Russell Cooper, a 77-year-old South Florida grandfather using a walker, went viral in 2014 after Boynton Beach Police released video of him somewhat pathetically trying to rob a local PNC bank while armed with little more than a pocketknife.
But according to a lawsuit Cooper recently filed in federal court, the actual story behind the famous video is anything but funny: He claims he was desperate for just $130 to get his car fixed, and because of a split-second mistake he made, Boynton Beach PD tasered him so often that his cochlear inner-ear implant stopped working and he fell and cut himself, contracted a methicillin-resistant staph (MRSA) infection, and wound up having his leg amputated.
In the infamous news clip, bank surveillance footage shows Cooper ambling slowly through the bank lobby escorted by a PNC employee. Cooper arrives at the teller's counter, which is protected by a layer of thick, bulletproof glass. He then waves a tiny knife barely larger than his palm. A teller calmly hands him some money, and then Cooper pats his bank escort on the back and the two slowly walk out together.
According to news reports at the time, police say Cooper threatened to "slit" the bank employee's "throat" if he "didn't comply." While Cooper was receiving his cash, PNC called the cops — Boynton PD says Cooper refused to drop his knife and threatened to stab the authorities.
"I'm not dropping it," Boynton PD claims Cooper yelled. "I'm going to stick it in your fucking gut." He was eventually arrested and charged with robbery and kidnapping despite the fact that the young, reasonably fit PNC employee could seemingly have jogged away from Cooper's walker at a leisurely pace without so much as a scratch.
In his new lawsuit, Cooper says the viral clip actually shows a tragedy unfolding. He was staying in an assisted-living facility at the time and took his car to a mechanic for "minor" repairs earlier that day. But when he tried to charge $128 to his PNC debit card, the charge was declined, he says. So the mechanic drove Cooper to the PNC branch.
Once at the bank, Cooper says, employees informed him that PNC had closed his account due to "persistent lack of funds" and that his Social Security checks that were supposed to have been auto-deposited to the account were instead getting returned to the government. So Cooper was broke, with a mechanic waiting outside, and apparently snapped and decided to whip out his tiny knife.
But Cooper claims it was the cops' duty to disable him or otherwise knock the knife out of his hand — and not to taser him repeatedly, which is what he says wound up happening. In fact, Cooper's suit says Boynton PD policy bars its cops from using their Tasers on the elderly or disabled except in very specific circumstances.
Instead, he says, three Boynton Beach cops cornered him and tasered him three times in the back — which disabled his cochlear implant and left him effectively deaf. He also says that because the cops didn't try to remove the pocketknife from his hand before tasering him, the electrical current forced his muscles to contract around the knife, leaving his arm permanently damaged. After the third hit with a Taser, he says, he fell to the ground, first scraping his knees and then scraping his forearms and head on the pavement outside. He was taken to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Main Detention Center, where police took his walker away from him, he says.
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"After being booked into the Main Detention Center, Plaintiff’s walker was taken from him and not returned to him until his release, rendering him unable to ambulate; instead, [Cooper] was forced to crawl or pull his
communicate, to attempt to sleep," the suit reads.
Cooper claims that he acquired
He is now suing Boynton PD for excessive force, as well as the jail medical contractors — Armor Correctional Health Services and GEO Care LLC — for what he says was "deliberate indifference" to the injuries he had sustained before entering the Palm Beach County jail.
"The slow and painful injuries described above to the Plaintiff were reasonably foreseeable consequences of Defendants’ deliberate indifference to their obligations to provide appropriate evaluation, assessment, treatment, basic human needs, care, sustenance, and medication for incarcerated detainees, like Plaintiff," the suit says.