published Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

Deputies backed in Taser lawsuit

ATLANTA — Whitfield County Sheriff Scott Chitwood said Wednesday he is pleased that a federal appeals court panel sided with his deputies in a lawsuit brought by the family of a woman who died in 2005 after she was shocked with a Taser.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling Wednesday upholds a federal judge’s decision to rule against the lawsuit filed by the family of Melinda Neal Fairbanks.

“We’re very pleased with decision of the appellate court,” Sheriff Chitwood said in a telephone interview after the ruling was released. “We feel our officers acted appropriately.”

Genevieve Frazier, an attorney who represented Mrs. Fairbanks’ mother, Ruby Mann, said in an e-mail she will ask the court to reconsider its ruling.

Mrs. Fairbanks was shocked with the Taser in June, 2005, after she began hitting and kicking deputies who tried to arrest her for walking into a stranger’s home. Court records say she smoked methamphetamine with her husband earlier that day and was in an “agitated and delusional state.”

Her death certificate claimed her cause of death as malignant hyperthermia caused by “methamphetamine toxicity.”

Mrs. Mann sued the Whitfield deputies, Taser International and Hamilton Health Care Systems Inc., seeking $15 million in damages. She claimed deputies repeatedly shocked and beat Mrs. Fairbanks.

A U.S. District Court judge in Rome, Ga., dismissed Taser International and Hamilton Health Care Systems from the case, and then granted a summary judgment on behalf of the Whitfield law officers in November, 2008, court records show.

The appeals court panel’s ruling concluded that while Mrs. Fairbanks’ death was “unfortunate,” the judge acted appropriately.

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about Judy Walton...

Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...

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