Article by Gregory B. Hladky.
A Waterbury man died earlier this month after being hit with a police stun gun. In Middletown, a state investigation recently exonerated police in the May 2010 death of a man who died following 34 shocks by a Taser weapon.
State lawmakers had been considering legislation to require standardized police training in the use of stun guns and restrictions on when and how they should be used. Opposed by the Connecticut Chiefs of Police Association (pdf), the bill has been watered down to a study of police use of Tasers by a state law enforcement training panel. The study legislation is awaiting General Assembly action.
“We were disappointed,” David McGuire, a lawyer with the Connecticut chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, says of the much weakened legislation. “But this is a step in the right direction, and we believe a study will show the need for comprehensive Taser regulation, including training and public accountability.”
McGuire spoke Monday about the Taser issue during an appearance at a Hamden rally by activists protesting what they say is police brutality in their community.
Taser International, maker of the electronic weapon that has become a police mainstay, is ferociously opposed to any suggestion that these stun guns can be lethal. Their spokesmen insist that when someone dies after being Tased, the actual cause of death is some other condition such as drug use, psychiatric- or obesity-related diseases.
Marcus Brown was 26 when he started acting strange in the emergency room of Waterbury’s Saint Mary’s Hospital during the early morning hours of May 1. Police were called and Brown was restrained and put in the back of a police cruiser.
The cops say Brown attempted to kick out the window and door of the police car, and that’s when he was hit with the Taser, went unconscious and was declared dead after being carried back into the hospital. Authorities say it could take up to six weeks to determine the cause of death.
Brown’s death brings this state’s body count for people who died in police-Taser-related incidents to at least 10 since 2005, according to official reports, interviews and news stories.
According to the Connecticut Medical Examiner’s office, the cause of death for Efrain Carrion (the Middletown guy who died after being hit 34 times by police Tasers) was “excited delirium.” (The examiner’s office has ruled at least three times in recent years that excited delirium was the cause of death in cases involving police use of Tasers.)
That’s a controversial ruling because excited delirium isn’t recognized as a medical condition by authorities such as the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association or the American Psychological Association. Taser International spokesman Steve Tuttle points out that other medical authorities, including the American College of Emergency Physicians and the National Association of Medical Examiners, consider it a legitimate cause of death.
Those who see excited delirium as a specific medical condition say it often occurs when the victim has been high on cocaine or other drugs, has a history of mental illness, is obese and sweating heavily, or is the subject of a combination of those problems. Taser critics charge that excited delirium is nothing more than a cover for police misuse of stun guns.
The Connecticut State Police ruled in March that the five Middletown police officers were not responsible for Carrion’s death, despite using their Tasers on him 34 times. Carrion’s wife called 911 because her husband, who suffered from depression, was having an anxiety attack.
The cops who showed up had a police dog with them. They say Carrion, 35, was a heavily built man who brushed them aside as he fled the apartment and ran into the woods behind the complex. They say they repeatedly used the stun guns because Carrion was violent, even attempting to choke the police dog. Carrion’s wife insists her husband only became violent and ran because he was being hit with the shock weapons.