MELROSE — Police zapped a nonverbal autistic man with a stun gun after he ran away from home, leaving him permanently traumatized and physically scarred, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Bronx Supreme Court.
Now Miguel Torruella, 24, gets nervous every time he sees police officers or looks at the marks on his right side left by the prongs of the gun's darts, his mother, Ana Baltazar, said. He hasn’t been able to fall asleep in his own bed ever since the July 2014 incident, according to court documents.
Using the stun gun was excessive force, Torruella's lawyer Dave Thompson argues. And Torruella was subjected to this excessive force because of his disability, violating his constitutional rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Thompson said.
"This wouldn't have happened to someone who could speak," lawyer Thompson said. "Instead of taking [his disability] into account they just said, 'Screw it, let's tase the guy.'"
Baltazar, 53, a home health aide, said it all began outside the family apartment building in the Melrose Houses on July 23, 2014 when her son bolted as she tried to get him into the building around 10:00 p.m., according to the lawsuit.
The terrified mom rushed around the nearby apartment buildings asking neighbors if they had seen her son and called police to notify them of Torruella’s disappearance, she said.
“I thought [someone] robbed him or killed him,” she said in Spanish.
About an hour later she got a call from police telling her to come to Lincoln Hospital, there was a man there fitting her son’s description, she said.
It is unclear what prompted the confrontation and the NYPD did not respond to a request for information about the incident, though hospital workers reported that Torruella was brought to the hospital in handcuffs, medical records show.
Police told hospital workers that Torruella had been acting "confused and incoherent" when he was approached he "started acting aggressive and combative," according to medical records.
The NYPD's Patrol Guide requires police to isolate "emotionally disturbed" persons, though the rules permit them to use a stun gun "if necessary."
Both Baltazar and his caseworker Amanda Vilaseca, 24, said he is generally a docile person.
"He doesn't really bother anybody," Vilaseca said. "It's really hard to provoke him."
After Baltazar arrived at the hospital, he was released to his mother's custody and not charged with a crime, according to court papers.
The lawsuit does not name an amount but an earlier notice of claim filed with the city estimated that they would ask for at least $500,000 in compensatory and punitive damages and attorney fees.
“He’s special; I don’t know how they didn’t realize that,” Baltazar said. “He can’t even talk. They didn’t realize and they thought he was a crazy person.
"The police said they tasered him because he was fighting,” she said. “He doesn’t know anything about fighting.”
A NYPD spokesperson did not return a request for further comment. A spokesman for the city's law department said they would review the case once they are served.