Already jolted with 50,000 volts of electricity, Paul Edward Branch was seated on the ground, his upper back resting against a truck and his arms behind his back when a Knox County Sheriff’s Office deputy gave the order: “Shoot him.”
Body camera footage from KCSO Deputy Paul Saah captured the January encounter with Branch, who was shocked 10 times at 50,000 volts each for a total of 64 seconds. That footage shows an unarmed Branch never took a swing at deputies and appeared to follow commands, though more slowly than Saah ordered.
The Taser use shown on the video by Saah and Deputy Christian L. Gomez appears inconsistent with KCSO’s own policy, which tracks current federal law on the use of force via stun gun, according to a lawsuit. Branch, 31, who had no criminal history, is suing the Sheriff’s Office.
KCSO spokeswoman Martha Dooley said the agency’s file has been turned over to the Knox County Law Director’s Office, which had no comment on behalf of KCSO or the deputies on Monday. Chief Deputy Law Director David Buuck said KCSO’s investigative file would be made public at USA Today Network-Tennessee’s request later Tuesday.
According to warrants charging Branch with public intoxication and resisting arrest, Saah contends Branch resisted arrest by “pulling away” and “not giving his hands.”
Saah and Gomez remain on duty. It is unknown what KCSO’s internal investigation showed and what action, if any, was taken as a result.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court by attorneys John Barnes and Stephen McGrath, alleges the two deputies used excessive force against Branch, and KCSO failed to take action against them for it.
KCSO’s policy treats stun gun usage much the same as the use of deadly force in that a deputy’s decision to deploy a Taser must be “objectively reasonable” under the circumstances. KCSO specifically limits Taser use to situations in which a deputy is in a “physical confrontation” with a suspect or is trying to protect either another deputy or another person who is in a “physical confrontation” with a suspect. It bars deputies from deploying a Taser as “punishment.”
Branch’s apartment on North Cedar Bluff Road caught fire. He was shirtless and dressed in athletic shorts sitting in a Rural/Metro fire truck. He seemed confused and incoherent when Saah first approached.
“What was wrong in your apartment?” Saah asked.
Branch’s answer isn’t clear on the video, but Saah wrote in an arrest warrant that Branch said he had “taken a bunch of vitamins and Mucinex.”
Saah told Branch to get out of the truck and put his hands behind his back. He did.
“Why are you soaking wet?” Saah asked Branch as Branch had his back turned to the deputy with his hands still behind his back. “Can you relax a little bit, dude?”
Saah struggled with one of the handcuffs and began saying, “Quit.” A second unidentified deputy pushed Branch’s head against the truck.
“You’re going to get (stunned) right now,” Saah said.
Saah then fired his Taser into Branch’s neck. Branch fell face down on the pavement. Saah then said, “Get your Taser out, Gomez.”
Branch rolled onto his back with his hands still behind his back and scooted a few feet over to the truck, which he leaned against as he sat on the pavement. His hands, the video showed, were behind his back and he was not moving toward the deputies when Saah told Gomez, “Shoot him.”