$2.5 Million Taser Settlement
Summary: Village of West Milwaukee Settles Taser Death Case in Wisconsin
On June 17, 2019, The Village of West Milwaukee adopted a resolution to pay the Estate of Adam Trammell 2.5 million dollars.
On May 25, 2017, two West Milwaukee police officers discharged their tasers 15 times into the body of Adam Trammell as he was naked in his bathtub. The officers continually and incorrectly shouted “Brandon,” while repeatedly tasering a young man who was experiencing an acute psychiatric crisis. The body cameras worn by two of the officers show that they were not in danger at any time. The cameras recorded Trammell being tasered multiple times–even after he had been handcuffed. Trammell was near death when his wet, naked, bleeding and handcuffed body was dragged into the hallway. He died in the paramedic’s vehicle that had been on scene for approximately 40 minutes. He was pronounced dead on arrival at Froedtert Hospital.
Trammell’s parents, Larry and Kathleen Trammell, said, “Our son was tortured to death.”
Responding to the call were West Milwaukee Police Officers Anthony Munoz, Michael Rohleder, and Danielle Engen. Both Munoz and Rohleder entered Trammell’s bathroom brandishing tasers. Officer Engen never discharged her Taser, but handed it to the officers in the bathroom. Engen, who subsequently left the department, has now become a certified Taser trainer for the Onalaska Police Department, despite allegations in the lawsuit that she failed to intervene. Trammell, who was mentally ill, was having an acute psychiatric crisis. Neighbors warned the officers that he had threatened suicide. Both manufacturer warnings and departmental policies warn that tasers are not to be used against those in acute psychiatric distress. Officers Munoz and Rohleder violated those warnings when they repeatedly tased Trammell. They had not received updated Taser training since 2011.
As of 2013, the Village of West Milwaukee’s Police Department had an agreement with the manufacturer that each of its officers would receive annual training and re-certification on the Taser. Such training was to be consistent with national law enforcement standards, including the 2011 Electronic Control Weapon Guidelines. The lawsuit alleges that these standards and guidelines were not followed. Standards including admonitions that a person such as Adam Trammell, in an acute psychiatric crisis, faces a heightened risk of injury or death when subjected to the discharge of electrical weapons. Officers must avoid deploying the Taser at the chest whenever possible; they should not subject persons to more than 15 seconds of exposure (multiple applications or continuous); and persons in handcuffs must not be subject to the discharge of electrical weapons. All of these national standards were alleged in the lawsuit to have been violated by the defendants on May 25, 2017.
Attorney Robin Shellow of The Shellow Group and Attorney Mark Thomsen of Gingras, Cates & Wachs, both of whom represent the Estate of Adam Trammell, retained forensic pathologist Dr. Carl Wigren. After reviewing the bodycam footage, Dr. Wigren confirmed that a Taser dart fired by an officer was embedded in his chest less than 2 inches from Trammell’s heart.
For many years, law enforcement agencies and some forensic pathologists have denied the lethality of tasers. Dr. Wigren refuted the notion that tasers only cause cardiac arrest when a rare phenomenon called cardiac capture occurs. Dr. Wigren maintained that Trammell died of the cumulative physiological effects of multiple Taser applications.
During such events, heart rates increase, respirations increase, and blood pressure rises. Dr. Wigren explained that Taser exposure produces effects that could increase the risk of sudden death, including changes in blood chemistry, blood pressure, respiration, heart rate and rhythm, and the secretion of adrenaline and stress hormones. When the multiple Taser applications ceased, Trammell’s heart rate dropped, and his body could not keep him alive. Dr. Wigren’s conclusion was very simple: multiple Taser applications caused the death of this medically fragile individual.
Trammell’s parents hope to use the settlement money to fulfill the dream their son Adam and his family have had for many years. They want to buy some land in Arkansas and build a church where families can bring their mentally ill sons and daughters, where they will be loved and nurtured.
The above picture unequivocally shows that the lethal Taser dart fired by officers of the Village of West Milwaukee was embedded in Adam Trammell’s chest, between his nipples, and less than 2 inches from his heart. The West Milwaukee Police Department’s use of force policies should have been changed. Adam Trammell suffered multiple Taser electrical discharges totaling 82 seconds, with some electricity entering the Taser dart embedded adjacent to his heart.
Law enforcement agencies need to be put on notice that use of a Taser on a person in psychiatric crisis can and does result in death. The officers in West Milwaukee used their tasers in such a way that they stopped the beating heart of Adam Trammell while he was in an acute psychiatric crisis. While the officers from the Village of West Milwaukee have to live with the moral guilt of knowing that they caused Adam Trammell’s death, it cannot be compared with the grief of his mother and father, parents who had to bury their son—after he was tortured to death.
Never again should this happen. All law enforcement officers who carry these or similar weapons need to see and hear the torture inflicted, and know that death occurs when such weapons are abused and hearts are forcibly broken.
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