Ever since she was in a car hit by a drunk driver, TDH* has suffered from seizures. And on January 16, at Southside High School, in Gadsden, Alabama, the girl exhibited all the characteristic symptoms of one: She lost consciousness, her muscles tensed up, and a steady hiss of air emerged from her lungs.
Despite that incident, around 8 PM that night the 16-year-old and her friends headed to a Kevin Gates concert in nearby Rainbow City. At the show, the teenager's mother alleges in a federal lawsuit filed last week, police officers Tasered them both in a nauseating case involving a controversial weapon that's under renewed scrutiny across the country after a year defined by spectacular cases of police brutality.
TDH is not named in the lawsuit, and VICE is not identifying her mother, the plaintiff. Defendants include Rainbow City and its police chief, Greg Carroll, as well as two local police officers. The suit also names the venue, called Center Stage; the city of Gadsen; and six more cops—including three from Gadsen—who haven't been identified so far. Gadsden City Attorney Lee Roberts, however, told Alabama Media Group that there were no local cops at the concert.
According to the complaint, a stampede began when the Louisiana rap star exited the stage after his performance, and the "stress and fear" of being trampled cause TDH to have her second seizure of the day. When her sister informed employees at the venue what was going on, one allegedly picked up the writhing young woman and "unceremoniously dumped" her in the lobby.
The girl's mother arrived on the scene just in time to see an employee put her in a chokehold, according to the suit. Seconds later, a Rainbow City cop, who weighed more than 200 pounds, allegedly "body checked" the mother, knocking her onto her knees and subsequently restraining her arms. She watched helplessly as her daughter went through her seizure, but she was about to have problems of her own.
"Get her," the officer restraining her allegedly said, at which point another cop deployed a Taser on the mother, who went into shock and urinated all over the lobby floor, according to the suit.
Just as this was happening, TDH raised her head toward her mother and was allegedly Tasered three times in her sternum by a Rainbow City officer and went into her third seizure of the day.
In 2007, a study by Wake Forest University found Tasers to be relatively safe, with 99.7 of uses at six locations nationwide producing either no injuries or minor ones, like scrapes and bruises. But a contradictory report put out by human rights group Amnesty International found that 290 people died after being struck by police Tasers between 2001 and 2007 in the US and Canada. According to coroners, the weapon was a causal or contributing factor in 20 of those deaths. Two years later, after a cop sent a man into cardiac arrest, Taser International—which manufactures the devices—warned police to aim away from the chest.
When TDH woke up, she was in an ambulance with gauze stuffed in her mouth and bound there with tape, which caused her to experience the "sensation of drowning," the suit claims. At the hospital, cops allegedly joked about the incident, and even threatened to have her committed to a mental institution. Her mother was cited for disorderly conduct and not allowed to check in on her kid, who suffers from nightmares and panic attacks because of what happened that night, the suit alleges.
"A Taser was used three times on a child's chest, during a medical emergency, while she was pinned to the ground by officers," the plaintiff's attorney, Gregory Harp, told Alabama Media Group. "Other officers present at the scene failed to intervene. Her mother was knocked to the ground, handcuffed, and then herself Tasered and arrested."
The plaintiff is suing for violation of her daughter's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as well as her own. Attempts to reach TDH and her mother via their attorney for this story were unsuccessful. Calls and e-mails to both cities and their police departments went unreturned.
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