Gallatin Taser death spurs lawsuit

Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 5:18pm

The mother and wife of a man who died after being Tasered by Gallatin police officers have filed suit claiming negligence and unreasonable force resulted in the October 2009 death of Jeffrey Woodward.

Woodward’s mother, Sandra Rutter, and his widow, Andrea Woodward, are suing the city of Gallatin, its police department, the officers involved and Taser International Inc. for negligence and emotional distress.

Andrea Woodward is suing for $5 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages, while Rutter seeks $1 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages.

The wrongful death suit accuses police of reckless and negligent behavior in using unreasonable force and violating Woodward’s rights as well as a system that harbored abuse by Gallatin police officers. It was filed in Sumner County Circuit Court on Oct. 26 but was transferred to U.S. District Court on Tuesday.

City of Gallatin Attorney Joe Thompson referred questions to Nashville-based attorney Bill Bates, who will serve as counsel for the city via the Tennessee Municipal League. Bates could not be reached for comment.

Joe Bednarz Jr., representing Woodward and Rutter, said he hoped the suit would uncover details about the Oct. 27, 2009, incident that may have led to Jeffrey Woodward’s death.

“The problem is we just don’t have any information at all as to what happened other than the eyewitness testimony,” Bednarz said. “The police department hasn’t released anything yet.”

Bednarz said he had requested copies of the police reports but never received anything.

“The only way to get any answers appeared to be file the lawsuit,” he said.

According to court documents, Woodward called police to report his mother had been kidnapped.

Responding police officers found him walking down the street with a knife in his hand, stopped him and told him to drop the knife, which he did. Police handcuffed Woodward and placed him in the back of a patrol car before driving him to his mother’s house, where she was found safe.

According to the suit, when police charged Woodward with filing a false police report and took him out of the car, he became “agitated,” leading police to release a police canine on him and using a Taser device on him while he was on the ground with the dog on top of him.

Rutter and Andrea Woodward’s complaint states that witnesses at the scene reported Jeffrey Woodward cried, “Help me! Help me!” as his mother pleaded with officers not to kill her son.

The suit further alleges that the “ … Gallatin Police Department, were reckless, negligent, and deliberately indifferent in their training, hiring and supervision of their police officers … ” either failed to adequately train its officers in using a Taser device and/or officers failed to follow that training.

Part of the suit goes on to claim a pattern of tolerated police beatings and unlawful uses of force in which officers were not seriously punished or the incidents were covered up, therefore leaving officers with the impression that “civilian persons could be beaten or abused under circumstances not requiring the use of excessive force and that such beatings would, in fact, be permitted by the city and county.”

The suit further alleges that the GPD failed to properly investigate police beatings, shootings and uses of excessive force, claiming “systemic flaws” in the department’s review process.

Those claims include flaws in how reports justifying police actions were prepared; how investigating officers failed to give credit to civilian testimony and relied heavily on reports by officers at the scene; how officers failed to include facts that might have contradicted officers’ statements; how police supervisors have issued public statements exonerating police officers for excessive force, improper beatings or the use of a Taser before the police department had completed its own investigation into the incidents; and how supervisors didn’t review brutality cases for accuracy.

Three days after the incident, The Gallatin Newspaper quoted Gallatin police Sgt. Bill Storment as saying, “We believe our officers acted in an appropriate manner and tased the subject in the back area. However, we’re not sure the Taser completed a circuit because witnesses said they heard a loud pop and the subject got right up and took off running. We can’t determine if the subject was on drugs as that will be part of the investigation.”


Filed under: City News
Tagged: crime | Gallatin | Taser

6 Comments on this post:

By: richgoose on 11/11/10 at 4:57

This is America! A live or die tool is put in the hands of a person making $35,000 a year sets the stage for some really bad decisions by taser bearer.

By: bsaut on 11/11/10 at 5:55

Who initiated the original contact with the police? The tasered individual initiated the contact. Who committed the criminal act of a false police report? The tasered individual initiated the entire affair. The tasered individual was the one who also started the fight with the police, and should consider himself lucky they did not shoot him. The police acted in a very restrained manner, and should be praised for their actions and not sued. The family is obviously seeking money because they are greedy, self serving individuals.

By: ur ridiculous on 11/11/10 at 10:16

some people are jst ridiculous!

@ bsaut- Are u serious? Really?He should consider himself LUCKY? Did u really miss the part where they said he DIED? OMG! Acted in a very RESTRAINED manner? You obviously have ties to the department in some way! If not , you should think of applying- you seem to have the same thought process, SERIOUSLY! And last but NOT in any means LEAST, your inconsiderate, heartless, insensitive and absolutely ABSURD comment that they were greedy and self serving individuals!
Yeah...I'm sure it had nothing to do with the fact that these idiots just killed their loved one right in front of them after they begged them not to, AFTER letting their K-9 CHEW on him...not to mention the whole thing started because he called them looking for his mother to begin your right, I'm sure it's all just self motivation on their part..they probably just want to buy her another SON to give her GRANCHILDREN ....YOU IDIOT!!!!! AND PRAISE THEM FOR THEIR ACTIONS????
WHAT THE .... COULD YOU POSSIBLY WANT TO GIVE THEM, A MEDAL OF HONOR FOR KILLING HER CHILD AND HER HUSBAND? YOU GOT ISSUES!!! Or maybe if there is some kind of justice....a chance at a job in Gallatin!!! WOW!!
You know they are supposed to PROTECT and SERVE the people. They are supposed to be trained to deal with issues like this..I mean this man obviously had some kind of issues to be walking down the street with a knife, but he was not armed when this happened, he was being attacked by a dog. The difference is they WERE supposed to be the professional, and they reacted like ametuers. Now these women are without a loved one, regardless of his imperfections, because of it. And even though they are too busy dealing with this, I'm sure, to read your ridiculous opinion...I was not.. and someone needed to defend them...HOW DARE YOU! Hope someone should do the same for you....

By: richgoose on 11/12/10 at 7:29

UR-RIDICULOUS------------You may have been a little too emotional but you certainly presented evidence to support the post I made earlier.

By: girliegirl on 11/12/10 at 8:19

Tasers are deadly for people like my husband who suffer from electrical misfires of the heart. One zap would surely stop his heart. However, he's the lucky one...he already knows this fact. Any of you could be in the same boat, but you haven't seen your cardiologist yet. (just sayin')

By: cruciblethorn on 11/14/10 at 11:13

I pray the family moves the suit out of Gallatin. The good ole boy system there is terrible and in full effect. The cops in that town are thugs and one of them is the son of the district attorney who lies in court to protect his buddies. They all think they are above the law and I hope they burn for this one. Bednarz is a fantastic attorney and I hope he pummels these punks into the ground and I hope they lose their jobs. I really wish they would go to prison as they have damaged many people over the years by lying on the stand. The cops in Gallatin are worse than anyone can imagine.