by Jayson Hawkins
Many issues surrounding criminal justice and law enforcement have been up for debate in recent years, yet the jury is back on the question of Tasers used on people in custody. The weapon has been banned by the biggest private prison corporations in America, as well as the federal Bureau of Prisons and around half of state prison systems, including the Illinois Department of Corrections. That has left many residents of Sangamon County in that state wondering why a fourth person has died in the local jail after being tasered on April 27, 2021.
“I do want to get to the bottom of it,” said Patricia Hayes, who sits on the county’s jail committee. “This is just very disturbing. These are pre-trial detainees and they have constitutional rights and I’m concerned those rights were violated.”
As previously reported in PLN, Tasers have been linked to over 100 deaths in prisons and jails since 2000. [See: PLN, July 2018, p.22.] But considering there are over 3,500 counties in the U.S., the cluster of deaths in the Sangamon County Jail is remarkable.
The county jail’s latest Taser death came on April 28, 2021, less than 24 hours after Jaimeson Daniel Cody was taken into custody on suspicion of aggravated domestic battery and aggravated battery with a knife, according to a report by the Associated Press.
A guard making rounds late on April 27, 2021, saw what looked like blood on Cody’s jail uniform about 11:40 p.m. Jail staff later reported that Cody, who was 39, had resisted health checks and would not submit to being handcuffed inside a cell where he was being held, so they had retrained him. According to a report by Chicago TV station WMAQ, his legs had then been tasered until he could be handcuffed.
Soon after, Cody became non-responsive, and medical staff was summoned to perform CPR. Less than an hour later, he was pronounced dead at Memorial Medical Center in Springfield. His death was ruled a homicide on June 11, 2021, by Coroner Jim Allmon, who listed the precise cause as “restraint asphyxia in the setting of methamphetamine intoxication.”
Video is available of almost all of the nearly 22 hours Cody was in the jail—except for a minute and half during which he was being tasered. That happened in an area off-camera, and none of the three guards involved activated any other camera to record Cody’s death. The three were placed on leave while Illinois State Police (ISP) investigated, though they refused to answer questions.
When local activists held a rally on June 17, 2021, his stepmother, Cindy Cody, said, “I want to see the policy that says officers may sit on a person until he stops breathing.”
Sheriff Jack Campbell refused to answer questions. He also refused to force his jail guards to stop stonewalling ISP investigators. But his previous comments in a similar situation left little doubt about his attitude.
“We don’t feel you can fire [the Taser] too much,” Campbell remarked in the weeks following the 2010 death of Pat Burns, who was tasered over 20 times by Sangamon County deputies trying to take him into custody at the home of a woman he had allegedly attacked while high on meth.
“You use the Taser until the person complies with your order,” the sheriff said.
Sheriff Campbell’s policy of compliance by electrocution has carried a relatively modest but steadily increasing price tag for local taxpayers. According to the Illinois Times, Burn’s family settled in 2015 for $40,000, though the total cost to the county including attorney’s fees was $273,000. See: Burns v. Williamson, USDC (C.D.Ill.), Case No. 11-cv-3020 (2012).
Confronted with the case of Tamara Skube, a woman tasered in a 2011 traffic stop, a federal judge observed that the 12 seconds the county deputy let elapse after he ordered her to turn around before zapping her with his Taser “was insufficient” resistance to establish probable cause for an arrest. See: Skube v. Williamson, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24362 (C.D. Ill.).
After that 2015 ruling, the Illinois Times reported that the county settled Skube’s suit for wrongful arrest for $150,000. See: Skube v. Williamson, USDC (C.D.Ill.), Case No. 12-3185 (2012).
Richard Haley, another man who was tasered at the county jail—in the middle of an epileptic seizure in March 2013—settled in 2017 for $9,000, the Illinois Times reported. See: Haley v. Smith, USDC (C.D.Ill.), Case No. 3:14-cv-03055-CSB-DGB (2014).
The largest liability to date resulted from the 2007 death of Amon Paul Carlock, 57, another Taser victim at the county lockup who was also sat on by a 275-pound guard. Carlock, a former cop who performed for kids as Klutzo the Clown, was detained in the jail on suspicion of possessing child pornography and traveling abroad to sexually abuse children. He died before those charges could be proved, though. His widow was awarded $2.6 million, the Illinois Times reported, adding that Sangamon County ended up shelling out legal fees that bumped its total expense to $5.3 million. See: Estate of Carlock v. Williamson, USDC (C.D.Ill.), Case No. 08-3075 (2008).
But still Campbell insisted, “I don’t believe our employees have done anything wrong.”
Judges’ rulings regarding Taser use inside of lockups have been fairly consistent.
“Seventy percent of the time a wrongful death lawsuit will result by the family from a Taser death in a correctional facility and almost two-thirds of the time they win money,” said University of Illinois Springfield criminology professor Ryan Williams. “That is a very rare statistic in the criminal justice system. Wrongful death suits from Tasers in jails are very common. They’re way more common than a police officer who did it on the street.”
Sangamon County prosecutors announced on September 11, 2021, that no charges would be filed in Cody’s death.
Source: Associated Press, Illinois Times, State Journal-Register, WICS-TV, WMAQ-TV
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Related legal cases
Skube v. Williamson
|Cite||2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24362 (C.D. Ill.)|
Haley v. Smith
|Cite||USDC (C.D.Ill.), Case No. 3:14-cv-03055-CSB-DGB (2014)|
Burns v. Williamson
|Cite||USDC (C.D.Ill.), Case No. 11-cv-3020 (2012)|
Estate of Carlock v. Williamson
|Cite||USDC (C.D.Ill.), Case No. 08-3075 (2008)|