Erlanger hospital could face increased liability in the death of a patient shocked with a Taser if officials knew the officer being investigated in connection with that death was fired from another department for a similar incident, a local attorney said.
"It's kind of like an employer that hires somebody that's been convicted of drunk driving and they put them in a car and that individual gets out and hits or kills or hurts somebody because of drinking," said defense attorney Jerry Summers, who is not associated with the Erlanger case.
"Obviously the liability is going to go up. Any good lawyer will be raising the question (whether) they had knowledge for him not to be driving an automobile or, in this case, not to be in a position to use excessive force."
Officer Matthew Shane Webb is being investigated by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation in connection with the death of Edward Buckner, 54, TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm said.
Mr. Buckner died Friday shortly after he was shocked with a Taser at Erlanger.
Officer Webb was fired from the Chattanooga Police Department on Feb. 11, 2005, for using undue force and treating a prisoner improperly. The incident took place in September 2004, in the parking lot of Kanku's on 20th Street after a high-speed chase, a Chattanooga police internal affairs investigation showed. Officer Webb allegedly used a Taser on a handcuffed suspect.
Erlanger spokeswoman Pat Charles said Wednesday she did not immediately know what information was considered in the hiring of Officer Webb. She said she didn't know whether his background, including the Taser incident as a Chattanooga officer, would have precluded a job at Erlanger.
"We will continue to cooperate with the Chattanooga Police Department in their investigation of this incident," Ms. Charles said in a statement. "Upon completion of the medical examiner's report, Erlanger officials will respond to questions regarding this event."
Erlanger Board of Directors Chairman Dr. Dan Quarles did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday.
Officer Webb could not be reached for comment and it's not known whether he is on active duty with the hospital security force. He passed the Erlanger Police TaserX26 training program and was certified to use the device on Sept. 4, according to documents provided by the hospital.
Mr. Buckner was a patient at Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute. He had been treated at Erlanger and fought with hospital police upon release. Officers used the Taser on him and he was taken back to Moccasin Bend. On arrival, he was unresponsive so he was taken back to Erlanger, where he died.
According to the hospital's Taser use policy, "officers shall obtain medical clearance from the emergency department physician before transporting a subject shocked by an electric weapon to a detention facility."
It is not known whether officers obtained clearance before taking Mr. Buckner back to Moccasin Bend.
The Hamilton County Medical Examiner's Office has not released the autopsy pending toxicology and blood test results.
In the 2004 case, Officer Webb, then with the Chattanooga Police Department, and other officers arrested two men who led them on a chase from Georgia to Tennessee.
A videotape showed officers kicking a handcuffed man and hitting the driver, according to Times Free Press archives.
Then-police Chief Steve Parks fired Officer Webb for undue force, treating a prisoner improperly and lying during an internal affairs investigation, according to archives.
Officer Webb was among 25 Erlanger officers commissioned Oct. 6 by a Chattanooga City Council resolution.
Councilman Peter Murphy said he didn't recall being presented with background information on any of the 25 officers.
City Attorney Mike McMahan told the Times Free Press on Tuesday that the city checks officers' backgrounds and training before authorizing them to carry weapons.
Mr. Summers said an attorney could try to hold the city liable if council members knew of prior problems but still granted an officer a commission.
"You can't just narrow it down and say a definitive yes and no," Mr. Summers said. "Certainly if there is a chance that the individual was dismissed from the city of Chattanooga for excess force and this is a case of excessive force, any good plaintiff lawyer would bring (the city) in the lawsuit."