Oklahoma granny gets shocked by Taser; sues El Reno police

El Reno police officers here are being sued for using a Taser last December to subdue a disabled grandmother, then 86, in her apartment bed.
BY NOLAN CLAY, Staff Writer, nclay@opubco.com Modified: June 25, 2010 at 6:46 pm •  Published: June 25, 2010

EL RENO — Police officers here are being sued for using a Taser last December to subdue a disabled grandmother, then 86, in her apartment bed.

Her grandson pleaded with officers, "Don't taze my Granny!" according to the lawsuit.

"I wouldn't want it to happen to anyone else," Lona M. Varner, now 87, told The Oklahoman Thursday.

She and her grandson, Lonnie D. Tinsley, on Monday sued the city of El Reno, officer Thomas Duran, officer Frank Tinga, officer Joseph Sandberg and other unknown police officers.

Varner and Tinsley allege in the federal lawsuit in Oklahoma City that their civil rights were violated. They also allege the city has failed to adequately train and discipline its police officers.

A city attorney, Roger Rinehart, said the city would have no comment. Assistant Police Chief Kevin Wilkerson said, "With the federal lawsuit, we can't make any comment on it right now."

Police have admitted using a Taser to incapacitate the suicidal woman Dec. 22. Officer Duran wrote in a police report she pulled a kitchen knife from under her pillow and threatened to kill him. "I tried talking to Varner and calm her down but nothing would work," he reported.

The officer reported she took "a more aggressive posture on the bed" when other officers arrived. He reported she raised the knife above her head and said, "If you come any closer, you're getting the knife." He reported he feared she would injure someone.

Police went to the apartment Dec. 22 after her grandson called 911 for a paramedic to check on her. "She says ... her life is over. She wants to end it. ... She's taken some medicine. I don't know what she's taken," Tinsley said in the 911 call. "I can't get her to tell me what she took. ... She's kind of upset and everything else."

Varner's attorney, Brian Dell of Oklahoma City, said police acted inappropriately and could have killed her with the Taser shock. He said she was never charged.

He said Varner has had a series of health problems, including strokes. She uses an oxygen machine to help her breathing and can barely walk by herself. She uses an electric cart to get around and can see out of only one eye.

He said she was in a hospital-type bed when she was shocked.

"Even if you reasonably believe someone's going to commit suicide, do you Taser them?" the attorney asked.

He said police ripped the skin of her arms when they grabbed her. "She's an old lady," he said. "Her skin is like tissue paper."

The lawsuit said she was taken first to an El Reno hospital where she was treated for the burns to her chest and the torn flesh on her arms. The lawsuit alleges she was placed on Dec. 23 in the psychiatric ward of an Oklahoma City hospital at the direction of the El Reno police. She was held in the psychiatric ward for six days.

Dell said she had $30,000 in medical bills from the police conduct.

The lawsuit alleges as many as 10 police officers pushed their way into the apartment after the grandson called 911. The police first stepped on her oxygen hose "until she began to suffer oxygen deprivation," and then police fired a Taser at her, striking her with only one prong, according to the lawsuit.

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