With clear Federal guidelines which specifically caution against repeatedly using stun guns on subjects, fifteen jolts from a Taser were too much for Chase Sherman’s body to handle. On Friday, The New York Times published police body camera footage, which captures the final chaotic moments of the 32-year-old’s life.
The video, recorded last November, shows deputies with Georgia’s Coweta County Sheriff’s Department trying to restrain Sherman as he struggles in the back seat of a rental car. Minutes earlier, Sherman’s parents had called 911 to report that their son was having some sort of psychotic episode. He was showing signs of dissociation, perhaps related to synthetic marijuana he told them he’d used days earlier. They decided to phone for help when Sherman bit his fiancée and tried to jump out of the moving car.
“I couldn’t keep him in the car — he didn’t know where he was and was disoriented,” Sherman’s father, Kevin, told the Times. “I couldn’t keep him in the car by myself, so we needed to call for medical assistance.”
Sheriff’s deputies were the first to respond, and officers Samuel Smith and Joshua Sepanski arrived at the scene with their body cameras rolling.
The video they recorded shows officers striking a handcuffed Sherman repeatedly with their Tasers as he resists. They apply both direct contact drive-stun shocks, as well as longer range probe strikes, which pump 50,000 volts of electricity into the target through metal prongs.
At one point, an officer yells at Sherman for allegedly reaching for his Taser.
“That’s a good way to get shot, right there,” he says. “You grab my Taser again, it’s gonna be on.”
Sherman responds with an unintelligible string of words. From the front seat of the car, a voice pleads with the officers not to shoot Sherman.
But the officers still were unable to remove Sherman from the car.
“OK, I’m dead. I’m dead,” he finally says, over the clicking of a Taser. “I quit.”
A Taser clicks once more, as Sherman lies face down in the footwell of the back seat. A medical technician presses on his back and tells the officers that he’s “got all the weight of the world on him now.”
Moments later, they realize Sherman isn’t breathing. Finally, they remove his body from the car. Authorities would later say that Sherman died at the scene. The Times reports that Sherman’s death was ruled a homicide due to “an altercation with law enforcement with several trigger pulls of an electronic control device.” His death certificate also says Sherman’s torso was compressed “by the body weight of another individual.”
Sherman was one of 39 people killed by police in Georgia last year, according to data compiled by the Guardian. At least 12 civilians have been killed in officer-involved incidents so far this year.
The Associated Press reports that according to Coweta County Sheriff’s Office records, one deputy used his stun gun nine times on Sherman in a two-and-a-half-minute span. That’s a total of 47 seconds of shock time from one device, including a single strike that lasted 17 seconds. The other deputy used his stun gun six times in just over four minutes, a total of 29 seconds of electrocution.
The dangers of electronic control weapons, or ECWs, like Tasers and other stun guns, have been widely studied by law enforcement oversight groups. In 2011, the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit policy and research organization, partnered with the Justice Department to craft new guidelines on their use. Their report specifically cautions against repeated applications of ECWs, especially by multiple officers or for extended periods of time.
“Officers must be trained to understand that repeated applications and continuous cycling of ECWs may increase the risk of death or serious injury and should be avoided,” the report reads.
Another section discourages against using the drive-stun mode as a pain-compliance method, saying it “may have limited effectiveness and, when used repeatedly, may even exacerbate the situation by inducing rage in the subject.”
On Friday, District Attorney Peter J. Skandalakis released a statement explaining his decision to release the footage and saying that the investigation into Sherman’s death is still ongoing.
“[A] final decision has not been made concerning the outcome of this case. However, in recognition of the great public interest in this matter I have decided to make the body camera and dash board videos available to the media,” he said. “This case will be evaluated closely by examining the facts and applicable law before any conclusion is formed.”
While any administrative action is on hold pending the results of the probe, the body camera footage captures one of the officers expressing concern about the outcome of the incident.
“Fuck no, we’re fucked dude,” he can be heard telling another officer. “Dude, I’m fucking fired, man.”
His colleague replies, “Naw, you’re — you’re fine.”
As of Friday, a lawyer for Sherman’s parents told sources that the family planned to sue the sheriff’s department and would ask the U.S. Justice Department to investigate. An attorney for the sheriff’s office told sources the agency doesn’t comment on threatened litigation.