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Navy veteran's family sues Pinellas Sheriff's Office over Taser death

Posted at 4:54 PM, Oct 24, 2018

OLDSMAR, Fla. — The family of a Tampa Bay Navy veteran is suing the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office over the death of their loved one.  

Donald DeGraw served 17 years as a medical officer in the U.S. Navy, often during covert operations. 

"It tormented him," said wife Julie DeGraw. "He had a lot of nightmares, he woke up to a lot of them.”

Julie DeGraw says her husband suffered from frequent episodes of post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. 

DeGraw woke up from a PTSD episode and suffered a seizure on September 7, 2016. 

Julie DeGraw immediately called for medical help from their home in Oldsmar. 

"I did not know they had Tasered him multiple times, even when he was on the ground," said Julie DeGraw. "I heard one of the deputies say, ‘sir, sir wake up.'" 

DeGraw's family recently filed a 23-page lawsuit against Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and the responding deputy who deployed his Taser. 

According to the complaint, the deputy stated "the purpose of the multiple deployments of the electric shock into Mr. DeGraw's chest while he was on the floor was to "just try to control him, to allow us to grab him to get him onto his stomach so we could cuff him.'" The complaint further states, "but at no time was there any objective threat of flight or threat to the deputy sheriffs by Mr. DeGraw which could justify the repeated shocks administered."

When they approached his bedroom, they had a Taser drawn and a service revolver drawn and under those circumstances, they were approaching a sick patient as if he were a criminal," said family attorney Mick Callahan.

Pinellas detectives conducted an investigation into DeGraw's death and determined the deputy was justified in his actions. ABC Action News obtained the department's policy on using a Taser or electronic control weapons. It reads in part, "The use of an ECW may be an appropriate response to any type of active or aggressive resistance on the part of an individual who is about to be taken into custody for any reason ." 

ABC Action News has learned, the deputy is still with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and did not receive any discipline after the incident. 

"Members receive continuous annual training to include use of force policies and a proficiency demonstration," said the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office in a statement Wednesday. 

Julie McGraw believes deputies should be better trained for responding to tense situations involving people suffering from PTSD or other mental health issues. 

"Why did he have to be Tasered and why did he have to die," said Julie DeGraw. 

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office declined to comment on the lawsuit because it is ongoing litigation.