The Lawsuit from HELL
Saturday, April 23, 2005
Here is the story on those Funny Pictures that are circulating around the web; as it was told to me by Ray, the pictures started to arrive in the firstname.lastname@example.org mailbox. The sender’s address was email@example.com. Ray wrote back but the address bounced all his messages. Ray said that he pieced together from the images the sender’s reason for producing them. He figured the pictures were sent by a Texas cop who attended a training class that Hans Marrero taught. During the class, Hans broke the cop’s finger and never apologized. The cop was desk bound on limited duty for several weeks and had access to a computer. The cop sent quite a few of these home-made lampoons to Ray. Ray deleted several dozen of the more sexually graphic pictures, but he posted the funnier ones on the ATT-Tactical website for everyone to enjoy. Here they are as they were included in a public document filed in federal court.
Ray said that the first pictures he received, expressed a theme that “Taser was being run by a Barrel of Monkeys” which explains the Monkey Boy reference.
The pictures floated in one or two at a time. They were sent as a link to a photo hosting website which is where Ray downloaded the images then uploaded them to the company website. The page titled “funnypages.html” was a big hit with a huge influx of page views. This in turn increased the views of the LEMDIN and Lite-Tazer pages. Again, I have to point out that John had complied with every wish, whim and demand that Douglas Klint made upon him. After Klint’s first letter so many months earlier demanded that all usage of the M26, X26, Advanced Taser, Globe and lightning bolt logo was complied with on the very same day the letter arrived, John made sure that nothing else was violating any trademark that Taser held.
Mike and Sandy were getting impatient with John and Mike. They had money to invest but wanted a fully patented product line before the check was cut. There were several meetings in the following months with progress reports indicating steady headway in finalizing product design and construction. Mike was a stickler for detail and would make several prototypes of each modification just so he could perform consistent destructive tests. His end of the project was progressing slow but steady. John on the other hand was in charge of the ballistic propulsion system for the LEMDIN Stun Module. He must have loaded and reloaded over 1500 40mm aluminum cartridges that he made himself individually. His exacting specifications for the high pressure / low pressure chambers of the cartridge needed to be precise otherwise the driving force of the pyrotechnic charge would destroy the Stun Module even before it launched out of the barrel. Days were spend at the Suffolk County Police Department’s Firearms Training range testing batch loads of cartridges with an inert module of the same payload weight that Mike was shooting for in his work on the Stun Module. After several hundred tests, John had finalized the cartridge design and volumetric specifications to such an apex that he could call his shot on a target at 75 feet to within 10 inches. This was no small feat.
Mike Reynolds had to split his workload between the LEMDIN and designing the circuitry for the Lite-Tazer Screw-on Module for the Mag-Light. New York City Department of Corrections was calling every week checking on its progress. To have the Lite-Tazer carried by Corrections Officers on Riker’s Island would be a major marketing prize, and would propel John’s small one-man company into a major player in the Law Enforcement equipment marketplace. Please remember that everyone associated with John and the projects were working for no compensation. All of them were doing it out of friendship and a desire to see John do well. Don’t be fooled though, they also saw that there was a very real chance that they would make out handsomely when the company went public. Mike and Sandy had everything in place. From the initial capital investment, to the banking firm to handle the IPO to the back office management needed to make a newly public company into a global powerhouse.
One of the “Friends of John” was a former Lieutenant of the Suffolk County Police Department; Bruce was also a Marine Corp reservist who had connections with USMC Weapons Procurement and Logistics. Bruce was to be John’s conduit to the military in getting the LEMDIN into the right hands. He gave several of the earlier mock-up prototypes to Bruce who passed them on through proper channels. All this time, John was financing everything out of his own pocket. Since the profits from Taser sales stopped when he was terminated, he had to work twice as hard selling the rest of his product line to finance the continuing Research and Development. Mike Reynolds helped out with a few bucks as did Ray and myself. Funny, now that I look back on it, I gave it without hesitation. I saw in John’s eyes the determination and drive of a winner and knew that he would pull us all along with him to the top. That was, until the Process Server knocked on the door.
