Family of Woodland Taser Victim Files Suit Against Woodland, Police, and Taser International

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The family of Ricardo Abrahams has filed suit against the City of Woodland, the Police Officers involved in the incident, and Taser International. Mr. Abrahams died in May of 2008 following an incident where he was shot multiple times with “Taser” electrical guns, hit with metal batons, and the police eventually tackled him to the ground.

The Yolo County Coroner’s office ruled Abrahams did not die from the Tasers, but but rather from positional asphyxiation, which happened when police held him down on the ground. The Attorney General’s Office cleared the officers of criminal wrongdoing. Lawyers representing Rosemary and Cecil Abrahams of Davis allege:

“On the morning of May 28, 2008, police officers from the Woodland Police Department killed Ricardo during an altercation in which the officers beat him with metal batons, shot him multiple times with “Taser” electrical guns, and tackled him to the ground. The brutalization by the officers, combined with a dangerous defect in the Taser guns used, caused Ricardo’s death.”

According to their account, on May 18, 2008, Ricardo Abrahams left the Safe Harbor facility. Staff had become concerned about his condition and called the police to ask them to check on Ricardo.

“One or more officers at the scene decided to take Ricardo into custody, even though he had done nothing illegal and was not a danger to himself or others. Ricardo was not intoxicated and was not under the influence of any illegal substances. Police officers simply did not have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to seize Ricardo.

Police officers began to beat Ricardo’s arms and legs with their batons. Police officers also fired at Ricardo using Taser electrical guns that were manufactured, distributed, marketed, and/or sold by TASER INTERNATIONAL, INC. Ricardo ran away from the officers to avoid their unlawful use of force against him. The officers chased Ricardo and shot him again with Taser guns. Ricardo fell to the ground and police officers swarmed on top of him. The weight of all the officers on Ricardo made it difficult for him to breathe. Shortly thereafter, the officers realized that Ricardo was not breathing. One or more officers called for an ambulance to transport Ricardo to the hospital. Ricardo was taken to Woodland Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead at approximately 10: 15 a.m. Ricardo’s death occurred after unlawful, illegal, and unconstitutional force was used against him by the officers.”

The lawyers allege that the police officers “needlessly escalated their encounter with decedent into a confrontation, and intentionally and recklessly commenced the use of force and violence without justification.”

The plaintiffs also criticize policies, customs, and practices of the Woodland Police Department.

(a) directing or encouraging police officers to inflict unreasonable and excessive force on persons and to seize persons without reasonable suspicion or probable cause,

(b) hiring, retaining, and assigning officers with a known propensity for using unreasonable and excessive force and for seizing persons without reasonable suspicion or probable cause,

(c) failing to adequately train, supervise, warn, and discipline officers against the use of unreasonable and excessive force and against the seizure of persons without reasonable suspicion or probable cause, particularly with respect to persons who have committed no crime, but suffer from a health/medical condition, mental stress, mental deficiency, or mental illness,

(d) failing to investigate and impose discipline upon officers who use unreasonable and excessive force, or seize persons without reasonable suspicion or probable cause, or for other misconduct, thereby condoning and encouraging officers to believe that they can violate the constitutional and statutory rights of persons with impunity and that such misconduct will not affect their eligibility for continued employment, compensation, promotion, and other employment benefits,

(e) failing to adequately train, supervise, warn, and discipline officers regarding the dangers of Taser guns, particularly the risks to the respiratory and cardiovascular systems of persons who may have pre-existing health and/or medical and/or mental conditions, and who are shocked repeatedly, within a short period of time, and are then subjected to impaired breathing by the weight of an officer or officers.

The complaint alleges eleven causes of action.

The first is wrongful death in that the “decedent’s death was directly and proximately caused by the illegal, wrongful, and neglectful conduct of the Defendants.”

The second is violation of substantive due process.

“Defendants’ misconduct and policies, customs, and practices alleged herein amounted to deliberate indifference to, and/or reckless disregard for, Plaintiffs’ fundamental liberty interest in, and substantive due process right to, the companionship and society of their child, under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.”

