GOLD BAR — The county has agreed to pay $600,000 to the family of a man who suffered a fatal heart attack in 2010 after he was shocked by a Snohomish County sheriff’s deputy’s electric stun gun.
Adam Colliers, 25, died outside a Gold Bar home after a brief encounter with two sheriff’s deputies who were responding to reports of someone shouting in the neighborhood. He’d been using drugs.
Colliers’ family filed a lawsuit last year against the county and sheriff’s deputy Bryson McGee. The lawsuit alleged that McGee used excessive force, which resulted in Colliers’ death. It also claimed that the county failed to adequately train its deputies and ignored the known risks associated with using Tasers on people in certain conditions.
As part of the settlement the county didn’t admit any wrongdoing.
It agreed, however, to revise the sheriff’s office use of force policies, specifically as it applies to Taser use, said Seattle attorney Jim Lobsenz, who represented Colliers’ family. At the time, the sheriff’s office didn’t have a written policy specifically addressing the use of Tasers, he said.
“Adam’s mom didn’t want another mother to lose her son,” Lobsenz said. “She felt an obligation to do something in memory of her son.”
The county maintains that McGee didn’t use excessive force. The deputy determined it was appropriate and necessary to take physical control of Colliers to reduce the risk he posed, and to attempt to calm him down and figure out what was going on, prosecutors wrote in court papers.
“He was well within his rights and used force that was necessary,” the county’s chief civil prosecutor Jason Cummings said Friday.
The county’s lawyers weighed the risk of going to trial and believed the settlement was appropriate in this case, Cummings said.
The deputy shocked Colliers, who was lying on the ground, three times in quick succession after the Gold Bar man refused to be handcuffed. Colliers was high on methamphetamine and rambling incoherently.
Colliers stopped breathing. An autopsy later found that he had suffered a heart attack. The medical examiner concluded that a high level of drugs, extreme agitation and a struggle likely contributed to the heart attack. His death was ruled an accident.
Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe concluded in 2011 that McGee and deputy Ian Whipple, who was at the scene, wouldn’t face any criminal charges. Roe called Colliers’ death a tragedy, but not a crime.
“According to his family, Adam Colliers was a young man of great promise, with many people who loved him and who are ripped apart by his death. I cannot, however, attribute his death to any improper law enforcement actions,” Roe wrote in a 2011 letter to the lead detectives.
Lobsenz said there was no allegation that McGee intended to kill Colliers. The lawsuit, however, claims that the deputy’s actions were excessive.
He shocked him three times in under 30 seconds, Lobsenz said. Colliers had no time to comply with the officer’s commands, he added.
Additionally, the lawsuit alleged that the sheriff’s office recklessly disregarded the need to train deputies about using force on people who appeared under the influence of drugs, appeared to be severely exhausted, or appeared to be suffering from agitated or excited delirium.
The sheriff’s office knew that people who are given electrical shocks from a Taser have a greater risk of death if they are high, agitated, or severely exhausted after a struggle, according to the lawsuit.
People are dying, Lobsenz said. As more cases surfaces, law enforcement needs to take that information into consideration and change how and when it uses Tasers, he said.
“They’re going to keep killing people unless they do something differently,” Lobsenz said.