ATLANTA (Reuters) – A former Georgia policeman was found guilty of murder on Friday in the death of a suspect shocked repeatedly with a Taser while handcuffed, media reported, in a rare criminal conviction of a law enforcement officer for a stun gun-related fatality.
A second ex-policeman charged in the April 2014 death of Gregory Towns, 24, was convicted of lesser offenses, including involuntary manslaughter and reckless conduct, according to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution newspaper and several area television news outlets.
WSB-TV reported that a Fulton County jury deliberated for just 30 minutes before delivering its verdicts against the two defendants – former police Sergeant Marcus Eberhart and former police Corporal Howard Weems.
Both were members of the police department in the Atlanta suburb of East Point. They are to be sentenced on Wednesday.
In addition to felony murder, Eberhart was also convicted of aggravated assault, reckless conduct and violation of his oath. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution said.
Weems faces up to 10 years in prison for his manslaughter conviction alone, according to the newspaper.
A grand jury indicted the two officers in August 2015 amid a heightened national debate over the use of lethal force by police, especially in confrontations with minorities. Towns and the two policemen charged in his death were all black.
Police departments around the United States have faced numerous wrongful death civil lawsuits attributed to Tasers or use of the stun guns as part of an overall use of force by officers leading to a death. However, there have been few if any criminal murder convictions of an officer stemming directly from the misuse of a Taser.
According to prosecutors, Eberhart and Weems shocked Towns with Tasers more than a dozen times when he refused to walk to a patrol car as he was being taken into custody.
District attorney Paul Howard said Towns told officers he was out of breath and unable to stand immediately after fleeing the scene of a reported domestic dispute.
After collapsing several times and repeated stun gun jolts, Towns lapsed into unconsciousness and was pronounced dead a short time later, Howard said.
An autopsy found the direct cause of death was “electric stimulation” but also said Towns was suffering from “hypertensive cardiovascular disease” at the time.
Court records show that expert witnesses for the defense contended that Towns was in ill health from an enlarged heart and high blood pressure.
(Additional reporting by Tim Reid in Los Angeles; Editing by Steve Gorman and Paul Tait)
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