I was there the day the Process Server arrived. He walked in unannounced and said “John?” as he scanned the office looking for any subliminal acknowledgement. Not being shy, John answers “Say Hey!” and the Server handed a stack of papers 3 inches thick to him. John looked at the cover page and saw that it was a massive lawsuit the Taser International had filed with the Phoenix Federal Courts against him and the company. It was identified by file number CV 04-0738-PHX-PGR. Without blinking an eye John asked the guy if he was a local Private Investigator. The guy who’s name was Shawn Stiebel, was startled when John stuck out his hand to shake the Process Server’s hand. As the two shook, John handed him a business card and said that if he needed any equipment for his business, to please call him for the best prices. The poor guy did not know what to make of that kind of reaction, since all of is previous services were adversarial. That was John’s way of doing business. If you’re a stand-up guy, he took an instant liking to you.
Everyone there that day took turns reading through the hundreds of pages that made up the lawsuit. I can tell you that it was not a boiler-plate job. Each page was specifically written out to address almost a dozen alleged civil crimes. My head was spinning from all the wherefore, herein and there fore’s that littered the documents. Taser really got their money’s worth from the law firm of Squire, Saunders and Dempsey; one of the largest multi-national, multi-practice law firms in the country. John and his company had been accused of Patent Infringement, Trademark Infringement, Unfair Competition, Defamation, Invasion of Privacy and Trade Libel. John was beside himself with shock over the massive accusation. He turned white before my eyes, and had to sit down. John had just been tagged by Taser as the most dangerous man on the face of the earth, at least that’s the way the lawsuit read.
Ray Peres threw his hands in the air and said it was over. He walked to his car and we never saw from him again. I immediately cleaned up the company website and sanitized it to the lawsuit’s standard. I protested all the way telling John that the lampoons were protected under the first amendment just as political cartoons are. John would have none of it and asked me strongly, to remove each and every item detailed in the lawsuit. I did it that very day, and I have maintained the site up until very recently when Drew came on board to manage the server.
For the next several hours, we all tried to assure John that this was nothing more then a blatant attempt to prevent him from bringing his products to market. That’s when the phone rang. It was Danny Alverez from ALS Technology in Bull Shoals Arkansas calling. He told John that he too had been served with a big fat Patent Infringement lawsuit. Since I knew that when a public company had to inform its stockholders if it initiates or is a subject of litigation. I turned on my laptop and checked the current Taser SEC Filing that was posted in the internet. Sure enough, there was John’s name as well as his company listed right there on Taser’s 10KSQ. The way the report was written, to the uninformed, that little addition to Taser’s filing would hit John like the hammers of hell. Also detailed was the litigation against ALS Technology and Electronic Defense Technology of Ohio. Its President, Dennis Kauffman, and old timer in the stun business, who for years would buy Pro-Tech clear plastic Riot Shields and tape them up with aluminum duct tape connected to 18 volts power supplied 150,000 volt Stun Shields. He also made the Band-it Prisoner Stun Belts that you may have seen on episodes of Court TV. Taser’s shotgun-deployment of lawsuits blanketed the county and as I see it, all of their competition. John had no idea as to what to do next. His friend and co-designer of the LEMDIN and Lite-Tazer Stun Modules, Mike Reynolds, had a friend who was a very successful criminal attorney.
Mike called Eddie Wolf and made an appointment the next day for him and John to sit down together. As John tells it, that night, his sleep problems started.
