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Friday, May 02, 2008

Ohio judge orders taser removed from autopsies

May 2, 2008
By Ed Meyer, Beacon Journal staff writer

A judge ruled today that the Summit County Medical Examiner must change her autopsy findings to remove all references to the Taser stun gun as a contributing cause of death in the cases of three men who died during encounters with law enforcement officers.

The decision by visiting Judge Ted Schneiderman, released late this morning after a four-day trial in Common Pleas Court last week, stated that there is "simply no medical, scientific or electrical evidence to support the conclusion that the Taser . . . had anything to do with the death of Dennis S. Hyde, Richard Holcomb, or Mark D. McCullaugh."

In his findings of fact and conclusions of law, Schneiderman further explained that Taser International, which joined the City of Akron in filing the lawsuit against the medical examiner, "proved their claims for changing the reports of autopsy and death certificates on the three individuals by more than a preponderance of evidence."

Lawyers for Taser, relying on a "multiple number of experts . . . in the area of sudden and unexpected death while law enforcement attempted to obtain custody provided overwhelming credible medical and scientific evidence to support their positions," Schneiderman's ruling stated.

The medical examiner, Dr. Lisa J. Kohler, who was named as the defendant in the suit, said this afternoon that she was declining to comment because she had not read the judge's 15-page decision.

Kohler said she would have something to say after reviewing it.

Schneiderman's decision could have an effect on the criminal cases against five Summit County sheriff's deputies charged in the August 2006 death of 28-year-old jail inmate Mark D. McCullaugh Jr., because the ruling orders Kohler to change the manner of death from homicide to "undetermined."

Schneiderman, quoting passages from Kohler's autopsy report on McCullaugh, stated that his death "shall be ruled undetermined and any reference to death by 'asphyxia due to the combined effects of chemical, mechanical and electrical restraint,' as well as any reference to 'homicide' due to 'multiple restraint mechanisms with beating and anal penetration' shall be deleted from both the death certificate and the Report of Autopsy."

Inspector Keith Thornton, head of the sheriff's investigative division, said Sheriff Drew Alexander would have a comment on Schneiderman's decision after reviewing it.

Schneiderman, a retired Common Pleas judge, presided over the trial as a visiting judge.

Read the full text of the decision here.

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