Friday, June 22, 2018
Public safety

FHP trooper cleared in use of Taser, which put woman in vegetative state

PINELLAS PARK — One day last September, Danielle Maudsley, clad in handcuffs, bolted out the door of a Florida Highway Patrol substation after she had been arrested in a hit-and-run case.

A dashboard video camera in a patrol cruiser in the parking lot captured Trooper Daniel Cole chasing her. Cole was only a few feet behind her when he pulled out his Taser and fired its electric probes into her back.

Maudsley spun, fell backward and smacked her head on the asphalt parking lot. She lay there, bleeding and crying as Cole stood over her. Then she went unconscious.

Those details were part of a report released Thursday by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles that cleared Cole of wrongdoing in the incident. An investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement also cleared him.

The report shed new light on the Sept. 19 incident, which left Maudsley, 20, in a vegetative state, said her mother, Cheryl Maudsley.

"Tell me that's not excessive force," Cheryl Maudsley said. "I'm not saying she was an angel, but she didn't deserve that. He couldn't reach out and grab her? He was an arm's length away."

Cole had arrested Danielle Maudsley after she was suspected of leaving the scene of two traffic crashes. She had a suspended license and blood tests later showed she had cocaine and oxycodone in her system, the report states.

While she sat in the back of his cruiser, Maudsley removed her right hand from the handcuffs, the report said. When Cole opened the door to take her out, she told him, "I took this off."

Maudsley was placed back in handcuffs and Cole took her into the substation, according to the report. As he worked on paperwork in a conference room, he sensed that Maudsley was moving, turned, and saw her at the main exit. He asked where she was going and got up from his seat before she ran out the door.

In an interview with investigators, Cole said he saw Maudsley turning in the direction of U.S. 19 after she exited the substation.

"If she makes it there, you know, there's no winning," the report quoted him saying. "I can't let her get out and get run over," he later said.

Cole, who at 267 pounds weighs about three times as much as Maudsley, was concerned that one or both of them would be injured if he tackled her. So he went for his Taser.

He could not warn Maudsley because of the immediacy of the situation, the report said. After Maudsley fell, Cole saw blood on the ground and summoned emergency personnel.

Asked if he would have done anything differently, Cole said, "No, I would not have."

The report ruled that Cole's actions were justified.

FHP policy says troopers can use Tasers on escaping suspects. It also says they should avoid using them on people who are handcuffed — though it allows exceptions to that provision.

Cheryl Maudsley said her daughter lives in an intensive care facility and is fed with a tube. "My daughter is dead because of this. She won't come back."

Maudsley said she is pursuing legal action against the FHP.

Her attorney, Kevin Hayslett, said the nature of the injuries merits compensation.

"When you've got injuries like this, you're dealing with big numbers," Hayslett said, noting that Maudsley's medical bills have risen to seven figures.

"Law enforcement have to make split-second decisions," Hayslett said. "Unfortunately, sometimes those decisions result in catastrophic consequences. But the more serious the injury a person suffers, the more safeguards have to be put in place to prevent that from happening in the future."

Times staff writer Jamal Thalji contributed to this report. Reach Dan Sullivan at (727) 893-8321 or [email protected]

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