It was 11 am with Mike and John walking into Eddie’s office. Eddie appeared from his personal office when he was summoned by the receptionist. Well tanned, with silver gray hair combed meticulously. John said the suit had to cost at least a grand. The man greeted Mike with open arms and a minute long hug that showed a true bond of friendship between the two. Eddie would move the earth and sun for Mike if he asked which as it turned out he did. Ed introduced himself to John and with a strong but reassuring grip; he at once felt at ease. The three men sat down in Ed’s office and discussed the previous day’s events. John laid it all out for him with Mike filling in the background. Ed asked John how much money he had to dedicate towards fighting the suit, and John told him the truth. He was tapped out. All his credit cards were max’ed and cash flow was just enough to cover building rent and utilities. In other words zero. Mike asked Ed if he though he could help out and Ed answered “as a friend of both of you, I’ll reach out to these lawyers of Taser’s and see what I can negotiate.” Mike and John thanks Ed, bided their farewells and drove back to John’s shop. The worked that night and the rest of that week on their assigned projects. That Saturday, another phone call came. It was Mike Berkowitz and Sandy Edelman. They had heard about the lawsuit and were inquiring as to whether it would affect the company and its products. John gave them an answer, but it wasn’t the one they wanted to hear. Mike and Sandy responded that they could not continue to consider bringing the company public until the lawsuit was settled and the products remained viable. This is where I think John’s heart started to weaken. Whether it was anxiety attack or a mini stroke, I was never told. A few weeks later, Ed Wolf called John and asked him to stop by his office for a sit-down. John agreed for the next day.
Eddie greeted him as if they knew each other since childhood. Eddie had a few dozen years on John, but it was obvious they hit it off right away. Eddie said to John, “you’re either an evil genius or the most unlucky man alive.” They sat down and Ed told him that he had been talking to Donald Wall, the lead attorney for the case, at Taser’s law firm. Eddie said that it was extremely difficult to create a dialog with them and that they were very hostile towards Eddie’s suggestion of John promising to never do what ever they said he did again in exchange for them dropping the lawsuit. Eddie reached for his phone and dialed the offices of Squire, Saunders and Dempsey, and asked for Donald Wall. He put his phone on speaker and when Wall answered he greeted him. Eddie asked Wall if his proposal of promising to never do it again was acceptable with his clients and Wall responded that “he can’t get away with nothing, he has to pay for what he did.”
Wall had demanded that John sign a Consent Decree and pay for all of Taser’s legal expenses, which Wall indicated was $40,000. Eddie told him he’d ask what John wanted to do. Eddie placed his hand over the mouthpiece and said to John that there was no chance that any deal could be reached with such an arrogant individual. He said he has never dealt with such a stone wall before in his practice. John told Eddie that he would have a hard time coming up with $40 much less $40,000. Eddie told John that the best thing to do was to throw himself at the feet of Taser’s lawyers and pray that they don’t take too much. Eddie told Wall that there was no money from which John could pay Taser with and that Chapter 11 Bankruptcy was his only option, which meant Taser would get nothing. Wall responded that he would have his associate attorney draw up a Consent Decree with no money penalty and forward it the John for signing. John then asked Eddie to ask Donald Wall a question. This would set the ground work for several events to follow.
Back in the beginning of 2003, John sold the Village of Southampton PD several M26 Taser’s as well as a supply of cartridges. John and Jay trained the department’s officers late in the prior year at the Southampton Town Police Training Facility. It was by the way, the class that John Visintini made his now famous statement about the number of officers needed to deploy. Remember his demand that John stop saying that 3 officers were needed because Taser wanted to sell one gun to every officer and not one to every three? Well, John and Jay were teaching that the Taser was NON-LETHAL and were still suggesting as per factory directive that the Taser should be placed at or below OC (Pepper Spray). Well, in February of 2004, The Village of Southampton PD shot a 35 ½ year old retarded man named David Glowczenski 9 times with one of the Taser’s that John sold and delivered and trained for. The Glowczenski family Lawyer had been in contact with John and had implied that John and his company could be added as defendants to the billion dollar lawsuit. John asked Eddie to ask Wall, if Taser would cover him for all the legal expenses.
