Greenwood police face lawsuit

Tasered man’s family claims response disproportionate, caused his death

The family of a local man who died last year after being stunned by a Taser by Greenwood police is suing, saying the police response was disproportionate and that extreme and unjustifiable use of the Taser caused his death a couple of weeks later.

Charles Todero died about two weeks after being stunned with a Taser 16 times in three minutes by police in an incident last year, and his family filed a lawsuit in federal court Tuesday. The lawsuit names the city of Greenwood and three police officers, saying the department violated Todero’s civil rights.

The lawsuit alleges that Todero, who was sitting on the side of the road on Madison Avenue reading a Bible, had done nothing to deserve being hit with a Taser stun once, let alone 16 times. Todero died about two weeks after the incident as a result of damage to his body from the use of the Taser, the lawsuit states.

Todero’s family is seeking an unidentified amount of monetary damages. He was 30 at the time of his death.

Allegations in a civil lawsuit are the opinion of the person filing and may be refuted in court.

“The city disputes many of the factual allegations contained in the complaint and denies all of its claims,” Greenwood city attorney Krista Taggart said in a written statement. Because of the pending lawsuit, the city has no further comment, she said.

Police responded May 29, 2016, to reports of a man walking in and out of traffic on Madison Avenue near Camby Street. Multiple callers reported that Todero was attempting to get hit, and cars were braking and swerving to avoid him, according to accounts police gave of the event last year.

When an officer first arrived on the scene, Todero was sitting on a curb reading a Bible, said Steve Art, an attorney with the Chicago-based civil rights law firm Loevy & Loevy, which is representing the family.

Todero was walking home from his father’s funeral, and his father’s Bible was the sole item he would get from him, Art said at a Tuesday news conference in Indianapolis.

Todero was doing nothing more than jaywalking and that he could have been easily restrained without excessive force right away when an officer arrived at the scene, Art said.

“In America we don’t put police officers as judge, jury and executioner for crimes like jaywalking,” he said.

Police accounts conflict with the events outlined in the lawsuit. Police described Todero’s actions as dangerous and erratic, and that an officer had no other options after Todero would not follow commands and after an officer tried to restrain him. That’s when the Taser was used the first time.

The 15 additional times the Taser stun was administered were due to weaker charge from the Taser since only one prong had entered Todero’s skin and that Todero had continued to try to stand up. Police also stated that Todero had held up his Bible and claimed to be Jesus Christ as the Taser was being administered.

Art disputed that account.

“The first tase rendered him completely subdued,” he said.

Body-camera video from the scene backs up that claim, Art said.

Following Todero’s death, police said an investigation found that officers hadn’t done anything wrong. An autopsy identified two pre-existing conditions — liver disease and Hepatitis C — as having led to swelling in Todero’s brain and having caused his death.

Art described those claims as “utter nonsense.”

“Every single sign that we see in victims of excessive Taser use was present physiologically in Charlie Todero in the two weeks he was in the hospital before he died,” he said.

High levels of lactic acid, certain proteins and potassium — the result of muscle contractions caused by electrocution — led to medical problems including multiple heart attacks and organ failure, the lawsuit states.

Todero’s family deserves justice for his death, Art said.

Charles Todero was an active athlete who had taught sports to his younger brothers and attended their games, said his older brother James Todero.

“We shared so many great memories together,” James Todero said.

The Greenwood Police Department needs to have clear policies on Taser use, have better training and oversight, and must discipline officers who use Tasers inappropriately, Art said.

Police should have helped her son, not abused their power, Teresa Todero said.

Art didn’t identify how much money the family was seeking, saying that amount would have to be determined by the jury.

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Jacob Tellers is a reporter at the Daily Journal. He can be reached at jtellers@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2702.