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$415,000 Settlement in Lawsuit Over Tasered Prisoner Who Died in Texas Jail

by Matt Clarke

The parents and estate of a Texas man who died while incarcerated at the Hopkins County jail after he was repeatedly Tasered by police officers have settled a wrongful death suit filed against Hopkins County, the City of Sulphur Springs, jail personnel and police officers.

Tony Chance Ross, 34, had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and other mental illnesses when he was arrested late on the afternoon of March 6, 2015. Ross was known to police in the town of about 16,000. In fact, he had been arrested for public intoxication the day before and released from the jail early that morning – being required to leave on foot in freezing temperatures, clad only in a shirt, pants and shoes.

Responding to a phone call about a suspicious person, police encountered Ross, who was by then walking around shirtless and shoeless in very cold weather but not violating any laws. Officers reported that he was sweating profusely which, to them, indicated he was under the influence of drugs. They also noted that he had a small amount of blood on his arm and was behaving erratically and talking, but not making sense.

Police officer Adrian Pruitt gave Ross verbal orders which were ignored. Pruitt then used his Taser to shock Ross three times in short succession – once in the “probe” mode and twice in the “drive-stun” mode. Ross cried out for help, saying they were trying to kill him. The probe mode causes temporary neuromuscular incapacitation while the drive-stun mode causes pain without incapacitation. Using the Taser in drive-stun mode was unlikely to incapacitate Ross, but rather cause him a great deal of pain and make his body reflexively move away from the source of that pain. This was interpreted as resisting arrest.

Ross was taken to the Hopkins County jail. Once there, the police officers did not secure their weapons or turn Ross over to jailers for booking. Instead, they remained armed and, moving jail staff out of the way, forced Ross into a cell reserved for violent persons. They then forcibly disrobed him while he was still handcuffed as he pleaded and cried out in pain, and shocked him with Tasers seven times for a total of 66 seconds – once in the probe mode followed by six times in the drive-stun mode.

The Taser manual states that no person should be subjected to over 15 seconds of Taser shocks. Ross received a total of 74 seconds of shocks in less than an hour. The officers removed the handcuffs and left Ross on the cell floor. When they noticed he had not moved 17 minutes later, they checked and found he barely had a pulse. They did not attempt CPR, but called EMTs to transport him to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

According to a medical examiner report, the cause of death was physical restraint and methamphetamine intoxication. The police officers who arrested Ross were cleared of any wrongdoing.

Aided by Grand Prairie attorney David D. Davis, Ross’ parents and estate filed a federal civil rights action in 2016 that alleged excessive use of force, denial of medical care and other torts. The defendants settled the suit for $415,000 in April 2017. See: Ross v. Hopkins County, U.S.D.C. (­E.D. Tex.), Case No. 4:16-cv-00095-RAS-CAN.

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Related legal case

Ross v. Hopkins County