Eddie asked and Wall responded that “as of April 1st 2003, John was on his own and all connections including financial and liability terminated on that date.”
Eddie hung up the phone. John was again suffering silently with chest pains. Eddie told him that as a friend, he did everything he could. As a lawyer, he said, it would take a minimum of $400-450,000 to defend and beat back the suit. The most damaging and the most damming was the Defamation part. Seems Hans Marrero felt that “Monkey Boy” was a depiction of him and that the pictures that Ray had posted on the website constituted overt racism. It didn’t matter that everyone at Taser was depicted in the images, Hans’ hurt feelings was the strongest charge in the lawsuit. Even Jimmy McNulty, a California lawyer and holder of several stun technology patents said that defending against the charge of racism would be impossible. John had no chance of recovery and his dreams came crashing down around him. The two men shook hands and Eddie asked to be kept up to date as to how he’s doing. John said he would and walked out. The drive home was the most challenging for John. His vision blurred several times and the squeezing in his chest made him cry. He had to pull over several times and wait out the acute pain events before continuing his way. He had to see a doctor, but how since the health care policy premium went towards the machine shop bill for the Lite-Tazer.
Mike Reynolds had been battling Endocrine Cancer for most of the time he was working with John. Mike started to travel back a forth to Manhattan several times a week for treatment. He tried to continue working on the final versions of the LEMDIN and Lite-Tazer Stun Module but the treatments tired Mike out and zapped him of all his energy. Mike had the final prototypes of both in a box by his kitchen table. One day he put it in his garage and that is the last anyone has seen of it. Since the lawsuit seemed a done deal, there was no desire to resurrect the products to marketplace. All of Mike’s ground breaking circuitry schematics for the LEMDIN and the Lite-Tazer as well as all of John’s machining specifications for the launching cartridge body as well as the pyrotechnic loadings were in that box, lost forever.
It was September of 2004 that John received the letter from David E. Rogers of Taser’s law firm. Inside was a Consent Decree with instructions for John to sign and send back ASAP. John read it and tried to understand it the best he could but failed to fully comprehend the ramifications of affixing his signature. He didn’t want to impose on his friendship with Ed Wolf anymore; the guy extended a ton of his time and asked for nothing but a handshake. One of the details in the Settlement portion stated that John was to turn over all original documentation and all samples in existence of both the LEMDIN and the Lite-Taser.
John still had the dummy mock-up of the LEMDIN that he used for the pictures on the web page but everything else disappeared from Mike Reynolds garage. John wrote back to Mr. Rogers and notified him that he would sign anything that they sent him but that he had no legal counsel to review the documents. John asked that they provide a layman’s version so that it would be easily understood and competently complied with. John also sent the LEMDIN mock-up with the explanation that it was all that was left, and that he had nothing else in his possession. Mike had suffered a severe stroke and was in a VA Hospital somewhere. The cancer was slowly killing him. I really like Mike. He’s a gregarious type of guy who would give you his last dollar if he knew it would help.
It was October of 2004 and John was leaving for several days of medical treatments, and would be convalescing for a few weeks afterward. I was collecting John’s mail from the company Post Office Box and the street mail box. Mr. Rogers send the following letter back:
That was on October 26th or 27th and I refused it because John was still unavailable and the Post Office said it had to be signed by the addressee. It was an official document and I did not hold a Power of Attorney for John. What was I to do? John was still several days away from walking again, and the Postal clerk wanted an answer right then. I told them I couldn’t accept it legally and they stamped it REFUSED and returned it to Rogers.
