Eric Heisig / Houma Courier
HOUMA — A 27-year-old woman is suing two local law-enforcement agencies, claiming her unborn child was killed when she was Tased by a state trooper last year.
Attorneys for Madeline Cunningham filed a petition in Terrebonne District Court for damages this week, saying Terrebonne sheriff’s deputy Donald Marcel and State Trooper Dennis Bergeron unnecessarily Tased her on the neck and stomach at least three times on March 16, 2010. Cunningham was pregnant at the time and lost her unborn child as a result of the shock, she claims. However, police say the use of force was justified, adding that Cunningham was drunk when she allegedly kicked out a police car window and kicked a deputy in the jaw.
The suit was filed against Bergeron, Marcel, Terrebonne Sheriff Vernon Bourgeois, State Police Troop C, and the Terrebonne Parish Consolidated Government.
Police responded to Cunningham’s home on Pueblo Drive, off Broadmoor Avenue in Houma, after receiving reports of domestic violence. Once there, both Cunningham and her boyfriend, Shawn Melancon, were questioned, and Cunningham was placed under arrest. Restraints were placed on her arms and ankles, her suit claims.
Once Cunningham was put in the backseat of Bergeron’s car, she was in considerable pain because of the restraints, the petition said. She tried to get the officers’ attention “by tapping the rear window of the vehicle with her foot,” the suit says.
The window broke, and Cunningham was pulled out of the window of the car and subsequently shocked with a Taser, she claims.
Court records show Cunningham was arrested and charged with domestic abuse battery, disturbing the peace by intoxication, battery on a police officer, resisting arrest by force or violence and criminal damage to property over $500. She later pleaded guilty to reduced charges and received suspended prison sentences.
Bill Dodd, attorney for the Sheriff’s Office, said Marcel was not carrying a Taser when Cunningham was shocked. However, Cunningham had kicked Marcel in the jaw while she was drunk and resisting arrest, in addition to violently kicking out the trooper’s car window, leading officers to use force, Dodd said. He also said officers Tased Cunningham with a “drive-stun,” applying the device directly to her skin rather than shooting the twin darts attached to wires into her body.
“I’ve seen a lot of Taser cases, and am not aware of anybody that’s lost a child because she’s been Tased or drive-stunned,” Dodd said. “Here you have a woman that’s pregnant and drunk. If she did lose the baby, her actions speaks volumes.”
State Police Capt. Darren Naquin said Troop C had only been served with the lawsuit Friday and hadn’t reviewed the case.
“All use-of-force cases are reviewed by the supervisor and a report is filed,” Naquin said.
State Police Master Trooper Bryan Zeringue said the stomach is an acceptable area to deploy a Taser. The only off-limit areas are the face and head, Zeringue said.
“If you’re dealing with a combative suspect, whether she’s pregnant or not pregnant, if the suspect is fighting with you, anywhere on the body is acceptable,” Dodd said.
Calls placed to Cunningham and her attorney, Matthew Ory, were not returned Friday afternoon.