'Tase him!' 'I'm dead': Deputies struggle with man in videos

AP News
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Posted: May 20, 2016 5:11 PM
'Tase him!' 'I'm dead': Deputies struggle with man in videos

ATLANTA (AP) — Two deputies yell "Stop fighting!" and "He's got my Taser!" as they repeatedly stun a handcuffed man in the back of a vehicle, commanding him to relax even as he insists "I'm dead," shortly before he stops breathing, body-camera videos show.

The videos show the Nov. 20 incident in the back of an SUV in Coweta County, outside Atlanta. Chase Sherman, 32, of Destin, Florida, was pronounced dead at a hospital later that day.

The deputies responded after Sherman's mother called 911. She told the dispatcher she was in a car with her husband, her son and the son's girlfriend on southbound Interstate 85. She said her son was "freaking out" and had taken the synthetic drug spice.

The deputies approach the vehicle and start struggling with Sherman, with someone yelling "Tase him!" and "Hit him!" as he cries out and his mother begs them to stop, as shown in the videos. The videos from the body cameras of the two responding deputies were released Friday by Coweta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Peter Skandalakis.

"What's your problem, buddy?" one deputy says. "That's a good way to get shot right there. I tell you right now, you grab my Taser again, it's gonna be on."

The deputies insist that his mother and girlfriend in the front seat get away from the area.

"You're not gonna shot him, you hear me?" Sherman's mother says.

The deputies tell the family they're subduing Sherman for their own protection. They call for more help and tell Sherman to "just relax, stop resisting." They hit him with the stun gun multiple times. He cries out, eventually saying, "I'm dead."

At one point, Sherman is on the floor of the SUV. An emergency medical technician leans on him.

"I've got him pinned. He can't come up unless he comes up with me on him," the EMT says. A deputy continues to use his stun gun.

The deputies realize Sherman has stopped breathing and move him out of the vehicle. The family wails off camera. A deputy says, "Get the family back."

"He ain't breathing," someone says.

Emergency personnel do chest compressions on the roadside; a deputy removes Sherman's handcuffs.

One deputy later says, "Look at my cuffs," showing his mangled handcuffs from the incident. He says he knows he'll be fired.

District Attorney Skandalakis said in a statement Friday that his office has not finished reviewing the case and the investigation is ongoing.

Both deputies are still employed with the department, according to Col. James Yarbrough with Coweta County Sheriff's Office. They're identified in incident reports as J.D. Sepanski and S.F. Smith.

Nathan Lee, an attorney for the sheriff's office, said the family has indicated they plan to sue, and the agency's doesn't comment on pending or threatened litigation.

The incident is the latest in a string of confrontations between police and civilians caught on video. Many have raised concerns about officers' treatment of black people, but in this case Sherman is white, according to his death certificate.

Coweta County Sheriff's Office records from Sherman's death show that one deputy's stun gun was used nine times in a 2-½-minute span for a total of 47 seconds, including one use that lasted 17 seconds. The other deputy's stun gun was used six times in just over four minutes for a total of 29 seconds.

The family's attorney, Chris Stewart, said at a news conference Friday that they'd been in the Dominican Republic for his brother's wedding and decided to rent a car and drive home after Sherman became agitated during a layover in Atlanta, Stewart said. As they drove, Sherman was hallucinating and trying to exit the vehicle, Stewart said.

Sherman's father, Kevin Sherman, said was shocked when he saw the videos for the first time Friday, adding that his son looked "out of it."

"He says 'I quit,' and these dirty dogs didn't know when to quit," Kevin Sherman said.

Stewart acknowledged that the video shows Chase Sherman resisting the deputies at first and grabbing the end of the stun gun. But he said that once Sherman was handcuffed and stopped struggling, the officers should have waited for medical personnel rather than continuing to use stun guns and the weight of a person to subdue him.

Chuck Drago, a former police officer who is now a Florida-based consultant on training and procedures for police departments, reviewed the video at the request of The Associated Press. Taser International, which makes the stun guns used by the sheriff's office, issues warnings to law enforcement that cumulative exposure to electric weapons can cause serious injury or death, he said.

The repeated stuns and the weight of a person on Sherman's body were a dangerous combination, Drago said, but added that he'd need to know more about the situation before he could say whether the stun guns were used inappropriately.

He also noted the deputies faced a precarious situation: a delirious man in a car by a busy highway. "They've got to keep him controlled so he doesn't run out into the middle of the road," Drago said.

Sherman's death certificate lists his death as a homicide and the cause as "sudden death during an altercation with law enforcement with several trigger pulls of an electronic control device, prone positioning on the floor of a motor vehicle and compression of the torso by the body weight of another individual."

If the district attorney declines to bring the case before a grand jury, his family wants the U.S. Department of Justice to look into the incident, Stewart said. The family also plans to file a lawsuit, he said.

"They need to pay (for) what they did to him. He didn't deserve it," Sherman's mother, Mary Ann Sherman, said. "They tortured him to death."

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Associated Press writer Kevin McGill in New Orleans contributed to this report.