Former Ga. cop sentenced to life in prison in Taser death of unarmed, handcuffed man

Former Ga. cop sentenced to life in prison in Taser death of unarmed, handcuffed man

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A former Georgia police officer was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday after being convicted of murder in the death of Gregory Towns, a 24-year-old unarmed black man who died after being shocked more than a dozen times with a Taser while handcuffed.

Marcus Eberhart, a former sergeant in East Point, Ga., was silent as a Fulton County Superior Court judge told him he was receiving the “one sentence allowable under the law,” Reuters reported. Eberhart’s co-defendant, former police corporal Howard Weems, was sentenced to 18 months in prison Wednesday, having been found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, reckless conduct and other charges but acquitted of murder in connection with Towns’s death.

Eberhart did not speak during the hearing, but Weems apologized for his role in the incident, according to Reuters.

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Corporal Howard Weems, left,

and Sergeant Marcus Eberhart, right.

“I know nothing I could say that would ever bring forgiveness to me,” Weems told the court.

Defense attorneys for the two officers did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday. An attorney for Weems told Reuters he would appeal the case, saying it was “unprecedented” for a Taser in “stun gun mode” to cause a death. Defense attorney Sandra Michaels made similar statements to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after Eberhart was convicted of murder and other charges last week, saying there was “no known death from an X-35 Taser in drive-stun mode and there’s no reason to believe this is the first case ever.”

After Weems finishes serving his prison term, he is set to spend more than three years on probation, during which time he must speak with at least 10 police agencies about the risks associated with Taser-like weapons, according to the Journal-Constitution. He is eligible under Georgia’s first-time offender law to have his record cleared if he completes his full sentence, the paper reported.

The officers, both of whom are black, were responding to a domestic disturbance report at Towns’s girlfriend’s house in April 2014 when they confronted the young man outside. Towns ran, and the officers caught up with him when he stumbled and stopped to catch his breath. After cuffing his hands behind his back, the officers prodded him with Tasers at least 14 times, claiming he was not complying with their orders.

An autopsy report said Towns died from “hypertensive cardiovascular disease exacerbated by physical exertion and conducted electrical stimulation.”In their incident reports, the officers said they used their Tasers just five times to keep him moving after his arrest, as The Washington Post reported last year.Eberhart wrote in his police report: “Towns stated, ‘I’m tired!’ Towns did not state he was in pain or appear to be in any distress. Towns was very calm and disregarded commands that were given. I then removed the cartridge from my taser to drive stun Towns.”

Gregory-Towns

The officer wrote that he proceeded to shock Towns two more times before Towns fell into a creek bed, where Eberhart said he tried to stun him again. Moments later, paramedics arrived and found Towns did not have a pulse.

“He was handcuffed behind his back when this happened, he didn’t have a weapon, he wasn’t fighting the officers. He was Tasered because he was tired and not getting up fast enough,” Chris Stewart, the family’s attorney, told The Post last year. “It’s not just against the law, it’s inhumane. You don’t use a Taser like a cattle prod.”

Eberhart resigned and Weems was fired from the department as the incident was being investigated. The City of East Point in late 2014 paid $1 million — the city’s insurance policy maximum — to settle a lawsuit filed by Towns’s family. The officers were indicted on counts of murder and other charges the following August.

The sentences come at a time when prosecutors in other high-profile police misconduct cases have struggled to convict officers charged with using excessive force, particularly in confrontations with black men. Officers are rarely charged for on-duty fatal shootings, and prosecutors seldom win convictions in such cases.

In early December, jurors deadlocked in the trial of a former South Carolina police officer charged with murder after he was captured on video firing several shots at the back of Walter Scott, an unarmed black motorist who fled a traffic stop. A judge declared a mistrial against the officer, Michael Slager, who can be seen in the April 2015 video taking aim and opening fire on Scott as he runs away.

 Gregory Lewis Towns Jr. (Family Photo)

In November, a judge declared a mistrial in the case of a former University of Cincinnati police officer who shot and killed a black man in his car during a traffic stop last year. A jury of 10 whites and two blacks deliberated for more than 25 hours before telling the judge they were deadlocked on whether former officer Ray Tensing was guilty of murder in the death of Sam DuBose.

And over the summer, three Baltimore police officers were acquitted of various charges after bench trials in the death of Freddie Gray, who died of a severe neck injury sustained as he was being transported in the back of a police wagon in April 2015. After the acquittals, prosecutors dropped charges against three other officers in the case, saying they faced a “dismal likelihood of conviction.”

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