Lona Varner, an 86 year-old, disabled grandmother is set to take the stand this week in Oklahoma federal court, after filing suit in a bizarre case involving a thwarted 911 call, World War II and the greatest taser-related quote since "Don't taze me, bro."
Varner and her grandson, Lonnie Tinsley, filed suit after police tased Varner as she lay in her bed in December 2009. That's pretty much the only part of the story everyone agrees upon.
According to the complaint, Tinsley came over to check on his grandmother, whom he describes as "in marginal health." He found her visibly distressed. When Varner was unable to tell him when she had last taken her meds, Tinsley called 911.
When the officers (up to 10 of them according to the complaint) showed up to the home, however, Varner told them to leave. Varner and Tinsley then allege that officer Thomas Duran instructed another policeman to "Taser her!" To which Tinsley responded, "Don't taze my Granny!"
Varner says the police officers then approached her in her bed and stepped on her oxygen hose until she began to suffer oxygen deprivation. She says they then tased her twice, resulting in burns to her chest, extreme pain and unconsciousness.
Officer Duran tells a different, but equally strange, story.
In a police statement, Duran claims that Varner attempted to overdose on her medication, a claim backed up by the 911 call, during which Tinsley says about Varner, "Her life is over and she wants to end it."
Duran says that when he approached Varner she reached under her pillow and pulled out a kitchen knife, screaming, "Get the f**k out of here." In his report (partial transcript below), Duran quotes the 86-year-old as saying, "If you try and get the knife, I will stab you and kill you. I killed four Japs in World War II and would not bat an eye killing you."
Duran says that he was fearful for his safety and that of others when he shot his Taser, one prong of which hit Varner's upper chest while the other embedded itself in her blanket. He then instructed another officer to tase the woman and retrieve the weapon.
Lonnie Tinsley was allowed to ride in the ambulance, which carried his grandmother to the hospital, where she was placed in a psychiatric ward at the direction of the police. She was held for six days and released.
According to the complaint, "Lona M. Varner suffered the unlawful restraint of her freedom, bodily injury, assault, battery, the trashing of her apartment, humiliation, loss of personal dignity, infliction of emotional distress and medical bills." Attorney Brian Dell of Oklahoma City, who represents the plaintiffs, is seeking punitive damages for constitutional violations from the City of El Reno, Duran, Officers Frank Tinga and Joseph Sandberg and 10 unknown officers.
It's hard to know what's what in this strange case. One the one hand, the detail about Varner claiming to have killed "Japs in World War II" seems too weird not to be true. Then again, even wielding a knife, we're talking about one sick old lady in bed. Could she really have been enough of a threat to warrant being shocked twice?
"There is a fountain of misinformation regarding this case, and as we told you, no one was arrested," El Reno Police Community Relations officer Kim Eden told Asylum. "The facts support the officers' statement."