ELON – The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation (ACLU-NCLF) filed a lawsuit today in the federal district court for the Middle District of North Carolina on behalf of John W. Paylor, a resident of Elon and a 54-year-old grandfather who was shot twice with a Taser by Elon police officers on June 18, 2006. The officers had surrounded the home of Mr. Paylor in order to serve him with a misdemeanor arrest warrant for using profanity on a public highway and for reckless driving. A videotape of the incident shows that Mr. Paylor was unarmed, in his underwear, and presented no threat to the officers. Nevertheless, without just cause, one of the officers shot Mr. Paylor with a Taser, causing him to fall from his porch. Then, while Mr. Paylor was lying on the ground, unable to move from the shock of being tased and from the fall down his steps, Officer Dunn tased him a second time. Mr. Paylor has sustained permanent physical scarring from the incident.
“These officers showed up at my front door from out of the blue and tased me when I wasn’t even doing anything wrong,” said John Paylor. “It wasn’t right, and I hope the court can make sure they never do it again to anybody else.”
The lawsuit names as defendants certain individual police officers of the Elon Police Department, including Officer Harold T. Dunn, who allegedly used his Taser to retaliate against Mr. Paylor for a verbal exchange that occurred between Officer Dunn and Mr. Paylor the day before. The complaint further alleges that other officers who accompanied Officer Dunn and failed to intervene to stop his unlawful actions likewise violated Mr. Paylor’s constitutional right to be free from excessive force. Finally, the complaint contends that the Town of Elon bears responsibility for its failure to properly train its officers in the use of Tasers, which the Elon Police Department’s own policies regard as “potentially deadly weapon[s],” and for a pattern and practice of permitting its police officers to employ Tasers in an excessive and reckless manner.
“This was a flagrant abuse of authority by the Elon Police Department,” said attorney Mark Prak, a Raleigh lawyer, who is representing Mr. Paylor. “John Paylor did nothing to deserve this treatment as the police videotape clearly demonstrates. This lawsuit seeks to ensure that (1) police officers may not abuse their powers to conduct private vendettas; and (2) other citizens won’t have to suffer similar mistreatment in the future.”
The lawsuit asks the Court for an injunction (1) prohibiting the Elon Police Department and its officers from continuing to engage in a pattern or practice of condoning the use of Tasers by its officers in a manner that constitutes excessive force; and (2) requiring that Elon Police Department implement training sufficient to ensure that its officers will avoid employing Tasers in situations where such use would constitute excessive force. The lawsuit also seeks compensatory and punitive damages for Mr. Paylor.
“Tasers are becoming increasingly common in North Carolina and across the country,” said Katy Parker, Legal Director for the ACLU-NCLF. “It is important that as officers employ these potentially deadly weapons, they do so only when necessary and that they exercise restraint. These weapons are not toys.”
The ACLU-NCLF is a founding member of the North Carolina Taser Safety Project, a coalition of nonprofit organizations advocating for the proper use of Tasers by law enforcement and for better training for officers on the weapons’ potential risks. These risks are especially pronounced when used on certain vulnerable populations, such as children, the elderly, the disabled, obviously pregnant women, and people in certain situations that place them at greater risk of harm, such as people standing atop a flight of stairs – as Mr. Paylor was here – who are at risk of injury from falling if shot with a Taser. The Taser Safety Project produced a report in 2008 which can be found on the front page of this website.
Mr. Paylor is represented by Mark J. Prak, Charles E. Coble and Charles F. Marshall of Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey & Leonard, L.L.P. in Raleigh, North Carolina, and C. Scott Holmes of Brock, Payne & Meece, P.A. in Durham, North Carolina, as Cooperating Attorneys for the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, as well as by Katherine Lewis Parker, Legal Director of the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation.