June 17, 2009
Christine Ferretti / The Detroit News
Mount Clemens -- A heart condition most likely aggravated by the use of a Taser caused the death of a Detroit teen shortly after he was shocked by Warren police in April, according to a medical examiner.
The manner of death for 16-year-old Robert Mitchell is listed as "indeterminate" in a 10-page autopsy report signed May 28 by Macomb County Chief Medical Examiner Daniel Spitz. The report was obtained by The Detroit News this morning through the Freedom of Information Act.
But the autopsy, conducted by forensic pathologist Cheryl L. Loewe on April 11, cites a diagnosis of "arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia" or ARVD, a genetic disorder that causes an arrhythmia -- or irregular heartbeat -- in the right ventricle of the heart. The condition is a relatively uncommon cause of sudden cardiac death, but accounts for up to one-fifth of sudden cardiac deaths in people younger than 35, according to Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University, which has an ARVD program.
"The heart condition is the immediate cause of death," Loewe told The Detroit News this morning. "Certainly, we cannot ignore the time relationship when Robert was Tasered and then found unresponsive and went into arrhythmia, coupled with the fact that Taser probes were applied over the chest.
"In a healthy adult, it's unlikely an arrhythmia may have been precipitated by a Taser. This is a unique case because of the underlying heart disease."
Loewe said she performed the autopsy and then went over her findings with Spitz, who signed off on them. Spitz said he was unable to comment when contacted by the News this morning.
Warren Police Commissioner William Dwyer said he cannot comment on the autopsy findings because of a pending lawsuit filed by Mitchell's family against the city. But he stands behind his officer's actions, he said.
"We do support the officer that used the Taser. It was justified, there had been an internal investigation conducted," Dwyer said. "The (Macomb County) prosecutor's office also ruled he's exonerated. The prosecutor agrees with us -- it was justified."
Mitchell's mother, Cora Renea Mitchell, who also picked up the report this morning at the Macomb County Medical Examiner's office, said she's hoping the information will bring answers and closure to her family.
"Today is a new day," she said. "I want to go over it and really see what I find," she said, adding officials have been "giving her the runaround" in obtaining the report: "This is ridiculous."
The Detroit Kettering High School sophomore died April 10 in an abandoned home on Pelkey in Detroit following a half-block foot chase that stemmed from a traffic stop near Eight Mile and Schoenherr.
Police said for unknown reasons, Mitchell bailed out of the Dodge Stratus he was riding in during a traffic stop for an expired license plate. He was stunned one time with a Taser for resisting when officers attempted to pat him down, police said. Shortly afterward, he became unresponsive and died.
The autopsy said Mitchell suffered two Taser probe-related injuries -- above and below the nipple -- on the left side of his chest.
A chemical analysis revealed the presence of marijuana in his system at the time of death, but Loewe said the drugs did not contribute to the teen's death. It could have contributed to his behavior, though, she said.
"To this day, nobody really knows why Robert fled," Loewe said,adding in lab testing it's difficult to determine when someone is actually under the influence: The drug can be detected for days or even weeks after use.
Loewe also said the autopsy didn't reveal any other signs of injury to Mitchell's body.
"There was no additional trauma to his body. There was no type of physical compression on his body or on his chest," she said. "He was never in a choke hold, never hog-tied and basically the only thing we saw were the application of the Taser marks."
Since his death, Mitchell's family members and Detroit-based anti-brutality groups have showed up at Warren City Council meetings, held a peaceful march along the bordering cities and filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of Warren.
"We know the Taser contributed to his demise. We want justice," Mitchell's grandmother, Charlotte McGlory, said this morning. "We want them (police) charged with first-degree murder and prosecuted."
Relatives and their supporters are also urging the city to ban Tasers and rethink its use of force policy. They say they want Mitchell to be a catalyst for change.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
June 17, 2009