UA student makes claim against OV - Tucson Local Media: Pima Pinal

UA student makes claim against OV

Man says officer used Taser, caused injuries; observers say student was combative

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Posted: Tuesday, May 26, 2009 11:00 pm

A University of Arizona student has threatened to sue the Town of Oro Valley and the police department.

In a notice of claim sent to town officials April 17, John Wisner III, and his attorney James E. Marner have asked that the town pay $425,000 in compensation for medical expenses and pain and suffering.

The claim says that on Oct. 25, 2008, Wisner and a group of friends were walking through the University of Arizona on their way to a football game.

Before the group of students arrived at the game, a gathering of UA fans began to taunt one of Wisner's friends who happened to be wearing a University of Southern California shirt — the opposing team on that night.

Wisner's lawyer wrote that one of the fans then threw a bottle at the USC fan, at which point an Arizona fan began shouting insults at the group of students.

Fearing for his safety, according to the claim, Wisner began to walk away from the burgeoning skirmish. When he did, someone grabbed him from behind.

Wisner attempted to run, fearful that one of the Arizona fans was attacking him. But it wasn't a fan who grabbed him; rather, it was an Oro Valley police officer in full gear working security for the university, according to police reports.

As Wisner ran, the officer shot him with a Taser electric weapon. The shot struck Wisner in the back and the head, instantly felling him. He landed face first on the sidewalk, breaking his nose, knocking loose three teeth and another completely out of his mouth, according to the claim.

The officer then handcuffed Wisner and, according to the claim, left him bleeding on the sidewalk for 10 minutes.

Wisner's lawyer also noted that a second Oro Valley police officer later "interrogated John without first advising him of his 5th Amendment rights to remain silent."

Wisner was taken to the hospital, where police later issued a citation for disorderly conduct.

Police reports of the incident say Wisner was more than a bystander to a fight, but was an active participant. Reports from at least two officers note they witnessed a fight in which Wisner pushed and threw a punch at another fan.

The reports also say the officer yelled "Police, stop!" at Wisner as he ran. The officer then called out, "Taser on line, stop!" before firing the non-lethal weapon at Wisner.

The reports also note that Wisner and his group had been drinking that day, one noting that Wisner's friends said he "had too much to drink."

Police reports stated that Wisner's blood was drawn at University Medical Center for blood alcohol content analysis, which showed his level at .26.

According to an online blood alcohol content calculator, a person of Wisner's size — 145 pounds — would need to consume up to nine alcoholic beverages to reach that level.

Police agencies from across Southern Arizona assist the university with security at sporting and other public events. While still employees of their government, police have to apply with the university to work as part-time employees, Oro Valley Police Lt. Chris Olson. The university then bears the responsibility for any lawsuits filed against employees.

"This program covers the acts and omissions of University employees acting in the course and scope of employment and/or authorization," according to the description of coverage on the university risk management Web site.

Wisner's lawyer said he also sent a letter of claim to the university. He declined to comment further.

University officials would not release that letter to The Explorer, saying in an e-mail "Student records are protected from disclosure to third-parties by FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act)."

Police agencies have guidelines for when to use a Taser and other forms of non-lethal and lethal force.

In Oro Valley's guidelines, a Taser can be used when a subject is pulling away from or fleeing a police officer.

The weapon can also be used to protect a subject from self-injury or suicide.

The Taser cannot be used on pregnant subjects, near hazardous or flammable material, or to threaten suspects and obtain information.

If Oro Valley decides not to settle the claim, Wisner's lawyer said they would sue the town and the university.

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