Attorneys: Village of West Milwaukee to pay $2.5M to family of Adam Trammell, tased at least 15 times

WEST MILWAUKEE -- The family of Adam Trammell will receive $2.5 million, after the Village of West Milwaukee on Monday, June 17 approved a resolution to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit. This, according to a news release Tuesday, June 18 from Attorney Robin Shellow and Attorney Mark Thomsen.

The family of Trammell filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in May 2018 against the West Milwaukee police chief, several officers, and the village itself -- alleging officers violated Trammell's constitutional rights by using excessive and deadly force.

Trammell, 22, died after a Taser was used on him at least 15 times by officers who responded to his apartment near 54th and Greenfield on May 25, 2017. Authorities at the time of the incident said they were responding to a report of a man inside an apartment building, naked, speaking incoherently, and flooding his unit.

Body camera video showed officers looking for Trammell. Officers were mistakenly calling Trammell "Brandon."

Once inside the apartment, officers located Trammell in the shower. Police cited Trammell as being combative. He was then tased multiple times, according to the lawsuit, even when he was handcuffed. Trammell later died.

An autopsy for the 22-year-old concluded his cause of death was "excited delirium, and the manner of death was undetermined."

The lawsuit said Trammell suffered from mental illness -- and was "only in need of psychological or medical care." Trammell's attorneys cited the conduct of the defendants as "unlawful, extreme, malicious, outrageous and/or intentional."

The Greenfield Police Department investigated this incident. In April 2018, a letter to West Milwaukee Police Chief Dennis Nasci from the district attorney said after "reviewing available body camera footage, the Taser reports, talking to medical experts and use of force experts, and reviewing use of force training policies involving the deployment of electronic control devices," there was "no basis to conclusively link Mr. Trammell's death to actions taken by the police officers."

Below is a statement from Attorney Shellow and Attorney Thomsen relating to the settlement reached in the case:

"On May 25, 2017, two West Milwaukee police officers discharged their tasers 15 times into the body of Adam Trammell as he was naked in his bathtub. The officers continually and incorrectly shouted “Brandon,” while repeatedly tasering a young man who was experiencing an acute psychiatric crisis. The body cameras worn by two of the officers show that they were not in danger at any time. The cameras recorded Trammell being tasered multiple times--even after he had been handcuffed. Trammell was near death when his wet, naked, bleeding and handcuffed body was dragged into the hallway. He was pronounced dead on arrival at Froedtert Hospital.

Trammell’s parents, Larry and Kathleen Trammell, said, “Our son was tortured to death.”

Responding to the call were West Milwaukee Police Officers Anthony Munoz, Michael Rohleder, and Danielle Engen. Trammell, who was mentally ill, was having an acute psychiatric crisis. Neighbors warned the officers that he had threatened suicide. Despite manufacturer warnings and departmental policies warning that tasers are not to be used against those in acute psychiatric distress, both Munoz and Rohleder entered Trammell’s bathroom brandishing tasers. Officer Engen never discharged her Taser, but handed it to the officers in the bathroom and failed to intervene to protect Adam. Officers Munoz and Rohleder violated those warnings when they repeatedly tased Trammell for a total of 82 seconds of electrical shock. They had not received the required annual updated Taser training since 2011.

As of 2013, the Village of West Milwaukee’s Police Department had an agreement with the manufacturer that each of its officers would receive annual training and re-certification on the Taser. Such training was to be consistent with national law enforcement standards, including the 2011 Electronic Control Weapon Guidelines. The lawsuit alleged that these standards and guidelines were not followed and deposition testimony established the inadequate training system in place at the time of Adam’s death. Standards included admonitions that a person such as Adam Trammell, in an acute psychiatric crisis, faces a heightened risk of injury or death when subjected to the discharge of electrical weapons. Officers must avoid deploying the Taser at the chest whenever possible; they should not subject persons to more than 15 seconds of exposure (multiple applications or continuous); and persons in handcuffs must not be subject to the discharge of electrical weapons. All of these national standards were alleged in the lawsuit to have been violated by the defendants on May 25, 2017.

Attorney Robin Shellow of The Shellow Group and Attorney Mark Thomsen of Gingras, Cates & Wachs, both of whom represent the Estate of Adam Trammell, retained forensic pathologist Dr. Carl Wigren. After reviewing the bodycam footage, Dr. Wigren confirmed that a Taser dart fired by an officer was embedded in his chest less than 2 inches from Trammell’s heart.

For many years, law enforcement agencies and some forensic pathologists have denied the lethality of tasers. Dr. Wigren refuted the notion that tasers only cause cardiac arrest when a rare phenomenon called cardiac capture occurs. Dr. Wigren maintained that Trammell died of the cumulative physiological effects of multiple Taser applications.

During such events, heart rates increase, respirations increase, and blood pressure rises. Dr. Wigren explained that Taser exposure produces effects that could increase the risk of sudden death, including changes in blood chemistry, blood pressure, respiration, heart rate and rhythm, and the secretion of adrenaline and stress hormones. When the multiple Taser applications ceased, Trammell’s heart rate dropped, and his body could not keep him alive. Dr. Wigren’s conclusion was very simple: multiple Taser applications in violation of Taser’s own warnings were responsible for the death of this medically fragile individual.

Trammell’s parents hope to use the settlement money to fulfill the dream their son Adam and his family have had for many years. They want to build a church where families can bring their mentally ill sons and daughters, where they will be loved and nurtured.

One of the Taser darts fired by officers of the Village of West Milwaukee was embedded in Adam Trammell’s chest, between his nipples, and less than 2 inches from his heart. The West Milwaukee Police Department’s use of force policies should have been changed and we believe are now in the process of being revised. Adam Trammell suffered multiple Taser electrical discharges totaling 82 seconds, with electricity entering the Taser dart embedded adjacent to his heart.

This press release should be widely circulated to other law enforcement agencies so that they too are on notice that the improper use of a Taser on a person in psychiatric crisis can and does result in preventable death. The lawsuit alleged the officers in West Milwaukee unlawfully used their tasers in such a way that they stopped the beating heart of Adam Trammell while he was in an acute psychiatric crisis. While the Village of West Milwaukee and its officers have to live with the moral guilt of knowing that they caused Adam Trammell’s easily preventable death, it cannot be compared with the profound grief of his mother and father, parents now without their son--after he was tortured to death.

Never again should this happen. All law enforcement officers who carry these or similar weapons need to see and hear the torture inflicted, and know that death can occur when such weapons are abused and hearts are forcibly broken."