In October 2021, three former deputies for Washington County were tried for murder. They used their stun guns on a local man 15 times, causing his death.

The deputies did not dispute what happened. The only issue for the jury was whether these deputies committed a crime.

Here are some lessons to take away from Washington County’s “stun gun trial.”

The “Stun Gun Trial”

Washington County dispatched deputies to Sandersville in response to a call about a “suspicious man.” The deputies encountered Mr. Eurie Lee Martin walking in the road near where the suspicious man was reported.

The deputies ordered Mr. Martin to stop walking. He continued walking. The deputies surrounded Mr. Martin, who continued to refuse their orders.

The deputies used their stun guns on Mr. Martin. Over four and a half minutes, deputies stunned Mr. Martin 15 times, including one shock that lasted 13 seconds. Mr. Martin suffered a fatal heart attack from the electric shocks.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Department fired the deputies. Local prosecutors indicted them for Mr. Martin’s death.

The Issues in the Criminal Trial

Dash-cam video from the deputies’ cars recorded their interactions with Mr. Martin, including his death.

The disputes at trial were largely over the reasonableness of the deputies’ actions, including:

  • Did the deputies have the authority to use force to stop Mr. Martin?
  • Was the use of stun guns reasonable?
  • What was the deputies’ intent when they used their stun guns before Mr. Martin’s death?

Unfortunately, the jury did not resolve any of these questions. The jury deadlocked and the judge declared a mistrial. While prosecutors can retry the deputies, they have not yet sought a second trial.

Lessons from the “Stun Gun Trial”

The sheriff’s department found that these deputies handled the encounter with Mr. Martin incorrectly. No police encounter should end in the death of a person who did not pose a threat to the lives of the officers.

But what should you do if you get into a similar situation? What rights do you have during the encounter and afterward?

Did Deputies Have the Authority to Stop Mr. Martin?

The police cannot stop you for no reason. They can stop you if they:

  • See you commit a crime
  • Have probable cause to believe you committed a crime

In this case, the deputies were responding to a call about a suspicious person. This gave deputies the authority to ask him for his ID. Also, when they spotted Mr. Martin, he was jaywalking. Technically, the deputies could have cited him.

However, the deputies did not have the authority to arrest him. They should have IDed him, issued a citation, and released him.

Did Deputies Use Excessive Force?

Probably, but this is a judgment call. If Mr. Martin jaywalked, the deputies had the authority to stop him and cite him. But that is not what they did.

One interpretation of the dash-cam video is that the deputies did not stun him to issue a citation. They stunned him because he refused to comply with their orders. 

In other words, they stunned him for defiance, not because he broke the law. This would be outside of their authority.

Does Mr. Martin’s Family Have Any Recourse?

Yes, but only if they complied with Georgia law. Georgia shields government employees from lawsuits unless their actions violated the victim’s constitutional rights. Here, deputies deprived Mr. Martin of his life.

Even though the jury did not convict the deputies of a crime, the family can still file a lawsuit for wrongful death

They have many targets for a lawsuit, including:

  • The state, for negligent training by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation
  • The county, for negligent hiring and supervision
  • The deputies, for battery

A lawsuit will not bring Mr. Martin back. But it could give the family some justice after the mistrial in the criminal case.