The third is excessive force.

“Defendants’ misconduct alleged herein violated decedent’ right to be free from the unreasonable and excessive use of force as guaranteed by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.”

The fourth is false arrest.

“Defendants’ misconduct alleged herein violated Plaintiffs’ right to be free from unreasonable seizure as guaranteed by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.”

The fifth is municipal liability that hits on the city of Woodland’s polices, customs and practices. Recall one of the defenses is that they were following procedure as laid forth by the Woodland Police Department. This cause of action would get at that defense claim.

The sixth cause of action is battery stemming from the physical confrontation that the plaintiffs allege was improper.

“The police officers beat, shot, and tackled decedent, without his consent, with the intent to cause harmful and offensive contact. Decedent was harmed and/or was offended by such contact. This conduct occurred prior to decedent’s death.”

The seventh cause of action is interference with civil rights, this is related to the second cause of action.

“Defendants, by intimidation, violence, threat of violence, and/or coercion, intentionally interfered with or attempted to interfere with the right of decedent to be secure against unreasonable seizures, pursuant to the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, Article I, Section 13 of the California Constitution, and the right to due process, pursuant to Article I, Section 7 of the California Constitution. This conduct occurred prior to decedent’s death.”

The eight cause of action is negligent hiring and supervision. The ninth cause of action is negligence.

Only the tenth and eleventh causes of action is directed against Taser International–strict products liability and products liability–negligence.

According to the allegations:

“TASER INTERNATIONAL, INC. knew that its Taser guns had manufacturing and/or design defects that presented the risk of causing personal injury and death, particularly against persons experiencing mental stress, mental illness, health issues, and/or medical conditions.

Furthermore, TASER INTERNATIONAL, INC. knew that its Taser guns were defective in that they were not accompanied by adequate instructions and/or warnings regarding the correct use of the guns, and/or the known and/or scientifically knowable potential risks or side-effects involved in using the guns in a foreseeable manner, including, but not limited to, the risks to the respiratory and cardiovascular systems of persons who may have pre-existing health and/or medical and/or mental conditions, and who are shocked repeatedly, within a short period of time, and are then subjected to impaired breathing by the weight of an officer or officers.”

There have been no official responses to this point from the defendants.

One point that needs clarification because it arose in the Woodland Daily Democrat’s initial story and also was mentioned on Matt Rexroad’s blog.

The Daily Democrat wrote:

“The officers — John Perez, Omar Flores, Anthony Cucchi and Amanda Waldeck — were cleared of any wrongdoing by the state Attorney General’s Office.”

Mr. Rexroad who argued that the family should not receive one cent of taxpayer money said:

“The Woodland Police officers were cleared.”

The more accurate statement is that the officers were cleared by the Attorney General’s Office of CRIMINAL CONDUCT.

Deputy Attorney General Davis Lowe wrote:

“We find no criminal conduct on the part of any of the involved officers…”

The Vanguard reported on this back in October:

“This is not a surprising finding and based on what little we know of the case, an accurate finding. The fact of the matter is, a criminal finding would have had to have shown that the police officers intended to do harm to this individual. That is a very high standard to meet and one that is not in agreement with the known facts of the incident.

In other words, there is no reason to have suspected that the officers acted in a malicious fashion. That would be the difference between an incident like Rodney King where the police officers were clearly using excessive force in an intentional and malicious matter. However, even in the King case there was no criminal conviction–rightly or wrongly. The King case in that regard represents the norm.

But that is not the end of the story. Criminal conduct is only a small amount of this case. The next question will be whether the police are civilly liable for Mr. Abraham’s death. That is a much lower standard and one that it does not appear from media accounts that the AG’s office looked into.”

At that time, Attorney Johnny L. Griffin from Sacramento claimed that the state’s ruling was based on inaccurate information submitted by the Woodland Police Department to the Attorney General’s office.

