Burned man seeks $40 million in suit in W.Va.

November 03, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. ? A Ranson, W.Va., man who was hospitalized from burns he received when police used a combination of pepper spray and a Taser to arrest him last year is seeking $40 million in damages in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court.

The complaint, filed Oct. 23 on behalf of Steven C. Scott by attorney Sherman Lambert, names West Virginia State Police and agency leader Col. David L. Lemmon; Berkeley County Sheriff's Department and Sheriff Randy Smith; Ranson Police Department and Chief William Roper; City of Ranson; Berkeley County Commission; and 10 "Does," who Lambert indicated he would name later when their identities are known, as defendants.

Scott was treated at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center for the burns, which the attorney described as severe in his eight-page complaint. The complaint claims that excessive force, assault, battery and negligence were used in the arrest, and seeks exemplary damages to "defer future misconduct."


The incident on Oct. 23, 2006, prompted Smith and then-West Virginia State Police First Sgt. L.M. Lambert to announce internal investigations to determine how Scott received the burns while being arrested near Eastern Regional Jail in Berkeley County.

Three days after the incident, Smith and L.M. Lambert, in a joint statement, confirmed that arresting officers used a Taser and CAP-STUN, a brand of pepper spray, to detain Scott and that "an ignition occurred, causing burns to the suspect."

They said their agency's officers caught up with Scott on W.Va. 9 near 84 Lumber east of Martinsburg after the Ranson Police Department initiated a pursuit.

An officer in Ranson began pursuing Scott after the department was notified that he failed to return a 2001 Lexus SUV to a used car business after taking it for a test drive several hours earlier, police have said.

Once the SUV was stopped along Grapevine Road near the jail, police said the driver refused to get out of the vehicle and resisted arrest, which prompted the use of force by the arresting officers.

Scott was charged with unauthorized use of a vehicle, counts of battery on a police officer and several traffic offenses.

In his complaint, Scott's attorney said his client had not taken his medications for schizophrenia for several days leading up to the incident.

When asked about the incident, L.M. Lambert said there was no doubt the circumstances surrounding the arrest were "a bad situation."

In a similar "flash fire" arrest in Kenosha, Wis., reported by The Associated Press in August 2005, a lieutenant with the Kenosha Police Department said the agency's policy was violated when both weapons were used simultaneously by two officers who apparently caused a 28-year-old man to be burned.

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