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Tuesday, November 30, 2004

LA autopsy report 9th to cite taser use

November 30, 2004
Robert Anglen, Arizona Republic

The death of a California man two years ago is the ninth fatality to be linked to a Taser electric stun gun.

A Los Angeles County coroner said Taser could not be ruled out in the 2002 death of Johnny Lozoya, who was shocked by police when he fought with hospital staff attempting to help him following a seizure.

"One cannot exclude the Taser causing above damage to the tissues, specifically the heart," Deputy Medical Examiner Louis Pena wrote in an autopsy report. "Thus the manner of death could not be determined." advertisement

The autopsy of the 34-year-old Gardena man is the latest in a series of medical reports obtained by the Arizona Republic, which has identified 77 deaths following a police Taser strike since 1999.

The autopsy appears to contradict previous published reports by Taser International, the stun gun's Scottsdale manufacturer, which blamed Lozoya's death on a heart attack from cocaine intoxication.

"Taser not a cause," according to a company report touting the weapon's safety.

Taser says the stun gun, which has been sold to more than 5,000 law enforcement agencies as an alternative to deadly force, has never caused a death or serious injury.

Taser officials on Monday maintained that Taser played no part in Lozoya's death.

"After reviewing this case, it is similar to other in-custody deaths in which Taser technology was not deployed," Taser spokesman Steve Tuttle said in an e-mail. "Taser International is always concerned when a death in custody tragically occurs."

Of the 77 cases, The Republic has so far examined 29 autopsy reports. Medical examiners have cited Taser as a cause or contributing factor in six cases and said the gun could not be ruled out in two other previous cases.

Lozoya died on July 20, 2002 after police found him lying on the ground having a seizure.

Gardena police reports show that the partially clad Lozoya was running on a convalescent home's roof. Shortly afterward, witnesses reported that he was running through traffic and that he jumped on a car.

Police found him on the ground, foaming at the mouth. Officers called paramedics, who took him to the hospital, where he became combative.

"Officers used a non-lethal weapon (Taser) to subdue the decedent," the autopsy report stated. "He went into full arrest shortly thereafter."

Although Lozoya was resuscitated, he later died.

The autopsy report shows that Lozoya died of hypoxic encephalopathy, a lack of oxygen to the brain, following cardiac arrest. The medical examiner noted on the report that Lozoya's injuries were caused by unknown factors, cocaine and Taser use.

Tuttle says Lozoya's death could not be related to the Taser because he died several minutes after being shocked.

"With the 11 minute or greater time elapse between the exposure of the Taser and Lozoya's collapse, there is no plausible cardiovascular link between the Taser use and this tragic event," Tuttle said.

For years, Taser officials claimed that no autopsy or medical examiner ever cited the stun gun as a factor in a death.

But The Republic found that Taser never had copies of autopsy reports and didn't start collecting them until April. The company also omitted cases linking the stun gun to deaths from reports to shareholders and the public.

Taser officials now acknowledge autopsy reports linking the stun gun to deaths but question their accuracy, saying coroners do not have the expertise to determine if Tasers have caused deaths.

They blame the deaths on other factors, including drug addictions and pre-existing health problems.

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