Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Police Brutality: Mom to File Suit in Shelby Township Man's Death From Taser

Mom to File Suit Against Police in Taser Death

SHELBY TOWNSHIP -- The mother of a 49-year-old hairstylist who died after being Tasered by police said Monday she plans to sue the Shelby Township Police Department.

Steven Spears of Shelby Township died Saturday morning at Beaumont Hospital in Troy after a skirmish with Shelby police officers early that day. Police say he was running in the street wearing only underwear.

Linda Corneil of Shelby Township said she wants answers about how and why her son died.

"My son should be alive right now," Linda Corneil of Shelby Township said. "The police's story doesn't make any sense. He didn't have a history of mental problems. He had no weapon. At one time, he used drugs, but that was a long time ago.

"I am definitely going to file a lawsuit," Corneil said. "This should not have happened, and I want answers. Right now, all I know is, my son is dead."

According to a statement from the Shelby Township Police Department, officers got a call "in the early morning hours of Aug. 4" about a man running in the street in his underwear near 23 Mile and Dequindre.

The statement said the responding officers called for an ambulance after questioning Spears because they said he was acting strangely. But when the ambulance arrived, Spears ran into traffic, the statement said. Officers tried to detain him, and in the ensuing struggle, they used a Taser to subdue him, the release said.

Telephone calls to Shelby Township Police Chief Robert Leman on Monday were not returned, nor were calls to the Police Officers Association of Michigan, the union which represents police officers in Shelby Township.

An autopsy was performed Monday by the Oakland County medical examiner's office but further tests likely will take about two weeks have to be conducted to determine the cause of death, said chief investigator Mike Dowd.

Spears, a divorced father of four, was a former bodybuilder, said longtime friends. He also was described as a talented hairdresser who had dozens of loyal clients.

"He was full of energy," said Danielle Trentacoste, salon manager of Bianchi Salon West in Troy, where Spears worked for the past two years. "We just saw him Friday night. He was supposed to go to a concert, but he decided not to go. He left work that night in a good mood."

Corneil said she has heard conflicting accounts from witnesses about what happened Saturday morning. "We're still trying to piece it all together ourselves," she said. "But I heard there were 10 or 12 cops there at the scene. I don't see why they needed to use their Tasers on him. Those things are dangerous."

The National Institute of Justice is conducting a study of Tasers and their effects, which is expected to be completed in 2008. According to Amnesty International's 2007 annual report, more than 200 people have died after being shocked by Tasers.

But police say they are an invaluable crime-fighting tool, because they give officers a safer option than using their guns to subdue a suspect.

Shelby Township police were issued Tasers in 2004. Each officer underwent eight hours of training on their use, according to a 2004 Detroit News interview with Chief Leman.

The weapon fires two wire-guided probes that puncture a person's clothing and skin, and then shoots them with 50,000 volts of electricity. It causes an involuntary contraction of skeletal muscles and disrupts communication between the brain and the muscles.

You can reach George Hunter at (586) 468-7396 or

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