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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Report: taser one of 3 factors in man's death

October 23, 2008
By Janice Morse, Cincinnati.com

A ruling has been issued in the case of an intoxicated man who died days after Oxford police used a Taser to subdue him. In a report released today, Hamilton County Coroner O'dell Owens' office said the manner of death for Kevin Piskura, 24, was "undetermined," meaning investigators have not classified his April 24 death as homicide, suicide, accidental or natural.

However, the report lists three factors that contributed to Piskura's death: a heart rhythm problem that deprived his brain of oxygen; acute alcohol intoxication and recent physical exertion; and "recent history of application of conductive electrical device," apparently referring to the Taser.

Piskura, a resident of Chicago and a Miami University graduate, was visiting Oxford. After he was Tased, Piskura was taken to McCullough-Hyde Memorial Hospital in Oxford, and then to University Hospital in Cincinnati, where he died.

It's unclear from the report whether any of the factors played a bigger role than the others. Owens could not immediately be reached to answer questions.

The Enquirer previously reported that Piskura's blood-alcohol level was 0.319, a near-fatal level, when a police officer zapped him with a Taser during a struggle outside an Oxford bar on April 19.

Officials said Piskura was fighting with bouncers and police at the time. A probe by the Butler County Sheriff's Office concluded earlier this year that Oxford Police Officer Geoff Robinson did not use excessive force or violate police procedures when he used the Taser on Piskura.

In a document the Enquirer obtained today, Butler County Prosecutor Robin Piper concluded that any question as to whether Officer Robinson would face criminal charges was moot because the officer's actions complied with department policy and were reasonable.

Piper's report, dated Oct. 7, also recounts previously unreported details about the incident. The report was written after his staff reviewed surveillance videos, the video produced by the Taser itself, witness statements and other records.

Around 2 a.m., Brick Street Bar bouncers were escorting Piskura out of the bar. When Piskura's friend, Steven Smith, attempted to intervene, bouncers escorted him outside, too. Smith and the Brick Street staff began fighting.

Patrolman Robinson "happened upon the situation while on routine bicycle patrol...he immediately dismounted and attempted to intervene to quell the disturbance." Robinson said he yelled to get the group to stop fighting. But Piskura "entered the fray, disregarding Robinson's presence and verbal commands. Robinson then increased his use of force by trying to physically push Piskura away from the others. At that moment, Patrolman Robinson faced the dilemma of single-handledly responding to what was now two groups of men fighting. Patrolman Robinson stepped back and warned the group to stop fighting or the Taser would be deployed."

Brick Street staff and Smith ceased fighting. But "the heavily intoxicated Piskura continued to fight with two Brick Street employees."

Smith had told investigators that Piskura was "out of his mind, blackout drunk," and later tests on Piskura at McCullough-Hyde Memorial Hospital showed Piskura's blood-alcohol level was more than quadruple Ohio's legal limit for driving.

In accordance with Oxford police procedure, Robinson yelled: "Taser! Taser! Taser!" Then he deployed the Taser on Piskura's torso.

"The few witnesses that contradict Patrolman Robinson's statement do so in ways that are not credible, given the evidence," the report states. "For example, some witnesses reported either seeing firsthand or hearing secondhand that Kevin Piskura had been Tased anywhere from three times to as many as six times. This is demonstrably false, as clearly illustrated by the video from the Taser's on-board camera and the firings report from the manufacturer, Taser International. Both pieces of evidence indicate a single activation of hte Taser, for approximately 11 seconds."

The Taser's camera showed Piskura "on the ground, rolling over several times during deployment -- a possible sign of the Taser's less-than-full effect."

"Another witness alleged that Kevin Piskura was (Tased) in the back as he was trying to crawl away from the scene. This allegation is conclusively contradicted by the majority of other witness statements. Additionally, Patrolman Robinson's sergeant observed the marks from the Taser's probes on Piskura's chest."

Reports from McCullough-Hyde hospital and the Hamilton County Coroner's Office also confirm the Taser's barbs left marks on Piskura's chest. "The Taser was not deployed to Piskura's back and was not deployed more than once," the report states.

By shouting, then pushing, then deploying the Taser, Patrolman Robinson "followed the preferred course of action even though the (Oxford police department's) policy allowed him to skip the use of lower levels of force if the circumstances render their use not 'feasible.'" Therefore, Piper concluded, Robinson complied with department policies and questions of possible criminal charges against him were rendered moot.


Anonymous said...

so the coroner still doesn't know, right

Anonymous said...

How come you don't post any of the other 200 or so coroners reports? It would be nice to see any patterns if possible, and answer the questions.