California Mother Says Police Tasered Her Mentally Ill Son To Death

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht

A mother in Riverside, Calif., claims police Tasered her son to death after mistaking him for a burglar, according to Courthouse News Service.

Valerie Williams sued the Riverside County Sheriff’s office after she says deputies mistook her son, Anthony James Lawson, for a burglar who had been reported in the area. She claims her son was unarmed and posed no threat, when he was Tasered and beaten with a baton.

The coroner’s office listed Lawson’s cause of death as a homicide, CBS reported.

Her suit names Sheriff-Coroner Stanley Sniff and five officers.

Williams called 911 at 12:43 a.m. on Oct. 21, 2012 because she needed assistance with her son. She said Lawson, who suffers from mental illness, was "dripping in sweat and appeared to be incoherent.” She claims it was obvious Lawson was in need of medical attention.

Officer Jeremy Bracey allegedly heard a call about a burglar in the area on his way to Williams’ home.

"Defendant Bracey mistakenly identified Lawson as the suspect in the burglary, called for backup and exited his marked service vehicle," says the complaint.

Williams says at first her son complied with Bracey’s commands to step back and sit down on the sidewalk. Still incoherent, Lawson later got up and started walking away.

“His response was that of a person with a mental illness, not of a fleeing felon,” said Williams’ attorney Randy McMurray.

He was allegedly stopped by Deputy Ryan Rahner, who Williams said knew her son from a previous incident and was aware of the fact that he had a mental illness.

A scuffle ensued and defendant Deputy Steven Lycopolus allegedly shot Lawson with a X26 Taser nine times in less than three minutes. Williams claims Lycopolus also hit her son.

Three deputies pinned him to the ground, and two others arrived and joined in. She says officers struck her son with a baton and "and the numerous blows to the head rendered Lawson and mortally wounded him."

Williams says her son "was making animal-like sounds that indicated fear," but officers didn’t call for medical assistance "until it was much too late.” Paramedics were not called until 19 minutes after the 911 call, when Lawson “was unresponsive and not breathing.”

The officers didn’t conduct CPR on Lawson. "They simply turned him on his side and observed him foaming at the mouth,” the suit says.

“I try to block it out, ’cause I really don’t want to see what I seen that night,” Williams told CBS. “When I turned to the right side of him, he just looked at me and I knew he was gone.”

Lawson was declared dead at 1:54 a.m.

The suit seeks $15 million in damages for cruel and unusual punishment, wrongful death, assault and battery, excessive force, failure to train and supervise, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, and civil rights violations.

Sources: Courthouse News Service, CBS Los Angeles