In 2015 Miles Zachery-Cole November led Chesterfield County police on a high-speed chase, flipped his car, and resisted arrest, prompting a policeman to shoot him with a Taser. The jolt of electricity ignited gasoline that had spilled onto his body from the wreck, consuming him in flames. He suffered burns on 86% of his body and underwent 34 surgeries. November sued for $95 million. Yesterday, he settled with Chesterfield County for $6.5 million, roughly the cost of his medical bills, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
The case is a fascinating one. Based on a review of 125 Taser incidents between 2012 to 2015, November’s attorneys argued that the Chesterfield police had engaged for years in systemic and unconstitutional misuse of the weapons, including use on handcuffed suspects, the mentally ill, and unarmed people on the ground surrounded by officers, and in retaliation. Chesterfield contended that the Tasing incident was justified.
Here are the background facts, extracted from the T-D article.
On Nov. 8, 2015, November led police on a pursuit that reached speeds of 120 miles per hour during which he lost control of his car, which flipped six times and landed on its roof, trapping him inside. Subsequent blood tests revealed that he had a blood alcohol level of 0.20%, or 2.5 times the legal limit for drivers.
Arriving on the scene, police smelled a strong odor of gasoline and observed fuel spilling from the car. Rather than wait for paramedics, they extracted him from the wreckage and pinned him to the ground. According to the complaint, November was startled when fire and medical trucks arrived with sirens and flashing lights. He tried to get up. The four officers surrounding him grabbed his arms and legs to keep him restrained. At one point during the struggle, he struck an officer in the face.
The altercation prompted officer Ryan Swope, who had been standing to the side, to intervene. Hearing yelling, he moved from the wreckage to the scene of the struggle. He then shouted “Taser, Taser, Taser!” The other officers stepped aside before he fired. The device’s two electrical probes struck November with a 50,000-volt current and ignited “flammable substances or vapors” on or around his body. Flames shot above the height of one of the nearby firetrucks. November burned for about 30 seconds before officers could extinguish the blaze.
In March 2017, a Chesterfield judge convicted November of felony assault for striking an officer, felony eluding of the police, drunken driving, and driving with a suspended license. He expressed sympathy for November’s burns and pain, but observed, “You were there because of what you did.” He also noted November’s arrest record, which included three prior assaults on police officers, two DUIs, grand theft, brandishing a firearm, carrying a concealed weapon, trespassing, and numerous traffic violations.
After reviewing the incident, Chesterfield police concluded that Swope and other officers fully complied with the police department’s use-of-force policy.
In the civil suit, November’s attorneys focused on the police’s use of Tasers as well as the fitness of Swope, the officer who fired on November. Swope, they alleged, was suffering from a post-traumatic stress disorder that produced symptoms of “defiant, impulsive, rash and hair-triggered behavior.” He had killed a suspect in a 2013 police shooting (that had been ruled justifiable), and was dismissed from the department seven months after the Tasering due to his association with an “outlaw motorcycle gang.”
Commercial insurance will cover $5 million of the settlement; the balance will come from a county self-insurance fund — in effect coming from taxpayers.
Bacon’s bottom line: November seems a pitiable case. In all likelihood, he will be permanently and hideously scarred and live a life of pain. The horrific outcome seems all out of proportion to his underlying crimes of driving while intoxicated, fleeing police, and resisting arrest. But, like the judge said, he brought the misfortune upon himself. Moreover, his actions during the incident were not isolated behaviors — they were consistent with previous offenses. He was a disaster waiting to happen.
Swope’s background strikes me as irrelevant to the case. The only germane question was whether the officer was justified in firing the Taser or not. One could argue that he should have been aware of the possibility that he might set November on fire. And one could counter that he had no reasonable way of knowing that, while gasoline was spilling from the car, it had somehow doused him while he was in the driver’s seat. What happened was a tragic and unpredictable confluence of events.
After his lawyers get their cut, November will receive a few million dollars. It would be interesting to know what he’ll do with that money. Will he repay the doctors and hospitals who provided his medical care? Somehow, I doubt it. Otherwise, why bother pursuing the civil suit? Maybe he’ll be able to cover the cost of future medical and nursing care. One way or the other — whether it’s through forking over additional health care dollars or re-stocking Chesterfield’s self-insurance fund — law-abiding citizens will end up paying for November’s recklessness. And that’s a tragedy all its own.There are currently no comments highlighted.