, 17, remembers all of it. He recalls screaming at Corinth police to stop shocking Blake with a Taser. His mother, Deana, remembers hearing Travis crying on the telephone.
“He was saying, ‘Blake is having a seizure, and they’re hurting him,’” she said.
And in case they should forget Blake’s experience, they have photographs of 12 separate sets of burns from the double posts of a Taser.
Corinth police did not respond to a message asking for comment about the incident. Corinth city attorney Michael Bucek won’t release records because the city expects litigation, he said. He did say there was no internal affairs investigation into the incident.
“The only thing I can say is that we believe this is a frivolous lawsuit with no merit,” Bucek said.
No lawsuit has been filed yet. Deana Dwyer sought the advice of Denton lawyer Rocky Haire, who said he has been trying to work with Corinth police for an out-of-court resolution with no luck so far.
“Deana just wants them to acknowledge they did it wrong,” Haire said. “She tried to tell them their officers needed some training on what to do with epileptic seizures and postictal psychosis, but they just blew her off.”
Haire contacted an investigator with the Texas Municipal Intergovernmental Risk Pool, which insures city governments against lawsuits. Haire said the investigator told him that a check of the Taser shows it was fired 15 times within five or six minutes that day.
Mike Rains, a representative of the TMI Risk Pool, said there is an ongoing investigation into the incident, and talks have been initiated with Haire. He would not confirm the extent of the Taser use.
“I believe it was a number of times,” Rains said.
According to information from the Epilepsy Foundation, epilepsy is a neurological condition that sometimes produces brief disturbances in the normal electrical functions of the brain with intermittent bursts of much more intense electrical energy. The resulting seizure may affect a person’s consciousness, movements or sensations for a short time. A person suffering a seizure will fall down, froth at the mouth and jerk uncontrollably.
Postictal psychosis following a seizure may include delusions, depressive or manic behavior, aggression or bizarre thoughts and behavior.
Tasers can be used in different ways. A Taser has a cartridge that sends two prongs out on wires. When the trigger is pulled, the probes burst out of the cartridge and can travel up to 21 feet to reach the target. Then electricity travels though the wires and arcs between the probes.
That affects the sensory nerves, and the electricity overrides the central nervous system, which means the muscles can’t move. The person falls to the ground, briefly immobilized.
Or, the officer has the option of pulling off the cartridge and simply pressing the Taser against the skin. That causes electrical pain but does not immobilize and is called a “drive stun.” It is a way to control someone using pain.
Blake Dwyer had been experiencing grand mal epileptic seizures for about a year, possibly brought on, his mother said, by a concussion.
He and Travis spent the preceding night with friends. They admit they smoked marijuana from a pipe provided by one of the other boys but insist they used no other illegal substances. Blake’s blood workup the next morning showed only traces of marijuana in his system.
They were getting ready for football practice about 10:30 a.m. Travis said he saw Blake bend over to tie his tennis shoes.
“He looked up, and his eyes rolled back in his head,” Travis said. “He fell over and started frothing at the mouth and jerking. I knew he was having a seizure. I was there when he had the others, and I knew what to do.”
Travis said he had learned to calm Blake, who comes out of the seizures with postictal psychosis, a condition that accompanies seizures in some patients to varying degrees. Blake becomes disoriented and frightened, he said. He panics and tries to fight, especially if someone tries to restrain him.
On that morning, Travis began talking to Blake, and some of his fear subsided. Someone at the house called 911, and an ambulance arrived. Paramedics told Travis to step back, and they strapped Blake to a gurney.
“I tried to tell them that he’s claustrophobic and he couldn’t stand to be strapped down,” Travis said. “But they wouldn’t listen to me.”
According to the paramedic report, Blake was combative. He was making incoherent sounds and fighting against the restraints. He freed his arms and, still strapped to the gurney by the lower part of his body, he began flailing his arms. He struck a firefighter in the face.
According to the ambulance report, a paramedic found the marijuana pipe in Blake Dwyer’s pocket. Haire says Blake was wearing gym shorts that didn’t have a pocket at the time. The report stated that he was very combative and uncontrollable. After finding the pipe, the report indicates the paramedics believed he may have been overdosing on narcotics.
The ambulance team asked for Corinth police.
According to the police report provided by the Dwyers’ lawyer when Corinth police declined to release it, an officer Tasered Blake Dwyer only twice.
“[Reporting officer] issued a ‘drive stun’ with the Taser to Dwyer’s upper back to gain compliance so he would stop fighting with the fireman. … Once inside the ambulance Dwyer was once again issued a ‘drive stun’ to gain compliance,” the report states.
The paramedic report also mentions two instances of the officer using the Taser.
But photographs taken the next day show 24 post burns, representing 12 separate instances of the posts of the Taser being applied to Blake Dwyer’s back and underarm.
“The police were saying he was having a ‘bad trip,’” Haire said. “But the blood work only showed trace amounts of THC, evidence of his having smoked pot the night before — no trace of any opiate or psychedelic drug that would cause a bad trip.”
Deana Dwyer said it took several days for her son to act completely normal again after the experience.
“I’m mad at him over the marijuana,” she said. “But smoking marijuana the night before had nothing to do with his seizure. He had them before, and he’s had three since.”
The paramedics took Blake to a local hospital and then he was transferred to Children’s Medical Center Dallas. A neurologist who checked Blake on July 24 wrote, “Robert [Blake] Dwyer has epilepsy with postictal confusion. (Don’t try to restrain him. Talk calmly and try to guide him to a safe area.)”
Deana Dwyer said she visited Corinth police to try to figure out what happened. She is not sure which supervisor she spoke to, she said, but she was not reassured.
“He told me he had a possible kidnapping to worry about. He told me he was going on vacation. He said he’d look into it but he was really busy right now. I called later, but they said he wasn’t in.
“Tasing Blake was one of the worst things they could have done,” she said. “He comes out of the seizures not knowing where he is and scared to death. Shocking him 12 times didn’t calm him down. On the phone, I could hear him yelling ‘OK, OK, OK, OK, OK, OK, OK’ and then screaming when they would hit him again. If it wasn’t helping, why did they keep doing it?”
Blake wasn’t a criminal the police were trying to arrest, Haire said. He was a 16-year-old boy having a seizure, and he needed help.
“I have written letters to the editor commending police and firefighters,” Haire said. “I understand what a thankless job it is. I’m not trying to make their job harder. But when I saw that he had been hit with a Taser 12 times, something cracked inside. I couldn’t believe it. It is an absolute abuse of power.”
Haire said he is upset that both the police and paramedic reports stated that his client was Tasered twice when there is abundant proof and several witnesses to prove that was not true. And he believes the police should have addressed Deana Dwyer’s concerns instead of ignoring them.
Someone who knows Haire saw her plight that day in the police lobby and recommended she contact him.
“I’m trying to raise awareness. Somebody told her, ‘You need to contact Rocky Haire.’ If they hadn’t done that, she wouldn’t have complained.
“There’s not a lot of money to be made by suing a city,” Haire said. “The law is designed to make it not worth it. But we're not just going to quit on this.”
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