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Investigation clears trooper in Pinellas Park taser incident that leaves woman in coma

9:34 PM, Feb 16, 2012   |    comments
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Pinellas Park, Florida -- It's all caught on a police cruiser's dash cam: a Florida Highway Patrol trooper fires his Taser stun gun at a young woman trying to escape.

On Thursday investigators with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement ruled the trooper was justified in his actions, but critics say the incident is a clear use of excessive force that left the woman involved in a coma.

Photo Gallery: Dash cam images of woman's Tasing

The video from September 2011 was just released, following the FDLE's investigation. It shows Danielle Maudsley, then 19, running from the FHP substation in Pinellas Park while she was still in handcuffs.

Trooper Daniel Cole is then seen deploying his Taser, shooting Maudsley in the back. She collapses to the ground, striking her head in the process. The injury has left Maudsley in a vegetative state.

"In this case, you look at it and I think there are questions on whether or not it was the appropriate time and use for the Taser," said the family's attorney, Kevin Hayslett.

Hayslett said his client, Maudsley's mother, was stunned by the FDLE's conclusion that cleared Trooper Cole of any wrongdoing.

"Devastated. Disappointment doesn't nearly get to where she is," Hayslett said of Danielle's mother, Cheryl.

The FHP's own policy clearly states that tasers are not to be used on prisoners who are handcuffed, nor solely as a means of stopping someone from fleeing.

But troopers claimed that Maudsley was running directly toward US Highway 19, and had she made it to the street, she might have caused an accident. Therefore, they argued, she met the exception as a threat to the public's welfare.

Sgt. Steve Gaskins said the FHP cannot comment further, other than to say "the incident was reviewed independently by FDLE. The trooper acted within the scope of his duties."

"It doesn't appear in her mannerisms that she's posing a threat to anybody," Hayslett said.

Maudsley had been taken into custody after rear-ending two cars and fleeing both scenes. No one knows exactly how she was able to, or why she decided to dart from the sub-station.

Regardless, Hayslett believes the FDLE's findings will not influence a jury from seeing things very differently, if the family decides to file a civil suit.

"Why didn't someone just reach out? She's handcuffed. Just grab her, stop her, detain her, as opposed to putting her at risk for this type of injury," he said.

If the family files a civil suit and wins a judgment, Florida law caps the potential damages against FHP -- which has sovereign immunity protection -- at $100,000.

Hayslett said Maudsley will need millions in medical care over the course of her life. The only way to get an exception would be for the state legislature to pass a specific bill authorizing it.

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