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Family files $5 million suit in son's death

The family of a Talent man who smoked a synthetic drug, struggled with police and then died after allegedly being hit with more than 24 stun-gun blasts in 2012 is suing police and the owners of a Medford shop accused of providing the drug.

The suit filed in U.S. District Court by the parents of Christoph "Karl" LaDue seeks $5 million in damages for what they claim was excessive force used by officers. They allege the officers were improperly trained to deal with people under the influence of these particular drugs, which they said never should have been provided to their son.

A state medical examiner's report concluded that LaDue, 23, who family members said had mild schizophrenia, died from sudden cardiac arrest during an episode of drug-related "agitated delirium" in which attempts at restraining him included stun guns, pepper spray and handcuffs.

Chris LaDue, Karl's father, said Tuesday he was "reticent" to file the suit but did so at the urging of community members, including people who witnessed Karl's struggle with police on Sept. 5, 2012, near his Talent home.

"It's been rough," Chris LaDue said. "It's been hard losing a son who was Tasered 24 times.

"It's dredging up stuff and it's not pleasant to have to go through all this stuff," he said. "It doesn't bring him back."

Public agencies named in the suit are the cities of Talent and Phoenix, Jackson County and Jackson County Fire District No. 5. It also names Talent police Cpl. David Plummer, Phoenix police Officer Adam Lewis and Jackson County sheriff's Deputy Steven Scow as defendants.

Also named were the manufacturer of the drug, along with Sky High Smoke N' Accessories, the Medford shop where LaDue allegedly received the drugs, and Robert Painter, Lindsey Painter and Jesse Jon Weaver — who the suit identifies as owners of the shop at the time of the incident.

Lawyers for the public entities involved in the suit have filed court papers claiming that officers' use of force was justified under the circumstances and blamed Karl LaDue for smoking the synthetic chemical cannabinoid and for failing to follow police instruction during their altercation.

The cities' court filings also point the finger at Sky High for allegedly providing the drug, which the suit claims was billed as "aroma therapy" to LaDue to smoke, court papers state.

A person at Sky High who identified himself as "Bobby" declined comment Tuesday.

The suit originally was filed Oct. 7 in U.S. District Court in Medford. An amended complaint was filed in court Monday.

The suit claims Karl LaDue, who was an occasional marijuana smoker because he believed it helped allay some of his schizophrenia symptoms, ran out of the drug Sept. 4, 2012, and went to Sky High the following day in search of smokable herbal products.

He allegedly was given a free pack of Bizarro Incense and told it was a legal, smokable "aroma therapy," but the bag had no directions for use or identified any ingredients, the suit states.

More than a dozen elements associated with "bath salts" and other synthetic chemicals known as canthinones or cannabinoids are banned from sale or possession. However, the suit does not specify whether any banned elements were in the material allegedly given to LaDue.

LaDue smoked some of the material later that evening and it quickly triggered symptoms of schizophrenia accompanied by excited delirium, disorientation and a sensation of being on fire, according to the suit.

He wandered outside and fell into blackberries and was retrieved by family members, but he later grappled with his father and a family member called 9-1-1 to report a poisoning or overdose, the suit states.

LaDue had wandered onto a neighbor's property on Wagner Creek Road when Fire District 5 paramedics arrived, but they refused to look for LaDue and asked instead for law enforcement to respond, the suit states.

Plummer was the first to respond and LaDue did not comply with his commands and walked away, but was not aggressive or threatening to Plummer, the suit claims.

Plummer drew his stun gun. When Lewis arrived, he also drew his stun gun and the two followed LaDue down a neighbor's driveway, the suit states. LaDue briefly complied with the officers' commands and knelt on the ground, but when he stood up Plummer shot him with his stun gun in the chest, the suit states.

LaDue hit the ground, then got up and started to run away when he was shot with a stun gun in the back by Lewis, the suit states. In the ensuing minutes, the pair used their stun guns 17 times while trying to restrain LaDue and paramedics declined to aid the officers in their struggle, the suit claims.

Scow then came on scene and LaDue was hit with pepper spray and at least seven more times with stun guns before he eventually was handcuffed, the suit states.

LaDue continued to struggle and was hit with a stun-gun shot by Scow, and LaDue immediately stopped struggling and breathing, the suit claims.

He was later pronounced dead at a Medford hospital.

The suit claims the officers should have had training in dealing with patients suffering from agitated delirium, which makes them high risk for death from ordinary law-enforcement restraint techniques, and that the force used that night was unnecessary.

"All he was doing was running away from them," Chris LaDue said. "It's as simple as that."

The suit claims Sky High owners should have known the product they allegedly provided Karl LaDue was dangerous when smoked and that they were negligent by representing to the public that Bizarro Incense was legal and safe, the suit states.

The suit also names Bizarro's producer, Zencense, as a defendant.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.