Three years after being tased on Duval Street by a Key West Police officer, Matthew Shaun Murphy is still lying in a hospital bed. It was around 3:30 am on April 16th, 2011, Murphy and his fiancé Marie Annulysse were on their way back home from a night on the town when they heard a raspy woman’s voice yelling, “Hey nigger lover!” At this point you need to know that Matthew, 27 at the time, is a white man from West Virginia and Marie, then 23, is a black woman from Key West.
Sitting on the steps in front of the “Flirt” store in the 300 block were Beverly Anderson, Jason Moffet, and their pit bull. According to Annulysse, while she was pushing Murphy away, across Eaton Street, the insults and threats kept pouring out of Anderson’s mouth, “I’m gonna kick your nigger girlfriend’s ass!” and “that’s how you make monkey babies!”
The Blue Paper has now obtained the 911 audio files. You can hear Anderson spewing an endless sewer of racial slurs at Murphy and his girlfriend. According to Annulysse, Murphy went back and began arguing with Moffet and Anderson. Police Officer Mark Siracuse arrived on scene at precisely the moment when Murphy punched Moffet in the jaw. Siracuse, who had already pulled out his Taser, zapped Murphy on his right shoulder.
That quick decision was going to have enormous and irreparable consequences. Murphy dropped like a log, hit his head on the sidewalk, and fell into a coma. The trauma caused severe brain damage. To this day Murphy has not regained the use of his legs, he cannot eat on his own or speak; he is able to communicate only by blinking his eyes. Annulysse is left alone to raise their son Kaeden, who was only three months old at the time.
The multi-million dollar question is who – if anyone – is responsible?
Chief Donie Lee, who had declined a request for a face to face interview, responded on US1 Radio last week. The Chief claims that the “officers gave verbal commands to the people to separate and stop fighting and they refused to do so.” Actually, three years ago, the press release sent by KWPD to the Key West Citizen apparently made the same claim, “an officer repeatedly warned the man before shocking him with the Taser.” [Key West Citizen, April 24, 2011] Why is this essential? Because under the strict guidelines of Florida Statutes 943.1717 Use of dart-firing stun guns, a police officer can only use a Taser if the person he is trying to arrest “escalates resistance to the officer from passive physical resistance to active physical resistance.”
Some useful definitions are “passive resistance”: the subject “refuses to comply or respond to officer’s requests or attempts to control the situation” and “active resistance”: requires the subject to “make physically evasive movements to defeat an officer’s attempts at control.” [from KWPD Response to Resistance General Order]
No ‘active resistance to the officer’, no Tasing. That is why it is essential for the Chief to say that there was, at the very least, a clear warning given before Matthew’s life was destroyed. The problem with the Chief’s claim is that it is contradicted by every witnesses The Blue Paper has interviewed so far, including the “victim”. And worse yet, it is contradicted by the reports written by the very officers who responded that night, and it is contradicted by the Taser video.
It appears that Officer Siracuse simply didn’t issue any warnings. No ‘stop or I’ll shoot’, no “verbal commands to separate and stop fighting,” as the Chief claims. Officer Siracuse’s defense is to claim, in his report, that Murphy should have seen him coming, “I responded on my patrol bicycle, wearing a full bicycle uniform, consisting of a blue uniform shirt with patches, badge, blue shorts and a gun belt.”
The problem with that account is that the Taser video shows that Siracuse was about 10-15 feet to the side and slightly behind Murphy when he shot the Taser, which is also what Moffet told The Blue Paper, “[Murphy] never got to see the officer, never knew that the officer was there, never knew what hit him.” Moffet says he could see Officer Siracuse, but Murphy could not. So apparently, no matter what uniform Siracuse was wearing, Murphy would not have seen him.
The “active resistance” requirement of the Florida Statutes has one legal consequence – the intent is to place the responsibility for any Taser accident on the person who resists. That person would have made a deliberate choice: obey the officer or accept whatever consequences could come from the Taser blast. Murphy, apparently, never had a chance to make that choice.
Siracuse also claims in his report that he said, upon arriving on scene, “Key West Police,” words that no one else appears to have heard, not even his partner, Officer Jeffrey Dean. Interviews with the many other witnesses who were present would help to clarify the matter, but interestingly enough, officers chased prime eyewitnesses away, immediately. We do know that two black men, possibly tourists, and a friend of Murphy’s had been there, but they were not identified by police, and that, according to Annulysse, she was chased away by Officer Siracuse with a threat of being tased herself. Anderson, and all of the other witnesses were dispersed.
