McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

November 23, 2012

McAlester police Taser incident spurs Million dollar lawsuit

By Jeanne LeFlore
Photo Editor

McALESTER —  

A Muskogee woman has filed lawsuit in federal court seeking more than a million dollars against the city of McAlester, it’s chief of police and the McAlester police officer filmed tasing her in the chest while her hands were cuffed behind her.
The suit names the city of McAlester, McAlester’s Chief of Police, Jim Lyles, and McAlester Police officer Sterling Taylor as defendants.
The lawsuit asks for a judgment in excess of $1 million from the defendants in punitive and other damages in addition to attorney’s fees and costs of litigation and “any further relief to which the Court deems just and proper.”
The suit was filed Nov. 13 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma in Muskogee.
Causes of action according to the suit  Excessive Force against Taylor and Municipal Supervisory Liability against Lyles and the city of McAlester.
The suit comes just weeks after McAlester Police officer Sterling Taylor was charged in Pittsburg County District Court with felony assault and battery against Nakina Williams of Muskogee. Taylor was named in the charges as Sterling Taylor-Santino, according to court documents.
Jeremy Beaver, the McAlester attorney representing Williams, said the charges were not the catalyst for the lawsuit. 
“Whatever happens with the criminal case will not affect the civil case,” Beaver said. 
“But Ms. Williams was relieved to see the charges filed and it just reaffirmed our belief that she has been victimized.”
The lawsuit claims the violation of William’s civil and constitutional rights.
“The use of force used by Taylor, in shooting Williams with a taser while she handcuffed, constitutes an unreasonable and excessive use of force in violation of (her) constitutional rights as guaranteed by the United States Constitution and Amendments.” the suit alleges.
In a police video that can be seen at www.mcalesternews.com Taylor Tases Williams in the chest, at point blank range, while her hands are cuffed behind her, after she appears to spit at him.
The suit alleges that before the police video was released, Taylor tried to cover up his actions in a use of foce report he made to his supervisor.
 “By not reporting that Williams was handcuffed while he tased her in his Use of Force Report to his supervisor ... the McAlester Police Department found him to have acted ‘within policy.’”
The suit alleges the force used by Taylor was “excessive, unreasonable and wrongful.”  
 The use of force used by Taylor in shooting Williams while she was handcuffed was done in violation of McAlester Police Department’s policies and guidelines, according to the lawsuit.
Because the city of McAlester employed Taylor, it had the duty to properly “train, educate, supervise and investigate” its officers including Taylor and that Chief Lyles has a duty to protect the public by requiring adequate investigation of police officers before they are hired, according to the lawsuit. “Lyles and the City have not enforced or implemented policies to properly investigate uses of force by officers ...  or to discipline them when force is used in “violation of the law, suspects rights or internal department policy”
The suit alleges that the City and Lyles “failed to investigate” Taylor’s “violent” work history prior to hiring him which constituted a reckless disregard for the rights of Williams “whose rights were later violated” by Taylor.
And the suit states that Taylor continued to be involved with, and instigate, an unusually high number of “violent confrontations” with suspects compared to other McAlester officers  the suit also alleges that at no time did Lyles or the City seek to monitor, supervise or investigate (Taylor) regarding his use of “violent force” against suspects.
Since 2010, the suit alleges Taylor deployed his taser on suspects ten times while all other officers combined deployed their tasers only seven times.
Also alleged in the suit, are the City’s failures regarding Taylor, “which constitutes a reckless disregard for the rights of (Williams) and are cause of the excessive force used against her by Taylor.”
Taylor could not be reached for comment and Lyles and McAlester City Manager Pete Stasiak said they could not comment at this time.
Meanwhile Attorney Beaver said he hopes the lawsuit will bring the justice his defendant is seeking. 
“We are seeking two forms of justice, the first is compensation for what (Williams) has been through as well as punitive damages that will make an example for the other officers to be aware of, Beaver said. 
“The second is  that Ms. Williams wants to do what is in her power to keep officer Taylor from ever doing this again.”
 He said a trial by jury will go a long way toward accomplishing both of these goals. 
“We look forward to that,” Beaver said.
Contact Jeanne LeFlore at jleflore@mcalesternews.com