“If the material submitted by the Police Department is incomplete and/or inaccurate, the attorney general’s findings will likewise be flawed… Bottom line, the attorney general’s finding can only be as trustworthy as the information provided by the Police Department.”

Bottom line here is that no judgment should be passed yet either way. The AG’s office found no criminal conduct but that is not the end of the story. This civil trial will determine civil liability. The officers have not been cleared in this venue yet. We shall let the process play out and see what comes out in the trial.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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16 thoughts on “Family of Woodland Taser Victim Files Suit Against Woodland, Police, and Taser International”

  1. Wait and See

    At the very least, the Woodland PD needs to take a look at its Taser/use of force policy. And by the way, just bc the AG cleared the Woodland Police of criminal wrongdoing does not mean they did not engage in criminal wrongdoing. It just means there was a lack of evidence to prove criminal wrongdoing. In other words, there is no definitive videotape of what happened that we know of.If the officers are found guilty in a civil trial of wrongdoing, then the city of Woodland should pay – bc ultimately they are responsible for what their employees do – including the WPD. I wonder how Mr. Rexroad would feel if it were his son this happened to? But then he will never know what that feels like, will he?

  2. Lexicon Artist

    …The Yolo County Coroner's office ruled Abrahams did not die from the Tasers. … The family of Ricardo Abrahams has filed suit against … Taser International….I recently read that there have been hundreds of lawsuits against Taser Intl. All but one of them have lost*. The exception is now under appeal, and I read (in a conservative magazine) that the award in that case will not hold up. I suspect, based on what I've read about this case, that there is no chance Taser Intl will lose, here. That raises the question: why do attorneys keep fruitlessly suing that company in these cases? …The Woodland PD needs to take a look at its Taser/use of force policy….That may be true. However, insofar as the stun-gun did not kill this person, this incident might not be the best one to motivate a change in policy. The question for any police department, I would think, should be: …Are our officers only using Tasers when they risk bodily harm from a suspect and there is nothing short of using a firearm which could protect the officers?… My sense in reading news stories about this topic is that, in some police agencies, officers have used stun-guns to restrain suspects who were acting crazy, but were unarmed and otherwise were not physically endangering the police. Where that is occurring, a policy change is due….If the officers are found guilty in a civil trial of wrongdoing, then the city of Woodland should pay….I would agree with that if the officers are found …liable… and found to be following the established policy of the City of Woodland. However, if individual officers engaged in misconduct which was prohibited by department (or city) policy, I think the officers should be fired and held financially liable, but the City itself shouldn't be punished (unless it is also shown that there is a pattern where cops violate established policies and go unpunished by their department or the city).

  3. Lexicon Artist

    * Lost — some of those who …lost… actually settled for court costs, according to the articles I read. All of the rest, save one last summer, were thrown out or were defeated at trial.

  4. Lexicon Artist

    …A. very little taxpayer money will go into fighting this, that's why city's have insurance pools…Q. Who pays the insurance premiums? A. The taxpayers. But for our system*, which burdens the corporation (in this case the City of Woodland) with the liability for its employees' conduct, even when the employees explicitly violate the enforced regulations** of the corporation, the public cost of lawsuits of this nature would not be too high. However, that is not the case. The cost of these suits is huge. Insurance companies are not making a loss on them. The taxpayers are ultimately carrying the freight.* No other country in the world has a civil litigation system like ours, where such huge amounts of money are awarded in torts cases. That system is one of many things harming our economic fortunes. It's one of the reasons our healthcare system is so expensive.** Beyond the fact that it is not established that the Woodland PD officers did anything wrong, it's also unclear that, if they did, they violated established and enforced city regulations. My point here is that even if Woodland has an explicit and enforced policy which was violated, and hence could do nothing more to protect itself, the courts will hold the city liable, which makes no sense to me at all.

  5. Anonymous

    Lex, if the family didn't sue Woodland, how would they enrich themselves off of this tragedy? Are you that stupid? If the family doesn't get rich because of their son's death, then they can never be happy. That's the American way.

