Cary News

Cary settles Taser, cell-tower lawsuits

The town of Cary has settled two legal disputes, its attorney announced this week.

Sean Elrod, who was Tasered by a school police officer during a 2008 altercation, will receive $12,000 in cash and medical costs from the town of Cary and the Wake County Board of Education. In exchange, Elrod has dropped his legal claim that he suffered physical and emotional harm after the incident at Middle Creek High School.

In a separate case, the town reached a settlement with American Towers, a cell-tower construction company that sued when Cary limited the height of a proposed tower. American Towers will be allowed to build a 150-foot tower, instead of a 140-foot tower, near Kildaire Farm and Penny roads.

Elrod’s suit claimed a Cary police officer shocked the then-15-year-old boy as he suffered a mental “shutdown” related to a stress disorder. But the Taser shock, the police officer responded, was justifiably provoked.

The incident began in Middle Creek’s lunchroom Oct. 1, 2008, when Elrod got into an argument with another student. A faculty member escorted the 150-pound Elrod to a room in the nurse’s office, where two assistant principals asked his name, both sides agree.

The effects of Elrod’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder left Elrod paralyzed and unable to respond to the school staff’s questions, according to a legal document filed last year. The situation escalated as the assistant principals called in Phillip Anderson, a school resource officer employed by the town, according to the lawsuit. They continued to ask questions, but Elrod sat silently, staring at the ground, according to the legal filings.

When the police officer touched the boy’s arm, the situation exploded. The student punched Anderson and kicked him in the groin. Moments later, the officer fired his Taser electro-shock weapon into Elrod’s chest, the lawsuit states.

Elrod claimed the officer shocked him twice more after he fell to the ground, but the officer’s legal filings deny this claim. The Taser’s prongs punctured the student’s lungs, according to the legal claim. Law enforcement charged Elrod with felonious assault on an officer, but later dismissed the accusation.

The student’s filing against Anderson, the Wake County School Board and the Cary Police Department claimed the officer and school staff had acted negligently. They failed, the suit claimed, to figure out who Elrod was, or why he was not answering.

Had they noted his diagnosed mental condition, the suit claims, they could have avoided the fight.

For his part, Anderson claimed he discharged his Taser in the name of public safety and self defense, “necessitated by (Elrod’s) wrongful and/or illegal conduct.”

Under a settlement announced by the town of Cary this week, the town and school board’s insurance companies will pay about $5,200 to Elrod, $2,000 for Medicaid costs, and $4,800 to Elrod’s law firm. Insurance has also covered the town’s legal costs.

The officer, school board and town continue to deny the allegations of wrongdoing and negligence, but are submitting to the agreement to avoid the cost and uncertainty of further litigation, the settlement states.

Tower adjustment

The town settled its legal dispute with American Towers with a down-the-middle compromise.

American Towers had proposed building a 160-foot cellular tower in a shopping center near Kildaire Farm and Penny roads.

But when neighbors protested and town-hired experts suggested a smaller tower would suffice, Planning Director Jeff Ulma said the tower should be no taller than 140 feet.

The settlement, signed late last month, ends a dispute that hit the courts early this year, when American Towers alleged that Ulma had no legal authority to put a height limit on the project. The agreement splits the difference, allowing the tower to be built to 150 feet.

The case primed the town for a change to its cell phone rules. Under revisions to town policy, the planning director no longer has authority to place special height limits on specific projects – a change, the town writes, that “addressed the concerns raised by American Tower in its appeal...”

The town has paid about $1500 to litigate the case.