Marin sheriff defends use of Taser on 64-year-old

August 31, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
The Marin County Sheriff's office says it does not take lightly decisions to use force and that its deputies through "an extensive amount of on-going training." The Sheriff released the statement following an ABC7 exclusive report which showed a 64-year-old man being repeatedly Tased by a deputy last summer in his home.

The incident occurred on June 29, 2009 shortly after midnight when Marin County resident Peter McFarland and his wife Pearl returned home from a charity fundraising event. McFarland slipped on steps leading to his home and suffered injuries to his leg, arm and head. His wife then called paramedics from a nearby fire station who helped him in and treated his wounds.

McFarland says as the paramedics were leaving, two Sheriff's deputies "bolted into his home."

"The sheriffs ran up the stairs into the room here like a bunch of cowboys," he said.

ABC7 obtained the audio and video captured by a camera mounted on the Taser. It shows McFarland sitting on a couch with the gun's laser beam targeted on his chest. The deputy repeatedly tells him that he is going to take him to a hospital to be evaluated because of a comment McFarland made previously that he would "shoot himself in the head."

It is unclear who heard the comment but McFarland told ABC7 in an exclusive interview that it was just "hyperbole" and that he was tired and in pain from his injuries.

The interchange continues for about five minutes with the deputy ordering McFarland to get up from the couch. Finally, McFarland yells at the deputies to get out of his home and then stands up. At that point, a deputy fires his Taser -- not once, but three times as McFarland cries out in obvious pain on the ground while the other deputy tries to handcuff him. All the while, the deputy tells McFarland to stop resisting.

"It was excruciating, I never had so much pain in my life," McFarland said.

Deputies finally restrained him and took him to jail on a charge of resisting arrest. A judge later dismissed that charge.

Dr. Byron Lee is a cardiologist at UCSF. He has done extensive research on the lethal effects of Tasers.

"The Taser has some real risks that if you can get Tasered in the right places, you can cause sudden death and cardiac arrest," Lee said

The Sheriff's office responded to ABC7's inquiries with a written statement saying in part, "The decision to resort to the use of force is never taken lightly and deputy sheriffs (sic) undergo an extensive amount of on-going training to ensure those decisions are both appropriate and fall within the guidelines established by law and department policy."

The statement also states that watching the Taser being deployed is difficult, saying, "That reaction can all too often also be influenced by using only small, selected segments of a much lengthier video that better depicts the complexity of the event in question."

McFarland's lawyer John Scott told ABC7 he received the video upon discovery when he filed a motion with the judge to dismiss the "resisting arrest" charge. He says the video was released to him with the understanding that it was the complete un-edited version of the event.

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