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ALBUQUERQUE -- A state district court jury cleared an Albuquerque Police Department officer of excessive force in the Taser electroshock shooting in the head of a 15-year-old boy.
The jury, which heard two days of testimony before Judge Nan Nash, on Friday found that detective Chris Mason had not used excessive force on Jarret Harper during an Aug. 8, 2006, encounter that left Harper with a dart in his head that required surgical removal.
Taser is a weapon that fires dartlike electrodes to incapacitate individuals, and the boy alleged in a civil lawsuit that Mason had not followed rules for off-duty officers or for use of force in his response.
Harper, who had just registered that day for his sophomore year in high school, was walking home in the late evening with a friend whose iPod had been stolen - he believed by a classmate. When the friend spotted a car that he thought belonged to the classmate's mother, he and Harper approached it in the driveway, peered into the tinted windows and tried the door handle. But the car was Mason's, and a neighbor saw the boys from across the street and shouted.
Harper's friend took off running, but Harper stumbled and the neighbor, an Air Force staff sergeant, pinned his arms until Mason got outside.
Mason, at home watching television with his wife, emerged after grabbing his tactical vest, Mace and Taser. He ordered the neighbor to release the boy and Harper to get on the ground with his hands behind his back.
Harper, who'd had a cast from a broken arm removed that day, interlocked his fingers on the back of his head, according to trial testimony. But that didn't comply with Mason's order, and Mason said he feared the boy could still get up and attack him. He said he used a "tactical diversion" - kicking Harper in the ribs - then cuffing one of Harper's hands while holding the Taser in the other. He said he announced his orders and his APD affiliation in a loud voice, and believed that Harper was moving to get up when he used the Taser at its full five seconds. He said that he aimed for center mass but that the darts lodged in Harper's lower back and skull.
Harper went into convulsions and was taken away by ambulance.
Harper, now 18, is a student at Central New Mexico Community College working part-time for his father to help repay the $19,600 in medical bills incurred as a result of the incident.