On Wednesday December 21, 2016, a judge in Fulton County Superior Court in Georgia, sentenced a former Black police officer to life in prison for the stun-gun death of an unarmed Black man. The officer, Marcus Eberhart, was found guilty of causing the man’s death after the suspect was shocked more than 12 times; some of them while he was handcuffed.
In handing down his sentence, the judge declared that Mr. Eberhart was receiving the “one sentence allowable under the law.” The officer’s co-defendant and former partner, Howard Weems, who is also Black, was given an 18-month prison sentence in connection with the death.
The officers were responding to a domestic disturbance call involving 24-year-old Gregory Towns. Officers Eberhart and Weems encountered Towns outside of his girlfriend’s home and as they tried to question him, he took off running. The officers gave chase and caught up to Towns, after he stumbled and stopped to catch his breath. After handcuffing him, the two cops proceeded to use a Taser on Towns more than a dozen times; claiming he refused to cooperate with their commands.
The results of the autopsy ruled that Towns died from “hypertensive cardiovascular disease exacerbated by physical exertion and conducted electrical stimulation.” In their reports, Eberhart and Weems said they only used their Tasers five times while the suspect was uncooperative.
Eberhart wrote in his report that, “Towns stated, ‘I’m tired!’ Towns did not state he was in pain or appear to be in any distress. Towns was very calm and disregarded commands that were given. I then removed the cartridge from my taser to drive stun Towns.”
Chris Stewart, the attorney for Gregory Towns’s family said, “He was handcuffed behind his back when this happened, he didn’t have a weapon, he wasn’t fighting the officers. He was Tasered because he was tired and not getting up fast enough. It’s not just against the law, it’s inhumane. You don’t use a Taser like a cattle prod.”
This case is unprecedented, considering that just weeks prior, Michael Slager, a white police officer, was not convicted in the on-camera execution of Walter Scott in South Carolina. Other high-profile cases such as the November trial of a former University of Cincinnati police officer, Ray Tensing, who shot and killed a Black man in his car during a traffic stop, ended without a conviction. And in July, three Baltimore police officers were acquitted of various charges in the death of Freddie Gray; who died from a severed spine and neck injuries while being transported in the back of a police van handcuffed and unsecured in a seat.