Schenectady city, county settle convict’s Taser injury claim for $280K
SCHENECTADY COUNTY Robert Kelly Jr. has at least another four years behind bars before he’s eligible for parole, but a settlement he’s reached with the city and county of Schenectady will leave him a healthy sum of money once he’s finally released from prison.
The 23-year-old city convict now serving up to nine years at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora will receive $280,000 to settle an excessive force claim he filed in 2010 against the Sheriff’s Department and Schenectady Police Department. Kelly claimed he suffered serious injuries after a member of the Schenectady County sheriff’s road patrol fired a Taser at him as he clung to the Cotton Factory Hollow bridge on Nov. 10, 2009.
Kelly, who was also being pursued as a fugitive, fell roughly 68 feet from the bridge. He suffered a broken back and a shattered ankle as a result of the fall — injuries that force him to walk with a limp, his lawyer said Monday.
“His injuries are permanent,” said Lewis Oliver, the Albany-based attorney who represented Kelly in the federal claim.
Oliver declined to discuss the amount of the settlement or anything about the agreement. The amount of the settlement was confirmed by Schenectady County officials.
County Attorney Chris Gardner said insurance will cover the payout, which could ultimately be a lot less than a judgment secured at trial. Kelly had initially asked for $4 million in damages from both the city and the county.
“We trying to look out for the best fiscal interest for the county,” Gardner said.
The agreement splits the cost between insurance carriers for the city and county, but it was unclear what each paid. The settlement was reached in April as the case was nearing the end of the discovery phase.
“There’s no doubt he was injured,” Gardner said. “The only issue is whether or not excessive force was utilized.”
Calls to John Polster, the corporation counsel for the city of Schenectady, were not returned Monday.
At the root of Kelly’s lawsuit was a claim that Lt. Jason Temple of the Sheriff’s Department used excessive force by menacing him with a police dog and eventually deploying his Taser within close range as he clung to the bridge on the outside of a protective chain-link fence. Kelly also cited Schenectady police Sgt. Eric Clifford in the lawsuit, claiming he should have prevented Temple from firing his Taser after he saw him draw the weapon.
The incident on the bridge started as Kelly was being sought in connection with a shooting that occurred in the city more than a month earlier. Kelly, who was 20 and on parole at the time, fired off a single shot into a Chrisler Avenue residence on Sept. 29, 2009.
Authorities tracked Kelly down to an Eagle Street residence on Nov. 5, 2009, but he made a rooftop escape by jumping over to another house. Members of the U.S. Marshals’ Fugitive Task Force caught up with him five days later after a confidential informant alerted them that he’d be in a vehicle near the bridge on Hulett Street.
But when authorities stopped the vehicle, Kelly took off running. Temple took chase with the police dog, prompting Kelly to scale a 15-foot-tall chain-link fence running along side the bridge, which crosses Interstate 890.
In his lawsuit, Kelly claimed he realized he was surrounded by police and had no escape as he clung to the concrete of the bridge. He claimed he alerted police that he wanted to surrender, when Temple fired his Taser at a distance of roughly four feet.
The barbs of the Taser struck Kelly above his lip and in his neck, he claimed in the lawsuit. The jolt from the weapon caused him to lose his grip and plummet to an area a short distance away from the highway below.
Even though he was seriously injured, Kelly claimed Temple used the Taser on him a second time. Authorities later accused him of possessing a .45 caliber revolver during the pursuit and a small baggy of crack cocaine.
Gardner said the settlement doesn’t acknowledge that Temple caused the injuries to Kelly. He said there’s a question as to whether the barbs from Temple’s Taser ever reached Kelly.
“There was a real question as to whether he was hit by the Taser at all,” he said.