UPDATE - August 12, 2008
Report: Taser ruled not primary cause of death
By: Jason R. Vallee, RecordJournal
MERIDEN - The use of a Taser was not a primary factor in the death of Donovan Graham, a Community Towers resident who died of "cardiac arrest from excited delirium" following a confrontation with police on June 6, according to reports from the Chief Medical Examiner.
Staff at the Chief Medical Examiner's Office in Farmington said Monday that Graham had been suffering from a state of psychosis from pre-existing medical conditions that, with the sequence of events that evening, caused his lungs to fail.
The term "excited delirium" has been a topic of debate in recent years, and in 300 cases where an individual died after being Tasered it has been the most common cause of death, said Joshua Rubenstein, northeast regional director for Amnesty International USA.
"It's not an official diagnosis but a catch-all phrase for someone who was out of control," Rubenstein said. "In many of these cases, it may be the result of drugs or a mental condition; but we have found that the use of a Taser can complicate a situation that may not have led to death without it."
For two years, Rubenstein said, his group has called for a moratorium on Taser use because there is not enough information on how 50,000 volts of electricity affects people on certain drugs, or those with medical conditions causing a chemical imbalance.
Taser International has countered this argument, stating that Tasers themselves are non-lethal. Representatives have said use of a Taser has never been a primary factor in anyone's death. Calls and e-mails left Monday seeking comment were not immediately returned.
Although Tasers are not a primary cause, Rubenstein said there is evidence that they could be contributing factors when a person has died of a heart attack.
"We can't exclude these cases as coincidence," he said. "When Tasers are used, we need to be aware that death is something that could happen. That being said, we want departments to ask themselves if there are alternatives that could prevent that result. Unless a Taser is being used to replace a bullet, they shouldn't be used."
Rubenstein said he did not see the Graham case as an act of brutality and believed police could justify use of the Taser, but said that with other options such as bean bags, multiple-man take-downs or use of a non-lethal weapon such as a baton, Graham might still be alive.
Graham, 35, had been living in the Towers for less than a year at the time of his death. Neighbors said he was friendly at first but in the months leading up to the incident appeared more confrontational and sometimes would scream at no one in particular.
A graduate of Wilcox Technical High School, Graham joined the Army in 1992 and received basic training. He was honorably discharged in 1993.
On the night of the incident, police said he turned his music up loud, creating a public disturbance, and when approached he threatened to use a knife and gun on anyone entering the apartment. Four officers responded and used a Taser to calm him, but police reports stated the Taser had no effect.
After a few more minutes, police said, the officers were able to calm Graham, but as they were taking him outside, he stopped breathing.
The Meriden Police Department immediately turned the case over to the Connecticut State Police and Trooper William Tate said the case is active and he could not discuss details of the investigation.
Graham was also Tasered in 2001 following a five-hour stand-off with Meriden police. In that incident, police had tried non-lethal gas and several other methods, including use of a police dog, but all efforts were ineffective before the Taser was used.
June 6, 2008
Donovan Graham, 39, Meriden, Connecticut
Meriden police say a 39-year-old city man has died after officers responding to a complaint about loud music shot him with a Taser gun when he became combative.
Police say Donovan Graham suffered what they called medical difficulties after officers handcuffed him Friday morning. They say he later died at MidState Medical Center.
State police have been called in to investigate. Officials say four city police officers were involved in the incident on the seventh floor of the Community Towers federal housing complex. Most of the residents there are elderly and disabled.
Police say the Taser gun had no effect on Graham. They say other officers were called to the scene and managed to subdue and handcuff him.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Friday, June 06, 2008
UPDATE - August 12, 2008