  6. Anonymous

    You people (those that condemn the use of Taser when it isn't just used as a substitute for a gun, or those that expect cops to stand a trade punches, blow for blow, with drug hyped nuts and criminals) need to try to understand something–something that admittedly is difficult to understand until you pin on the badge and have to figure out a way to go home safe to your family. This isn't/wasn't a TV show.The object is to keep the peace, etc. without suffering the slightest injury. That means when the other guy brings it on, he may get hurt to prevent me from getting hurt. That is the professional standard, what is trained, and what is expected from our responsible communitiy members and leaders. If you think otherwise, you are without a doubt, living in fantasyland and believe Hollywood's version of law enforcement.For most of you, that concept of self preservation seems to be fine for every other profession. None of you would expect an iron-worker to work without safety gear just because it's macho. But you all would gladly expect a cop to be macho and take his flesh-wound because cops are supposed to be so noble and without human feelings and fears.I fear that the masses will never appreciate the sacrifices–physical and emotionally–that cops accept. You beat us up, over and over again, when, in the vast majority of cases, it was really a case of the cops not running away from the situaution that you all would certainly run away from, and then just trying to get through very tough and sometimes frightening encounters with their lives so that they could go home to their children.It's too easy to criticize in the manner that you do and as a result you make your real-life gaurdian angels feel like #&@* for having managed to stay alive. You wonder why you get treated with such disdain by some cops. As a group, you spit on them and then expect them to treat you all like you are some sort of blessed soul. Treat with respect and you'll get respect. You get so much more than you really deserve in the safety of your easy chairs. Walk a mile in my shoes.

  7. Vincente

    How to use a lot of words and say so little. The question that goes unanswered in your diatribe is whose side we err–the side of the police's self-preservation or the side of the public's safety. You are arguing for the former. That's extremely dangerous, it is problematic, and any reasonable reading of the constitution has to call into question.I have no disdain or animosity for the police. In fact, I rather like them. I certainly have no love for criminals.But at the end of the day, the government must ALWAYS justify its use of force, and any question was fall against it not in favor of it.

  8. Anonymous

    …and then just trying to get through very tough and sometimes frightening encounters with their lives so that they could go home to their children…Fine – then just admit mistakes and tell us you learned something and hopefully the mistakes will not happen again. The reaction by the WPD after they killed Mr. Abrahams contributed to the negative reaction you complain about. Also, respect goes both ways and that involves using judgement and being honest at all times.

