Athens officer who tased teen has history of excessive force allegations

An Athens police officer who tased a 19-year-old fleeing from officers last month has a history of allegations of excessive force.

ATHENS, Ohio — An Athens police officer who tased a 19-year-old fleeing from officers last month has a history of allegations of excessive force, the Independent has learned.

Officer Ethan Doerr tased Nathan Sabatini on Feb. 19 when the young man ran away from the scene of a fight outside Goodfella’s Pizza in Uptown Athens. 

Bodycam footage released by the Athens Police Department this week shows Sabatini pulling away from Doerr and fleeing. Doerr pulls out his Taser and shouts, “Stop, or you’re gonna get tased!” Two seconds later, he fires the Taser at Sabatini’s back, causing Sabatini to fall forward onto his stomach. As officers handcuff him and put him in the back of a police car, onlookers chant, “Let him go.”


It’s unclear from the video footage exactly what led to the fight, but Sabatini protested multiple times that he was the one who was initially hit during the fight. It doesn’t appear from the bodycam footage that the others involved were detained, though it does show that Sabatini was not the only participant. It’s not immediately apparent from the footage whether any other arrests were made, though another person nearby was briefly handcuffed by police.

Sabatini was charged with three misdemeanor counts of underaged drinking, obstructing official business and disorderly conduct, and pleaded not guilty to all three in Athens County Municipal Court on Feb. 21.

Previous uses of force

Doerr has a record of excessive force allegations. In 2019, Doerr was among officers who responded to a fight outside the J Bar on Court Street. Doerr tackled and tased Ty Bealer, a Black University of Cincinnati student, prompting outrage and protests in Athens and Cincinnati.  

The year before, Doerr tased OU student Jacob Francis after witnessing an argument between Francis and a woman on College Street, according to a lawsuit Francis filed. A federal judge dismissed the suit on summary judgment. 

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In all three Athens cases — Sabatini, Bealer and Francis — the subject of Doerr’s force was attempting to leave the scene when he tased or tackled them.

Doerr was also sued in his previous position with the Logan Police Department, for excessive force during his arrest of a man named Michael Moe. That suit ended in a settlement, according to reporting by the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Data and records released by the now-defunct activist group Athens County Copwatch show that Doerr had the most Taser deployments of any APD officer between 2015 and 2020, with six uses. Three other officers followed him with four each. Other use of force cases in the data, which were not publicized, indicate that Doerr used force on fleeing subjects in multiple other cases. 

  • February 2019: As a 19-year-old man ran from a fight outside an Uptown bar, a bystander held him and Doerr fired Taser probes into his back. Doerr then applied the Taser in drive-stun mode on his stomach. (In drive-stun, the Taser is pushed against the subject’s body and fired to achieve “pain compliance.”) The man pleaded guilty to underage consumption and resisting arrest in exchange for two other charges being dropped.
  • August 2019: Doerr chased a 20-year-old man he believed was “improperly tampering with the portable toilet next to APD.” The man fled, but then turned around. “I was unable to tell if he was attempting to strike me,” Doerr wrote in his report, so he “attempted to place [the man] on the ground.” According to the report, the man was charged with disorderly conduct (although a search of online court records for the case was unsuccessful) and was treated for a scrape on his eye by EMS. 
  • December 2019: Doerr responded to a report of a 36-year-old man trying to open the door of a parked car and go into the yard of a house near the Smiling Skull Saloon. The man ran away with Doerr in pursuit.  Although the man fell, he resisted Doerr’s attempts to handcuff him. Doerr deployed his Taser on the man twice and attempted a drive-stun before finally getting him into handcuffs. Court records show that the man pleaded guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence.

    In his report, Doerr attributed the man’s injuries in part to “Drug induced Excited Delirium,” a controversial law enforcement term for subjects they claim have “superhuman strength” or pain resistance, usually due to drug use. The Minneapolis Police officers who murdered George Floyd unsuccessfully attempted to use it as a defense in their civil and criminal trials. The Nobel Peace Prize-winning NGO Physicians for Human Rights found in a 2022 report that the term has racist origins and is “not a valid, independent medical or psychiatric diagnosis,” and should not be used by physicians. 

    APD’s Use of Force policy, however, states that cases involving “Persons who exhibit extreme agitation, violent irrational behavior accompanied by profuse sweating, extraordinary strength beyond their physical characteristics and imperviousness to pain (sometimes called “excited delirium”), or who require a protracted physical encounter with multiple officers to be brought under control” should be considered medical emergencies, and require the response of medical personnel. There’s no indication that APD secured medical treatment for the man in this case.
  • May 2020: Doerr responded to a report of shoplifting at Walmart on East State Street. When he arrived, the person suspected of shoplifting allegedly began fighting with two bystanders. Doerr got out of his car and ordered the man to the ground; he and the two bystanders all dropped. Doerr told the bystanders to move away, and the man began moving to get up. Doerr saw what he thought was a knife, and after the man tried to get up again, Doerr wrote that he “deployed my Taser with the 12 degree cartridge into his back.” A small folding hatchet and a knife were eventually found on the man.

According to Lori Weisend, the administrative assistant for Athens Police Chief Tom Pyle, Doerr has used force 15 times since May 2020, when the Athens County Copwatch records stop. The Independent has filed a request for those use of force reports.


The APD’s policy on Taser uses reads that, “Mere flight by a person who is not suspected of criminal activity by the officer is not good cause for the use of the Conducted Energy Device (CED) to apprehend an individual. Additionally, and in keeping with [Electro-Muscular Disruption Technology] provided training, ending a pursuit for minor offenses of law is not good cause for use of the Conducted Energy Device (CED).” 

However, in a statement, APD Chief Tom Pyle wrote, “I have reviewed the BWC footage and given the information I have at this time, the UOF appears justified.  I’ll have no further comment pending the outcome of Sabatini’s court case,” though he did add that “for this particular incident no additional review is necessary at this time.”

Doerr wrote in his use of force report that he saw “two males punching a third male,” whom he grabbed because they “appeared to be the primary aggressors, to the point this appeared more like an assault than a fight.” Sabatini pulled away from him, and Doerr “ordered Sabatini to stop, advising him that he would be tased. I made contact with Sabatini as he bumped into a person and street light, and I grabbed his left arm. Sabatini pulled away again and ran south. At this time I deployed my taser.”

No additional reports exist that explain why these uses of force complied with the department’s policy, according to Weisend.

Doerr and his supervisor Lt. Tom Simpson didn’t respond to requests for comment. Britt Newman, Sabatini’s attorney, acknowledged but didn’t respond to requests for comment.

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