March 30, 2007
Deaths Due to Drug use Cocaine Delirium Cited in Taser, Highway Fatal
APPLETON, WI - A 42-year-old Menasha man who died last fall hours after police shot him with an electric stun gun died from the effects of cocaine intoxication, Winnebago County Coroner Barry Busby ruled. Busby's ruling of death by excited delirium syndrome ends the case of Marcus Roach-Burruss, who died last Sept. 17, about 13 hours after he was hit by a Taser after causing a disturbance at Wal-Mart in Neenah. Busby also ruled recently that Fernando Alonso Maldonado Sr., 26, who died after he was struck by a car July 31 along State 441, died from excited delirium, and not from injuries he suffered in the crash.
Excited delirium syndrome occurs when the heart races wildly from an abundance of adrenaline, and finally gives out. It is often associated with drug use, and often occurs in cases where police use stun guns or restrain suspects. Groups such as Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union are critical of the use of electric stun guns and the diagnosis of excited delirium. They say there is no independent research to show the Tasers are safe, especially on older men, people with heart conditions or people under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and said stun guns should be used only as part of a defined continuum of force.
Some departments now use Tasers as an alternative to guns, while others use it as an alternative to pepper spray or other tactics. Busby did not release the exact amounts of cocaine found in the men's systems, but said "they both had enough to cause a problem." Police said Maldonado parked his car along 441 about 10:20 p.m. that night and was struck by a slow-moving car driven by a 31-year-old Appleton man who was going around the stopped vehicle. Busby said those injuries didn't cause the death.
"It wasn't significant injuries," he said. "The paramedics got there and he died at the hospital from the cocaine." In the Roach-Burruss case, police shot him with a Taser after he caused a disturbance and attacked three employees at the Wal-Mart on a Sunday morning. Neenah police had called an ambulance to the scene before they confronted Roach-Burruss, and followed protocol in the case, Busby and Neenah Police Chief Ray Appel said. "The police didn't do anything wrong," Busby said. "These guys (with the cocaine use) put themselves in that position. They are actually burning up inside. "Police acted in defense of protecting citizens, themselves and the decedent." Busby's reports were released to The Post-Crescent Thursday after Neenah police and the Winnebago County Sheriff's Department and district attorney's office completed investigations into the incidents.
Appel said the officers involved previously had been cleared of any wrongdoing by a use of force review. He said store video security cameras supported their actions. "This was one where they followed protocol to a "t." We did everything we could," he said of officers' attempts to subdue the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Roach-Burrus. "Using the Taser was unfortunately the only thing we could do." Representatives of Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union, which have been critical of Taser use and deaths, did not respond to requests for comment Thursday afternoon.
Mark Kohl, unified tactical training instructor in the Criminal Justice Department at Fox Valley Technical College, estimated 80 percent of Fox Valley law enforcement agencies are using Tasers. FVTC training for Taser certification has been increased from four hours to eight, and the training uses more simulation and more practical exercises than standard courses.Officers are being taught how to handle a call with a subject experiencing excited delirium, he said. Those calls, he said, combine a medical emergency with a police incident. "The bottom line is you have to quickly end it or this guy is probably going to die in custody," Kohl said. "Death is probably imminent."
Appleton police Lt. Dave Nickels, who teaches officers about excited delirium and other issues with less-lethal weapons, compared the syndrome with an overload of adrenaline to putting your car in park and putting the accelerator to the floor. "That engine can't keep running at full throttle unless they get that treatment to make it stop," he said. "Under normal circumstances the human body has the ability to dump that or reverse it. "By the time the bizarre behavior occurs they are a long way into the medical crisis and the dominoes are already falling."
But training of officers, dispatchers and emergency medical personnel in the Fox Valley puts the area ahead of much of the rest of the country in identifying and treating the syndrome, Nickels said. "In this region we are so far ahead of where the rest of the country is as far as recognizing it and training for it."Taser use also is being added to the defensive tactics curriculum by the state, Kohl added. He also said Wisconsin training through the state law enforcement standards board is ahead of many other states. Kohl said Tasers allow officers to control out of control behavior and reduce injuries to officers and suspects. That has been shown in studies from Madison, Green Bay and Appleton, he said. "It's like we are trained to control people who are out of control and the reason we have to do it quickly instead of just waiting is because of the medical emergency," Kohl said. "If we don't get him controlled right away, he will die."