  9. Anonymous

    Vincent, I know you think I say too much, but that's how I get some balance here.I take note that you're words are telling too. And in a frightening way. The sides you try to paint as opposing, are really the same. …Police self-preservation… and …public safety… are on the same side, not in conflict as you seem to presume.But if you must prioritize, then police self-preservation must come first, and this is why: Without the police officer preserved then public safety cannot be assured. I know that may be too succinct to be clear, so a little more to explain: If public safety is already assured, then there is no need for the police. Since we all likely agree that, unfortunately, public safety is not assured, then the police are a necessity that must then be preserved to achieve public safety.To make some sense of this in terms that most can understand, consider the instructions given at the beginning of every commercial airlines flight: …Should the cabin become depressurize, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead compartment. If you have children, place the mask over your own face first. Then assist your children in affixing their masks…. This does not relegate the child's life to being less important than the parent's, it merely means that without the safety of the parent being assured the child's safety is placed at greater risk. Preserve the safety of your police officers or you place yourselves at great risk.Regarding your Constitutional retort: The constitution does not give life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness lesser importance in the case of police officers. That's what I'm talking about. Your loose and casual use of the Constitutional reference, while attracting attention to your argument, doesn't really mean anything in terms of making it credible. The Supreme Court has ruled many times in ways that support the concept I wrote of–the 4th Amendment seizure of a person and the force that may be employed–and few times that support your apparent position. The Supremes get it. You, and too many others, don't. Unfortunately, the Supremes aren't the ones talking in our coffee shops, speaking out at protests, or blogging. So the besieged police officers have to put up with the uninformed attacks on their reputations and integrity.The U.S. police in all but the most backward communities (and Woodland isn't one of those) take a great deal of care and consideration, both before and after their uses of force–establishing protocols/policies and then investigating and reporting how those rules were abided by or not. Those rules are constantly subject to change, as they should, as lessons are learned.The problem is that most people don't take the time to look at those written protocols/policies or engage in the scenario based training available to citizens in general that might help them judge whether the force used was appropriate. They just don't have the time. It's easier to talk out of their… More kindly said, they just respond emotionally to the sadness of the outcome and assume that the recipient of the force (I refuse to use the term victim since it presumes mistreated) was mistreated. (It's the American way. Root for the underdog. And there is no greater underdog than the individual overcome by the weight of government.)Another of your ilk, in an earlier comment, made reference to the …pack-mentality… of the police in the most pejorative way. That revealed the essence of my complaint. That statement reveals that the writer and, sadly, too many others, expect us to fight the battle one-on-one. That isn't the way we train–and for the right reasons. We train to overwhelm resistance not battle with it. But to the writer, it appears that the sentiment was …If the police operate in a pack, they aren't fighting fair…. It doesn't look as pretty as a Marquis of Queensbury rules match or an episode of a Hollywood police story, but the plan that the police will survive the encounter is much more likely to be accomplished. And that's far more important than your sensibilities about fighting fair.I'm done. Sorry if it's more than you wanted to hear.

  10. Alphonso

    …But if you must prioritize, then police self-preservation must come first…This sounds like a load of BS to explain way inappropriate police behavior. One of the things I have always admired about firefighters is that they will risk injury and death to preserve a life. Yes, going home to their families is the highest priority but they will take the risk anyway.The fact of the matter is that the WPD killed a person and he was a victim of police abuse. It is true that I have more information than the police had at the time of the incident, but even without the information it still appears the officers lacked judgement.I would much rather hear a discussion about the changes made to protocols/procedure since the Abrahams incident rather than this dribble that …we are always right and we are more important than those we deal with…. Specifically let's hear about revised policies regarding the use of tasers and how to deal with people with mental issues. What lessons have been learned?Be Men (I realize you might be a woman) and accept responsibility when something goes wrong.

  11. Ordinary Citizen

    …It doesn't look as pretty as a Marquis of Queensbury rules match or an episode of a Hollywood police story, but the plan that the police will survive the encounter is much more likely to be accomplished. And that's far more important than your sensibilities about fighting fair….So what are you saying, that the police don't have to fight fair? I assume what you mean is that the criminals don't fight fair, so law enforcement must use whatever means necessary to catch the bad guys? Problem here is the victim does not appear to have been a bad guy, but an innocent victim, stopped for no articulable reason, other than he was …acting strange…, but was not a danger to himself or the public. Do you really feel it was appropriate, in a case like that, to …pile on…, especially knowing the man was mentally unstable and confused, and overweight? Would you have done things differently in retrospect? It is a fair question.We saw vividly in the Rodney King case how adreneline pumped cops can do awful things that are totally out of line. I honestly don't know if the WPD was out of line here, bc I was not there. But on the face of it, it sounds like …overkill… (pardon the very bad pun, but it really fits the subject matter). To me, it appears the Woodland PD were overzealous when they needn't have been. Nor were they sensitive to the family of the victim in the aftermath. IMHO the WPD came off as arrogant, they would do the same thing over again, and learned very little from the experience. That worries me, as an ordinary citizen, Matt Rexroad not withstanding.

  12. Anonymous

    This is sickening behavior from law enforcement. I am so saddened for the man (and his loved ones)who lost his life at the hands of adrenaline-hyped, pack-mentality cops! And shame on you, Rexroad…you should be thrown out of office for your attitude toward this incident!

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