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Officers taser 86-year-old disabled woman in her bed: lawsuit

By Daniel Tencer
Friday, June 25, 2010 16:37 EDT
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UPDATE: Tasered grandmother threatened officers with knife, police claim

One of the police officers named in a lawsuit over the tasering of a bed-ridden 86-year-old woman says the grandmother threatened officers with a knife.

“Police have admitted using a Taser to incapacitate the suicidal woman Dec. 22,” reports the Oklahoman. “Officer Duran wrote in a police report she pulled a kitchen knife from under her pillow and threatened to kill him. ‘I tried talking to Varner and calm her down but nothing would work,’ he reported.”

Duran said in his police report that Lona Varner, 86, raised the knife above her head and said, “If you come any closer, you’re getting the knife.”

ORIGINAL STORY FOLLOWS BELOW

Officer ‘s rationale: Bed-ridden grandmother ‘took more aggressive stance’ in her bed

When Lonnie Tinsley of El Reno, Oklahoma, called 911 to ask for medical assistance for his disabled, bed-ridden grandmother, he couldn’t have dreamed it would end with police tasering the 86-year-old woman twice, stepping on her oxygen hose until she couldn’t breathe, and sending her to a psychiatric hospital for six days.

Yet that’s what a lawsuit (PDF) filed in a federal court in Oklahoma this week alleges.

According to the lawsuit, in December, 2009, Tinsley came by his grandmother’s apartment to see if she was doing alright in the midst of a winter storm. When she wasn’t able to tell him if she had taken her medication, Tinsley called 911 and asked responders to send medical technicians over to evaluate her.

But instead of an ambulance, the lawsuit alleges, “as many as 10 El Reno police” arrived and “pushed their way through the door.”

At that point, 86-year-old Lona Varner told police to “get out of her apartment.” That’s when officer Thomas Duran, described in the lawsuit as the “leader” of the police unit, allegedly told another officer to “taser her.”

When Tinsley responded “Don’t tase my granny!” the officers threatened to taser him instead, the lawsuit states.

In his police report, officer Durgan asserted that Varner “took a more aggressive posture in her bed,” evidently causing him to fear for his and his officers’ lives.

Police then handcuffed Tinsley and took him to a waiting squad car. They released him without charge some time later. Meanwhile, the lawsuit alleges, officers “stepped on [Varner's] oxygen hose until she began to suffer oxygen deprivation.”

Officers then fired a taser at her, hitting her twice, causing her to pass out, the lawsuit states.

At the direction of El Reno police, Varner was sent to the psychiatric ward of St. Anthony’s Hospital in Oklahoma City, where she was held for six days.

The lawsuit, which names the city of El Reno and 13 police officers as defendants, alleges that Varner’s rights were violated under the Fourth and 14th Amendments to the US Constitution, and that “the defendants caused the plaintiffs to be wrongfully seized, assaulted, battered, physically harmed, humiliated [and] emotionally harmed.”

 
 
 
 
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