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Inmate paralyzed in Taser incident sues L.A. County Sheriff's Department

The man fell from the top of a jail bunk bed after a deputy used a stun gun to subdue him when he refused to come out of his cell for electronic fingerprinting.

February 18, 2009|Richard Winton

A man left paralyzed below the chest after he fell from the top of a jail bunk bed when a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy used a stun gun on him sued the Sheriff's Department on Tuesday, alleging that his civil rights had been violated.

According to the federal lawsuit, Blake Dupree, 22, said he was standing on his bunk about four to seven feet above the concrete jail floor with his hands raised in a defensive posture when he was stunned with a Taser, which delivers a 50,000-volt shock.

Much of the incident on Feb. 27, 2007, was captured on videotape, according to the suit.

Sheriff's officials have acknowledged that deputies shot Dupree with the Taser when he refused to come out of his cell and submit to electronic fingerprinting.

"The officers involved should have known that deploying the Taser on Mr. Dupree while he was standing on the top bunk would result in a dangerous fall," said attorney Justin Sanders, who represents Dupree. He said his client "has suffered catastrophic injuries and extraordinary suffering which no amount of money can remedy."

The suit alleges that instead of giving Dupree medical treatment after he fell, sheriff's supervisors ordered him to stand up. When he couldn't stand, deputies carried Dupree to the fingerprint area and dumped him on the floor, the suit alleges. At the time, Dupree was in jail because he allegedly took his mother's car without her permission. The suit was filed after settlement negotiations broke down, Sanders said.

Sheriff Lee Baca told The Times last year that "common sense" should have dictated that using the Taser on Dupree was inappropriate while he was on the bunk and likely to fall as a result of being shocked.

In the aftermath of the incident, which occurred at the Lakewood station, the Sheriff's Department launched an investigation to determine whether use of the Taser violated department policy.

On Tuesday, sheriff's officials said five deputies, including a lieutenant, were disciplined for their roles in the case. The lieutenant was demoted to the rank of sergeant, officials said.

Michael Gennaco, head of the Office of Independent Review, which monitors the Sheriff's Department, said the top supervisor was demoted for his actions in approving the Taser usage because the decision "fell below the performance expectations for the department."

Gennaco said the department has since enacted a policy for cell extraction in the station jails to prevent such events from occurring again. "When a Taser is used on someone on top of a bunk, it doesn't take much to realize the outcome will be a person falling," he said.

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richard.winton@latimes.com

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