One day, I spotted a letter from Taser’s law firm. It was a court filing of a “Declaration of David E. Rogers in Support for Plaintiffs’ Application for Entry of Default” I did not dare call John and tell him. He was still convalescing. Stapled to it was the letter stating that Rogers had no way of contacting John or his company because there was no phone numbers? I found that funny since John had been Tasers sole distributor in New York State since 2000 and Stacie Sundberg even had his cell phone number in her records. Hans even callied one of John’s business cards so he could call if he lost another knife. I wrote an E-Mail from my daytime (real) job to the mailbox of David Rogers at Squire, Saunders and Dempsey. I demanded to know why they were proceeding with a default when John hasn’t even received the Consent Decree that Wall had talked about. Trish Berard, an associate attorney, responded via e-mail that they had no way of reaching John and that the previously mailed Consent Decree was refused and they were proceeding as if he had failed to answer the complaint. She attached the Consent Decree and a Settlement Agreement to her message. I downloaded it and printed it out for John to sign. I drove over to where John was staying and asked him to sign the document and put the whole matter to an end. John signed it all right but he wrote below his signature that he didn’t fully understand the document and that he had no review by counsel. I express mailed it to Ms. Berard the next morning. That was November 25th.
On December 3rd, I received another e-mail from Trish Berard. She was mad that John added extra language to the document, and that by doing so meant there was no agreement. She indicated that John had to sign another copy and get it back to her by December 8th. The problem was, I was away from work on a scheduled vacation until January 3rd, and didn’t read the e-mail until I got back to work. I wrote her back and told her why I was late in responding and that I would have John’s signature that night on a fresh copy. But he did it again. This time he wrote under his name that “Trish Barard had told him to sign it and it was the best thing to do”. What was I to do but to send it back to Ms. Barard. It was January 11th that the envelope from Squire, Saunders and Dempsey arrived at John’s shop. It contained something called a “Plaintiffs’ Notice of Filing Affidavit of Service on Defendant”. It was signed and dated January 11th, by Karen McElroy. Attached to it was a copy of the Process Server’s (Shawn Stiebel) Affidavit of Service of Summons and Complaint. The Affidavit was dated by Shawn on May 8th, 2004. John handed it to me and asked me if I could make heads or tails of it. I hadn’t a clue. For the next several days I heard nothing back so I told John of my fears and he said he’d write a letter to the judge. I told him that he had to send a copy to Taser’s attorney David Rogers. He did and here is a copy of that letter that he sent on January 18th of this year:
January ended with a light snow fall. All was peaceful except for John. The stress of not knowing what was happening with the lawsuit was surly killing him. Doctors were concerned that maybe all those 50,000 volt hits that he took in years previous had some how damaged his aorta and was causing it to spasm. On to of that John developed Prostate problems. I was shocked at how fast he deteriorated from the day the lawsuit had shown up. On February 28, John wrote a letter addressed to the clerk of the Judge overseeing the federal court case. John pleaded with the clerk to again say that he was “answering the complaint” and that he was scared that a Default Judgment was about to or had already been snuck in.
On March 11, a letter arrived from the Judge’s clerk Tracy O’Steen. She indicated that just such an event had happened. Taser’s attorney’s filed a Default on the same day that John’s letters hit the Judges desk. Attached to the Taser paperwork was a Plaintiffs’ Application with Notice for Order Temporary Restraining Order. As indicated by the Judge’s attached ruling on the Restraining order, the Judge said that everything presented was protected under the first amendment (see, I knew I was right) and that the images could never be confused as being factual and were not defamation. He also ordered a hearing in his courtroom for April 25th at 1:30 pm to hear arguments as to whether a default judgment should be entered.
The whole line of crap that Taser’s attorneys couldn’t get in touch with John was bogus. I personally took out of John’s Shop mailbox a Christmas card addressed directly to him from “The Team at Taser International”. Even stranger was the fact that John received a personal invitation to attend the grant opening of the new Taser building on April 1st.
As I am uploading this to the Blog, John is traveling there to appear before his honor at 1:30.
I don’t know if it means anything to you but John is in Phoenix at the same time that Taser is holding their yearly Training and Tactics conference at their new Scottsdale facility. I wonder if Hans will show up in court on Monday.
Next Time: It’s in God’s hands now!