N.C. family files lawsuit over jailhouse Taser death

The inmate, who’d been in jail for a year, was shocked after an altercation with an officer

By Jennifer Fernandez
News & Record

GREENSBORO, N.C. — The family of a man who died last year after being shocked with a Taser in the Guilford County jail is suing the sheriff's office, court records show.

Tricolia Cobbs filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Guilford County Superior Court accusing the sheriff, Guilford County Sheriff's Office and Prison Health Services of negligence in the Aug. 19, 2009, death of her husband, Ronald Eugene Cobbs. The family is seeking triple damages under the state's Wrongful Death Act.

Ronald Cobbs, 38, was in jail at the time and was shocked twice with a Taser by deputies after getting into an altercation with a guard, according to the lawsuit.

The family accuses the defendants of using excessive force and having insufficient medical tools and/or training to handle a patient who has been hit with a 50,000-volt Taser.

"You shouldn't die if you are waiting in jail on charges. It shouldn't be a death sentence," Steve Bowden, the attorney representing the Cobbs family, said.

Bowden said he is trying to see a video of at least part of the incident but has so far been denied access.

"We just don't know what the truth is there," he said.

Sheriff BJ Barnes said Tuesday that he had not seen the lawsuit but he was aware of talks between the family's attorney and the sheriff's office attorney.

He said separate investigations had cleared his deputies of any wrongdoing.

In July, the district attorney announced that the officers acted appropriately and without excessive force, and provided appropriate medical attention.

An autopsy did not determine a cause of death. Cobbs could have died of respiratory arrest or cardiac arrhythmia caused by an underlying cardiac disease, both triggered by the stress of the struggle, according to the report.

The state's chief medical examiner did include in the report that he believes restraints played a role in the death. Cobbs had been handcuffed and shackled at the ankles.

Cobbs had been in jail for about a year, his family said. He was awaiting trial on charges of kidnapping, robbery with a dangerous weapon and a probation violation.

"It's a tragic event," Barnes said. "I hate that it happened. I really, truly do."

Staff writer Ryan Seals contributed to this report.

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