Cincinnati Pays $425K to Man Tased While Having a Diabetic Episode

A lawsuit filed by a man who was severely injured in a struggle with sheriff’s deputies who thought he was resisting – when in fact he was in diabetic shock – has been settled after a seven-year court battle.

Hamilton County has agreed to pay John Harmon and his wife, Stephanie, $425,000. The county board of commissioners approved the settlement Dec. 20, exactly seven years after the lawsuit was filed in federal court. A formal order dismissing the lawsuit was filed in January in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati.

The 2009 incident happened in Anderson Township, where the Harmons live.

After an unusual vehicle pursuit that at times proceeded at speeds under 5 mph, Hamilton County sheriff’s deputies shattered the window of Harmon’s SUV, shocked him multiple times with Tasers, dragged him to the pavement and dislocated his elbow.

Harmon, a black man who is 6-foot-3 and weighed about 240 pounds, was in the midst of a severe low blood sugar episode.

The sheriff’s office said what happened was not racially motivated. Although one of Harmon’s attorneys, Tim Burke, said “there remains a significant argument that if he had been a white man, he wouldn’t have been treated this way.”

“The repeated misuse of Tasers on a man who was in the middle of what nobody disputes was a diabetic incident – it never should have happened,” Burke said.

An internal investigation found that the deputies used excessive force and they were disciplined. The incident led the sheriff at the time, Simon Leis, to begin training deputies in how to recognize and handle diabetic emergencies.

Harmon, then 51, was driving home after working past midnight at a marketing firm he co-owns with his wife, which at the time was located Downtown.

Harmon didn’t remember much about that night.

According to court documents, as Hamilton County sheriff’s deputies followed Harmon, his speed varied from an average of about 2 miles an hour to 26 miles an hour. The Ford Expedition crossed the double yellow line several times and bumped into the curb.

At one point, Harmon made a quick U-turn, drove off the road into a grassy area, then headed east on Clough Pike.

When a deputy parked his cruiser in the roadway, creating a roadblock, Harmon drove around it.

He finally stopped, and deputies yelled at him to step out of the vehicle. But Harmon didn’t hear them, according to his deposition.

During a diabetic episode, Harmon said he feels like he is “in a cloud.”

From Harmon’s perspective – and he only could recall brief images from the incident – someone with “a contorted look on their face” was banging on his window.

“All I remember, I just saw someone outside my window, gesticulating and looking extremely angry and evil,” he said in the deposition.

Harmon’s attorneys said 20 seconds elapsed between the time Harmon stopped and when he was shocked with a Taser the first time. He ultimately was shocked seven times, documents say.

The internal investigation showed several problems with the actions of the deputies. After he stopped, deputies removed him from the SUV after first shattering the driver’s side window. The investigation found that it was “plausible” the door was never locked and the deputies didn’t try to open it.

An Ohio State Trooper who arrived as deputies were trying to pull Harmon out of the car said it didn’t appear Harmon was struggling or resisting. Instead, the trooper thought Harmon couldn’t get out because his seat belt was still on. A deputy eventually cut the seat belt with a knife.

After finally getting Harmon out of the vehicle, the deputies ordered him to lie down. Instead, he “stood tense and rigid,” documents say. That led to additional Taser shocks.

Even after a diabetic kit was found inside the vehicle and deputies realized Harmon had suffered a medical episode, he was charged with resisting arrest and failure to comply with police. The charges were later dropped.

An internal report found that excessive force was used on Harmon In addition to dislocating his elbow, he also suffered a shoulder injury.

Harmon still “talks about the difficulty he has whenever he sees a sheriff’s car,” Burke said.

Harmon and his wife, he said, “continue to deal with the aftermath of this.”