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Taser deaths: Part 2

police car 2.jpgA previous blog discussed issues related to the use of Taser stun guns by police and civilians in the United States. According to a recent Washington Post story, at least 48 people in the United States have died this year after being shocked with Tasers. This post tells the stories of some of those 48.

One of these people, Matthew Ajibade, was bipolar. He had been arrested after allegedly hitting his girlfriend. Savannah, Ga., police tasered the 21-year-old bank employee because he was combative during arrest, according to police. After police hit him in the abdominal area with the Taser, Ajibade was left in an isolation cell handcuffed and in shackles for 90 minutes before police checked on him, at which time he was dead. The 90-minute delay was in violation of Savannah police department policy.

This is the only 2015 incident involving a Taser that resulted in police misconduct charges. It turned out that the deputy who tasered Ajibade had used the drive-stun setting, violating department policy against drive-stunning prisoners who were restrained by handcuffs or shackles. That deputy was later convicted of cruelty to an inmate. Another was convicted of public records fraud.

Mentally ill suspects especially vulnerable

It appears as if mentally ill suspects or people high on drugs are especially vulnerable to tasering. Take the case of Tony Chance Ross in the small town of Sulphur Springs, Texas, where he was known by most residents to be mentally ill and delusional. Before his death, police had arrested him 21 times, primarily for public drunkenness.

In March 2015, he broke into an occupied house, claiming that he knew someone inside was being raped. The resident called police, who tasered him in the drive-stun mode for 18 seconds because he failed to cooperate. He was transported to jail and place in an isolation cell, where he was again tasered for 28 seconds because he continued to be uncooperative. When officers checked on him about 20 minutes after leaving him in the cell, he was unconscious. The jail defibrillator was not working because of a bad battery, and he was taken to the hospital, where he died days later after his parents removed him from life support.

None of the officers involved was indicted by the grand jury convened after Ross' death.

Another death, this one in Albany, New York, killed Donald "Dontay" Ivy. He was diagnosed as a schizophrenic and didn't go out much in the daytime, fearing for his safety. He would go out at night to the ATM and the convenience store to get cash and food. On the way to the ATM one evening, he was stopped by police, who found Dontay suspicious because he was wearing a puffer jacket. They believed it was too warm - 26 degrees - for such clothing. One officer said that the way he was walking "didn't seem right."

Officers asked him questions and patted him down, finding nothing.

They then tried to handcuff him because he was "making them nervous," according to the later report. When he resisted, one officer tasered Dontay for four seconds, and he started to run. The officers then tackled Dontay, continued to taser him while also hitting him on the legs with a baton. Officers pulled the trigger of the Taser at least seven times, finally switching to drive-stun mode. After the second jolt of painful electricity, police were able to handcuff and shackle Dontay, although he continued to struggle. They then hit him on the back of the legs again. He fell to the ground, and when officers rolled him over, he was not breathing. He died two days later, apparently of a heart attack brought on by the tasering.

Other deaths by Taser have the same features: A mentally ill suspect is uncooperative and police use Tasers in their efforts to force cooperation. It appears that using a Taser in drive-stun mode, which causes intense pain rather than the immobility caused by a Taser in probe mode, is a common feature of these deaths.

Investigations blame the illness rather than the Taser

Investigations after these incidents tend to blame the deceased person's mental illness rather than the incorrect use of Tasers by police. Whether this will change remains to be seen. However, it is telling that only one of the Taser deaths this year resulted in the conviction of the law enforcement officers involved.


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