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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Taser use within procedure

Derrick Jones, 17, Martinsville, Virginia

January 11, 2009
Martinsville Bulletin

A Martinsville police officer’s use of a Taser while trying to subdue a teen on Thursday was within the department’s procedure for using Tasers, according to city Police Chief Mike Rogers.

Tasers are electronic control devices and are considered non-lethal, according to Rogers and online information.

“The Taser may be used only when necessary to overcome actual or threatened physical resistance encountered in the discharge of an official duty where it is reasonably believed that the use of a less obtrusive method would either allow the individual to escape, or would expose the officer or others to physical injury,” the police department’s “Use of Force” policy states.

The 17-year-old teen, who Rogers would not identify because of his age, became unresponsive after the Taser was deployed. Rogers said efforts to resuscitate him failed, and he was pronounced dead at Memorial Hospital in Martinsville.

"The officer was well within the guidelines of our policy when he used the Taser," Rogers said.

An autopsy is being conducted to determine the teen's cause of death, authorities said. Preliminary results of the autopsy may be completed by Monday, according to Sgt. Bob Carpentieri of the Virginia State Police, which is handling the investigation.

However, Carpentieri said the findings may not be released to the public until the investigation is completed.

“I cannot put into words how much I hated to hear of this young man’s death,” Rogers said at a Friday press conference. “Meeting with this man’s mother” to tell her about the incident “was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do during my career” in law enforcement.

Rogers said he assured the teen’s mother that he is confident the investigation and autopsy “would provide us with an explanation for why her son died.”

In the meantime, “I would ask our citizens to withhold any judgment concerning the actions of our department or the actions of this young man until the investigation has been completed and all of the facts and details concerning the case are known,” Rogers added.

A 15-year-old was charged with disorderly conduct in connection with the incident that began after two 911 calls summoned police to Rives Road, Rogers said. Neither that juvenile nor the victim are being identified by police because of their ages.

The first call was received by the dispatch center at 9:25 p.m. Thursday when a passerby reported “a subject standing in the middle of Rives Road using the bathroom,” Rogers said.

The second call, at 9:26 p.m., reported that “two male subjects were in the road yelling or fighting with each other,” the chief said.

Martinsville Officer R.L. Wray arrived at 307 Rives Road, a two-story duplex apartment, at 9:30 p.m., according to a news release.

Wray saw a white male enter the apartment on the right side of the building and “run up the stairway inside the home,” according to Rogers and a release.

The front door of the house was standing open and the officer noticed signs of a forced entry, Rogers said. Blood also was visible on an interior wall of the home, he added, and the officer thought a home invasion was in progress. No explanation for the blood was given Friday.

“While giving commands for the white male subject to come down the steps, the officer could hear what sounded like someone striking something in the ground level back room of the duplex, which was later determined to be the kitchen,” Rogers said of what he described as a “small apartment.”

After entering the home, the officer asked the subject in the back room to come out so he could speak with him, according to a release.

A black male came out of the kitchen and “and moved rapidly toward” Wray “in an offensive stance,” according to a release. Rogers said the subject also made comments that were “not too kind” to the officer. He did not elaborate on those comments. The officer deployed his Taser on the male, who was subdued on the floor and handcuffed, according to Rogers and a release.

With one suspect in custody, Wray was briefly confronted by the other male who by then was on the porch, according to a release. That person was ordered to lie down and he “eventually complied” with the officer’s commands, police said.

After handcuffing the second male, Wray returned to the black male and found him unresponsive, according to a release.

“At that time the officer removed the handcuffs and immediately called for rescue, and the officer began giving the person CPR,” Rogers said.

When they arrived at the scene, Martinsville Fire & EMS crews treated the juvenile and then transported him to Memorial Hospital in Martinsville, where he was pronounced dead, Rogers said.

Following protocol, Rogers said that when he learned of the incident, city officers secured the scene and “I immediately called the Virginia State Police in to investigate this case. This is standard procedure among nearly all law enforcement agencies, and it assures the family and public that a fair and impartial investigation is being conducted.”

Rogers said several witnesses told police that just before the officer arrived, the victim was sitting, and at one point lying down, in the middle of Rives Road. He was not wearing shoes or a shirt, and at least two people yelled at him to get out of the road, Rogers added.

“We would very much like to talk to all of the young people who were trying to get him to get up out of the road” as well as anyone else who has information on this incident or anyone who was involved in it, Rogers said.

Wray, who has been on the police force for two years, was placed on paid administrative leave, which is standard procedure, Rogers said.

Representatives from the state police have told Rogers the investigation may continue for one to two weeks, he said.

Autopsies conducted on people who died after being subdued by Tasers revealed complications from drugs, alcohol or pre-existing medical conditions, Rogers said Taser autopsy reports have shown.

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