A handful of allegations against Ozark police officers in the 2016 death of Cody Franklin will be taken to federal court following an appeal by Franklin's estate administrator.
Franklin, 20, of Mountainburg died on May 11, 2016, from "methamphetamine intoxication, exertion, struggle, restraint and multiple electro muscular disruption device applications" after a struggle with officers and deputies inside the jail involving multiple Taser blasts following his arrest the previous day, according to the medical examiner's office. The opinion of the Western District of Arkansas, filed April 19, states there are "genuine issues" over whether Ozark police officer Nathan Griffith's and Sgt. Joseph Griffith's use of force on Franklin in the jail was a cause of Franklin's death.
Court officials stated this opinion in light of Clayton Franklin v. Franklin County, Arkansas, which was filed in response to the defendants' statement of facts in the case.
Franklin was arrested on suspicion of obstructing governmental operations on May 10 and booked into the jail that evening. He was moved to an isolated cell after he fought other detainees in his pod, according to the court opinion.
Officer Griffith, who reported to the jail to assist a deputy in moving Franklin to the isolated cell, tased Franklin five times after Franklin was combative and continued to regain his footing and struggle with him after each blast. Sgt. Griffith, who arrived later to provide additional assistance, tased Franklin three times including once in drive-stun mode when he would not cooperate as they removed his handcuffs. Federal officials pointed out that Clayton Franklin provided evidence that Franklin "did not have any weapons, was restrained with handcuffs and at the end was physically held face down on the floor of the isolation cell by three law enforcement officers."
Franklin was unresponsive after Sgt. Griffith's third Taser blast and was later pronounced dead, the opinion states.
Federal officials in the court opinion concluded that "a reasonable jury could find that at some point or points Officer Nathan Griffith and Sergeant Joseph Griffith used excessive force by tasing Franklin multiple times." Officials also pointed to the officers holding Franklin face down as possible excessive force.
"There are also genuine issues of material fact about whether officer Griffith and Sgt. Griffith's tasing and use of force was the proximate cause of Franklin's death," the opinion states. "Those claims will proceed to trial."
The case was handed to Arkansas Municipal League attorneys by the Association of Arkansas Counties after claims against county officials and entities were dismissed in court. Municipal League officials did not return a request for comment made by the Times Record on Friday.
Charges previously filed against three officers involved in events that preceded Franklin's death were declined by the Franklin County prosecuting attorney following findings from the prosecuting attorney and the state medical examiner. Investigating parties concluded that combativeness, meth intoxication and Tasers were "a perfect storm" in Franklin's death.
Clayton Franklin in Franklin v. Franklin County alleged fault against County Sheriff Anthony Boen and two county deputies, including excessive force, battery, indifference to medical need and shielding liability against one of the deputies. These allegations were all dismissed under Arkansas and constitutional law.
Franklin's death was featured in a Dec. 6, 2017, Reuters investigation on the use of Tasers by jail personnel in the United States, which prompted former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer to call officials to investigate and weigh criminal charges against jail officials. The investigation included video footage of 22 incidents in four jails, including Franklin County.