Family of dead man files claim against Stanislaus County over Taser use

The parents of a man who died after he was shot with a Taser gun by a Stanislaus County sheriff's deputy have filed a wrongful death claim against the county.

James Albert Wells and Judy Wells of Waterford filed the claim, seeking more than $10,000. Their son, James Edward Wells, 43, died Aug. 15, 2007, after an altercation with two sheriff's deputies.

According to sheriff's reports, Wells had broken through the door of a home in Waterford that morning and attacked the occupants, Nora Winn, 54, and Viki George, 61. Wells reportedly released Winn from a chokehold and walked out into the front yard, where he was confronted by deputies.

Wells fought with deputy Frank Alves and trainee deputy Joshua Houtchens when they tried to take him into custody, and one of them used a Taser on him, according to sheriff's officials. Wells fell, got back up and continued wrestling with the deputies and bystanders for six minutes before they handcuffed him. Wells stopped breathing soon after he was handcuffed, and the deputies performed CPR before medics arrived, according to the Sheriff's Department. He was pronounced dead at Oak Valley Hospital, in Oakdale, a short time later.

The Jan. 10 claim against the county contends that the deputies improperly used the Taser gun, failed to give immediate and proper CPR and "failed to exercise reasonable care to ensure that decedent James E. Wells was not exposed to unreasonable risk of harm."

James Albert Wells declined to comment on the claim.

In a story in The Modesto Bee two days after his son's death, Wells said his son suffered from epilepsy and might have had multiple seizures during the incident. His son may have been having a seizure and seeking help when he broke into the home, Wells said.

Wells criticized the use of the Taser, saying it should have been a last resort used only if the deputies believed his son was going to kill someone. It should not have been used on someone with a medical condition such as epilepsy, Wells said.

Deputy Royjindar Singh, a sheriff's spokesman, said the deputies had no way of knowing whether the younger Wells had a medical condition.

County claims usually are a prelude to a lawsuit, if the claim is not settled by the county.

Bee staff writer Tim Moran can be reached at tmoran@modbee.com or 578-2349.