Police use Taser on mentally disabled man, accused of racial profiling


It was difficult enough for Vicky Yearby to care for her mentally disabled son, but when police used a Taser on him three years ago her job as caregiver got immeasurably tougher.

"He used to do this himself," said Yearby as she brushed her son's teeth.

Isaac Yearby, 34, no longer does the daily tasks he had once mastered, like bathing and brushing his hair. Yearby said her son's autism has been compounded by a head injury caused by local police.

But any hope that her son would receive justice vanished Friday when Yearby learned a federal judge threw out the lawsuit she had filed against the College Park police officers and the city.

The order handed down by Judge Marvin Shoob dismissed their civil rights lawsuit and called the use of force legally justified.

The lawsuit claimed police used excessive force against Yearby causing him to fall and slam his head against the pavement.

According to Yearby, her son was standing in front of their apartment on Southampton Road minding his own business when two officers on patrol approached him and questioned him. The officers later said they thought he looked suspicious.

"I ran outside and the police pushed me back and I asked him, 'what was going on?' and [the officer] was like 'I asked your son to take his hands out of his pockets,'" recalled Vicky Yearby.

Yearby said she and a neighbor told the officers her son was mentally disabled but they ignored them and continued to yell at Isaac Yearby and frighten him.

Video captured from the Taser camera shows Yearby removed his hands from his pockets then flailed his arms. Seconds later the Taser fired and he fell to the ground. The lawsuit claimed the fall caused Isaac Yearby to suffer seizures which continued periodically.

"I was shocked. I couldn't believe it happened. He didn't do anything wrong," said his mother. "He's a good person. All he do is stand under the tree every day. He don't bother anybody."

Robert Lamb, the Yearbys' attorney, claimed police only approached his client because of suspicions raised based on the color of his skin.

"What they saw was an African American man standing in what they consider to be a high crime area," said Lamb.

Lamb maintained that Isaac Yearby had not done anything wrong and Officers G.L. Feltman, who is white, and Ricky Wells, who is black, had not received any calls about him or anyone who looked like Yearby when they approached him.

Lamb argued in the complaint that the officers not only violated his client's constitutional rights but also broke the College Park Police Department's policies on handling mentally disabled persons.

In court filings, the officers defended their actions and maintained they were unaware Isaac Yearby was mentally disabled until after he had been hit with the Taser.

Lamb worries what message the ruling in this case sends to local police.

"If officers know that they're going to be protected by federal judiciary in every case, then what's going to change their way of contacting, communicating and interacting with the black community?" asked Lamb.

College Park Police Chief Ron Fears declined an interview but city spokesman Gerald Walker issued a statement which reads, "The City of College Park's Police Department respects the rights of all citizens and visitors, and pledges to maintain a safe community."

It goes on, "[t]he situation in 2011 with Mr. Yearby was unfortunate; however, Judge Marvin Shoob's summary exonerated our officers and their actions. The College Park Police Department continues to protect and serve, and hopes for the best for everyone involved in this case."

Walker refused to tell CBS46 News whether Feltman and Wells were disciplined for the incident.

According to Lamb, an internal investigation had found the officers could have used less force with Mr. Yearby.

Lamb said his clients may appeal.

Copyright 2014 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.


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