ALAA Roots — An Unofficial Site

September 25, 2008

2008.09.25: Police Abuse: Brooklyn Man Dies After Police Use a Taser Gun

Filed under: Civil Rights,Criminal Justice,Police Abuse,Racism — nyclaw01 @ 9:24 am

From:  Letwin, Michael
Sent: Thursday, September 25, 2008 9:24 AM
To: 1199 Members; ALAA MEMBERS
Subject: Police Abuse: Brooklyn Man Dies After Police Use a Taser Gun

September 25, 2008
Brooklyn Man Dies After Police Use a Taser Gun

A naked and apparently emotionally disturbed man fell to his death from a building ledge in Brooklyn on Wednesday after an officer shot him with a Taser stun gun, the police said. The police and witnesses said he had been yelling at passers-by and swinging a long light bulb tube at officers before he fell.

The man, identified by the police as Inman Morales, 35, was taken to Kings County Hospital Center with serious head trauma after falling about 10 feet to the ground, witnesses said. He was later pronounced dead, officials said.

Mr. Morales’s death on Wednesday afternoon was another episode in the controversial history of Taser use in the city.
While Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly has looked cautiously on the use of stun gun technology by the Police Department, he recently said he was open to broadening the use of the weapons after a city-commissioned study on police shooting habits urged the department to consider using Tasers more frequently instead of deadly force when applicable.

A video taken by a witness and posted on the Web site of The New York Post shows Mr. Morales naked on the ledge, waving the filament tube over the heads of officers as onlookers screamed, an eerie soundtrack to what soon followed.

“It was a dead man’s fall,” said a witness, Charlene Gordon, the property manager for the four-story brown-brick building at 489 Tompkins Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, where Mr. Morales rented a third-floor apartment.

Ms. Gordon said that another tenant in the building told her that she had heard Mr. Morales screaming in his apartment, and then saw him in the hall acting strangely. Ms. Gordon talked to his mother during the standoff, and she told Ms. Gordon that she had not seen her son in a couple of days. She also said he had stopped taking his medication, Ms. Gordon said.

Mr. Morales’s mother went to the building, where she found her son out of control, witnesses said. About 3 p.m., she called 911.

Officers with the Emergency Service Unit who arrived at the building were soon chasing Mr. Morales through his apartment, out a window and onto a fire escape. By then he had ripped a long light bulb from a ceiling fixture and was jabbing it at the pursuing officers, the police said.

He then jumped from the fire escape onto the narrow housing of a rolled-up security gate over the storefront on the ground floor of the building, the police said. Mr. Morales again swung the long tube, hitting an officer on the head, the police said.

“He was naked and he kept screaming,” said Joseph Adrien, who works at a nearby dry cleaners. Another witness said Mr. Morales’s mother was kept off to the side, pleading with the police to let her calm her son’s nerves, but being told repeatedly that it was now a police matter.

For about 30 minutes, Mr. Morales yelled that he did not want anyone touching him, and the police yelled back that they wanted him to come down, witnesses said. Then, an officer approached the man on his perch and fired the Taser at him.

Ms. Gordon said that Mr. Morales had lived in the building for about three years. She described him as quiet and neat. He had previously worked in the financial industry, but had been receiving rent subsidies, she said.

Community activists held a news conference after Mr. Morales’s death, urging neighbors not to prejudge the police and urging the authorities to fully investigate.

City Councilman Peter F. Vallone Jr., chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said in a telephone interview that the situation could have been handled better by the police.

“My first take is that while I’m sure there are no experts out there on how to handle a crazy naked man with a weapon on top of a ledge, I’m also sure this wasn’t the right way, ” Mr. Vallone said on Wednesday evening.

“A situation like that is never going to end in a good way,” Mr. Vallone said after watching the video. “The most important thing is that no innocent bystanders or police got hurt. But clearly, it could have been handled better.”

Mr. Vallone said a public hearing on the department’s use of Tasers might be needed to fine-tune its policy on using them.

The use of Tasers in New York has a troubled history. In the early 1980s, the police were condemned for using them to force drug suspects to confess. Mr. Kelly, then a deputy inspector, was assigned to reform the police practices.

The study on police shootings, which urged the department to consider expanding its use of Tasers, was conducted by the RAND Corporation and commissioned seven weeks after the shooting of Sean Bell, who died in a hail of 50 police bullets in Queens on his wedding day in November 2006.

The chief spokesman for the Police Department, Paul J. Browne, said Mr. Morales’s death was under investigation. Department guidelines say an officer may use a Taser if an emotionally disturbed person is a danger to himself or to others. Emergency service units may use it in an emergency without direction, or, as on Wednesday, at the direction of an emergency unit supervisor on the scene, Mr. Browne said.

Currently, emergency service unit officers use the Taser about 300 times a year, mainly when responding to some of the 80,000 calls regarding emotionally disturbed people, officials said.

The handgun-shaped device, which incapacitates a target with a pulsating electrical current and is meant to be an alternative to deadly force, got a higher profile in the department in June when Mr. Kelly announced that Tasers would also be used by sergeants on patrol, who would carry them on their belts instead of keeping them in the trunk of their cars.

Mr. Browne said that officers responding to a situation in which someone is threatening to jump from a building or other high structure will routinely request an inflatable bag to help break the jumper’s fall. But he said that Mr. Morales was only about 10 feet from the sidewalk, and that it was unclear whether a bag had been requested but had not made it to the scene on time, or whether it had not been requested at all. Mr. Browne said the matter would be explored as part of the investigation.

“His mother called 911,” said Sharonnie Perry, a community advocate who lives down the street. “She called for assistance and the assistance she got was her son being killed.”

Karen Zraick contributed reporting.

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