One small-town South Carolina police officer was sentenced Monday to 18 months in prison and a second to a year and a day for unnecessarily shocking a mentally disabled woman with a Taser at least eight times.
Franklin Brown received the longer sentence because he shocked 40-year-old Melissa Davis after she had been handcuffed in April 2013. The other Marion police officer, Eric Walters, stopped Davis early one morning to see if she had broken into a home. Neither Walters nor other officers have explained how the incident escalated so quickly.
Davis was in court but began sobbing as Walters apologized, and was ushered out by her family.
Federal Judge Bryan Harwell said the two officers through one bad action ruined the good work of thousands of honest officers.
Brown and Walters pleaded guilty to deprivation of rights under color of law in October.
Walters was patrolling in Marion early one morning when he saw Davis walking out of the yard of a home for sale. He asked her what she was doing, thinking she might have broken into the home, then shocked her with his Taser, according to court papers.
After Davis fell to the ground, Walters ordered her to put her hands behind her back, then shocked her four more times before she could respond, prosecutors said.
By the time Brown responded, Walters had determined Davis did nothing wrong and was removing the Taser probes from her back. Brown noticed one of Davis’ hands had slipped from her improperly applied handcuffs and ordered everyone to move away and shocked Davis again, even though she was not trying to fight or escape, according to court papers.
Brown shocked Davis twice more, then offered to let her go if he could shoot her in the forehead one more time with his Taser, prosecutors said.
Brown told the other officers at the scene he shot Davis with the Taser because he “did not want to touch that nasty (obscenity),” according to his plea agreement.
Both officers are white. Court records did not indicate Davis’ race.
Prosecutors said they agreed with federal sentencing guidelines of 12 to 18 months behind bars for Walters and an 18- to 24-month sentence for Brown.
Walters’ lawyer asked for a six-month prison sentence and six months of home detention because he is in poor health after several heart attacks suffered before age 39. The lawyer added that Walters had a good record as an officer before the incident. Brown’s lawyers did not file any motions asking for mercy before the sentencing.
Prosecutors said the officers should have known Davis had a diminished mental state, and a lawsuit filed by her caretaker against the officers and the city of Marion said she was well known around town.
The civil suit said along with the physical pain and suffering from the shocks and their after-effects, Davis also continues to need help dealing with mental anguish from what happened. Her lawsuit is seeking a minimum of nearly $2 million.
The officers originally faced state charges, which were dropped when federal prosecutors took over. At least three officers in South Carolina have been recently charged with shooting unarmed suspects.