ATLANTA (AP) — The family of a man who died while in the custody of East Point police has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the former officers and city, the family's lawyer said Thursday.
The lawsuit filed in Fulton County Superior Court says former East Point police sergeant Marcus Eberhart and former corporal Howard Weems used excessive force against Gregory Towns Jr. on April 11. The lawsuit says officers used their stun guns against him as many as 13 times while he was handcuffed.
"It's just heinous," attorney Chris Stewart told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "This isn't one of those cases where he punched an officer and they had to Taser him to calm him down."
Calls to a number listed for Eberhart seeking comment went unanswered. Weems referred questions to his lawyer, Dale Preiser, who declined to comment. East Point acting city attorney Brad Bowman said the city doesn't comment on pending litigation.
Towns, 24, was approached by officers as he was leaving his son's mother's apartment complex after having a domestic dispute with her, the lawsuit says. When officers approached and asked to talk to him, he ran away and officers caught up with him after he tripped over a tree branch and fell, the lawsuit says.
Officers handcuffed Towns and ordered him to get up and walk to a patrol car, but Towns said he was too tired from running, the lawsuit says. Weems threated to use his stun gun on Towns if he did not get up, the lawsuit says. Towns got up but soon fell over again, telling officers he was tired, the lawsuit says.
Stun gun logs Stewart said he obtained from the police department show the officers then used their stun guns on Towns as many as 13 times in a 30 minute period, though the police report indicates that the stun gun was used fewer than five times, Stewart said.
Weems and Eberhart violated the department's stun gun policy, which says stun guns shouldn't be used on someone who's handcuffed, shouldn't be used to escort or prod someone and shouldn't be used on someone who's offering only passive resistance, the lawsuit says.
An autopsy report from the Fulton County medical examiner's office says Towns died from "hypertensive cardiovascular disease exacerbated by physical exertion and conducted electrical stimulation." The report lists the manner of death as a homicide and cites "use of drive-stun conducted electrical device by police."
Eberhart resigned and Weems was fired and is in the process of appealing his termination, East Point spokeswoman Renita Shelton said.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has completed a report on the case and turned it over to the office of Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, who will decide whether to present the case to a grand jury, Stewart said. A spokeswoman for Howard's office did not immediately return a phone call and email seeking comment.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Towns' estate and his infant son.
The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages for Towns' estate and his son. The family also wants to know why a stun gun was used on Towns and wants to ensure officers strictly follow the department's stun gun policy, Stewart said.
"I want justice," said Towns' mother, Claudia Towns.
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