Under strict KWPD policy, all persons present were supposed to be identified and kept separate from each other until FDLE investigators arrived. FDLE, as per the Memorandum of Understanding with KWPD, was to investigate this serious injury, which had occurred while a Key West police officer was conducting an arrest.
“They told us to kick the can down the road,” says Moffet. Moffet and Anderson also both claim that days later another KWPD officer told them to keep quiet about the incident. Annulysse took it upon herself to walk into the police department office later that morning to give a written statement.
Murphy’s brother-in-law, Travis Pinson, who lives in Georgia, phoned FDLE in early May 2011, asking them to conduct an investigation, “they told me they could not initiate an investigation based on a complaint from a private individual; it had to come from a law enforcement agency.” Pinson then wrote directly to Chief Lee, on May 5, 2011, asking for an impartial investigation. Pinson doesn’t recall getting any response to that request, but FDLE confirmed last week that they did not conduct an investigation of officer Siracuse. “Did the Chief or anyone at the KWPD let you know you could file a complaint with our Citizen Review Board,” we asked. “No,” said Pinson, “I don’t recall being told that that was an option.”
Since we broke the story last week thousands of people have read about what happened to Murphy, including attorneys that Annulysse and Murphy’s father Marty have since reached out to for help.
“Since Matthew and I weren’t married yet (we were getting married the next month) I can’t be the one to get legal help for Matthew, but maybe the attorneys can find a way to help our son.” Could three-year old Kaeden Murphy soon become a Plaintiff in a product liability suit against Taser International, the manufacturer of the stun gun device used by KWPD officers?
What would that case look like?
Taser International makes about $ 100 Million in profit a year. Initial “minor cuts and bruises” advertisements led everyone to believe the product was painful but safe. Then the bad news began rolling in. In October of 2006 Steven Butler, 49, refused to get off a bus and a Watsonville, California police officer shot him with a Taser X-26. Butler went into cardiac arrest. It took the medical personnel 18 minutes to resuscitate him and Butler suffered a debilitating brain injury as a result. Taser International settled the product liability claim for $ 2.85 Million in 2010.
In September of 2011, 20-year-old Florida woman, Danielle Maudsley, was tased by a state trooper while she was running away in hand-cuffs. She fell and hit her head and remained in a vegetative state until she died two years later.
In November of 2013, 17-year-old high school student, Noe Nino de Rivera, suffered a brain injury after a Texas Sheriff’s deputy tased him following a skirmish in a school hallway. Like Murphy, he suffered a severe ‘brain bleed’, ended up in a coma, and now lives in a hospital re-habilitation center.
Even police officers are now claiming they were seriously injured by the supposedly safe device while being tased during training.
Taser International has reacted by readjusting its advertising campaign and in 2009 it changed its description of the devices from “non-lethal weapons” to “less-lethal weapons”. The advertisements no longer promise a limited risk of ‘minor cuts and bruises’ as a result of a fall, they simply say, “Taser, a Safer Alternative.”
The question is, has Taser International taken enough active steps to correct, in the minds of all the Officer Siracuses and all the Matthew Murphys, the false sense of safety associated with the Taser, that has brought the company to financial triumph and Murphy and others to a hospital bed?
It is uncertain at this point just who a Murphy family lawsuit would target. Of course, the family expects a “bad-boy Murphy defense.” After all, didn’t he allegedly punch someone in the face? Simple battery is indeed a misdemeanor. However, the record shows Murphy was not swinging at innocent victims. He was defending his beliefs and his family against fierce racial prejudice, and there are many who might find that perfectly honorable. Actually some states, like Georgia, even allow a defense of ‘justifiable battery’ when the first punch was in reaction to especially abusive language.
This case could very well become a test case for Taser use. Would Matthew Shaun Murphy be happily married in Key West with son Kaeden at his side if Officer Siracuse had simply yelled, “stop fighting?” Is Taser International selling a product that is in fact far more dangerous than they have led everyone to believe?
Those and many more questions could soon hit the courts of Key West.
To access all Blue Paper articles about Matthew Shaun Murphy click here.