A Pennsylvania man who was seen on video being tasered by police even as he was sitting calmly on a curb while attempting to comply with officers’ orders is now suing the police department for use of excessive force.
The lawsuit filed on behalf of 27-year-old Sean Williams against the Lancaster Police Department and Officer Phillip Bernot, who fired the Taser, is seeking more than $75,000 in damages, ABC News reports. The lawsuit also accuses officers of racially profiling Williams during the June 28 encounter.
The lawsuit alleges that Williams “has suffered and continues to suffer severe head, neck, shoulder and head pain” as well as “crippling anxiety” and “substantial shame, embarrassment, mental and physical suffering” as a result of what happened to him.
Williams’ encounter with police—which was prompted by a disturbance call—went viral after a bystander shared cellphone footage of the incident online.
In the video, Williams is sitting on the curb, attempting to comply as Bernot tells him to put his legs straight out in front of him. Another officer, Shannon Mazzante, is heard off camera insisting that Williams cross his legs. Williams draws his legs back in to cross them, only to have Bernot to tell him to stick them back out.
Williams is confused by the conflicting orders (officers wanted him to have his legs straight out with his ankles crossed, but that was not immediately clear to him), but remains calm and seated, not attempting to otherwise move. Regardless, Bernot deploys his Taser into Williams’ back.
Police reports detail that officers stopped Williams due to a call that was received reporting a man with a bat who was going after a group of three people. Mazzante was the one who responded to the call and saw a group of three people “telling a male to get away from them,” the report noted.
Mazzante claimed that the man, identified as Williams, was told to sit down “several times” but he didn’t comply. Williams apparently refused to leave a woman in the group alone and “kept repeating that he wanted a specific item, his Social Security card, from her,” the police report said.
Eventually Bernot arrived on the scene and told Williams that he would deploy his taser if he didn’t listen.
“Williams was instructed to stick his legs straight out in front of him and to cross his ankles. This is done as a measure of control to ensure that if someone is going to flee or offer physical resistance, they will have to move their legs under them to do so. Noncompliance is often a precursor to someone that is preparing to flee or fight with officers,” the report said
Mind you, the group—who claimed that Williams had been acting erratically in the days prior to his arrest—also said that they had not seen Williams with a bat and no bat was found near the scene.
Police said that Williams was taken into custody on an oustanding warrant (unrelated charges) and transported to the station and checked out by EMS before being cleared, arraigned and released on unsecured $5,000 bail.
However the lawsuit claims that Williams was held in custody for hours while in extreme pain. The lawsuit alleges that officers did not offer Williams any medical attention or water, NBC Philadelphia notes.
“Upon information and belief from publicly available sources, there is a clear racial disparity in Lancaster and the LPD has a history and pattern of intentionally discriminating against African Americans and other minorities,” the lawsuit states.