Ill. mom settles suit over son's stun gun death
By Jim Suhr
EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. — The mother of a teenager who died after being shocked with a stun gun during a 2006 confrontation with police in a southwestern Illinois community has settled her wrongful-death lawsuit, still outraged the officers likely won't be charged.
Rita Cummings on Sunday confirmed that the recent settlement with the city of Jerseyville, Ill., involved a monetary payout in the death of her only child, Roger Holyfield. But the mother, in a telephone interview from her home in Dow, Ill., declined to be more specific.
Messages left Sunday with Jerseyville Police Chief Brad Blackorby were not immediately returned.
Holyfield was 17 on Oct. 28, 2006, when officers in Jerseyville, a community of about 8,000 roughly 50 miles from St. Louis, shocked the Dow teenager at least twice with the stun gun. Officers say the teen turned combative after they approached him while he was carrying a Bible and a cordless telephone and shouting "I want Jesus."
Police have said Holyfield would not acknowledge the officers who tried to calm him, then became combative and was shot with a stun gun -- once after ignoring their warnings, then again when he continued struggling.
Cummings, 40, said her son died at the scene, but emergency workers at the local hospital managed to restart his heart. Holyfield was declared dead the next day at a St. Louis hospital.
A special prosecutor appointed to review the matter later found that two Jerseyville police officers involved in the confrontation were not criminally responsible for Holyfield's death. Chuck Colburn ruled that the officers "acted in a manner that they had been taught was a safe way to use the instrument," and that they did not possess the mental state or recklessness to be held criminally responsible.
Colburn cited the findings of Dr. Phillip Burch, a St. Louis pathologist who ruled Holyfield may have died as a result of an agitated mental state called "excited delirium" that some say can send the heart racing until it quits. The teen had no drugs in his system and died of "natural causes," Burch said.
Colburn wrote that Burch said Holyfield was more susceptible to "excited delirium" because of his well-documented history of mental illness.
"This unfortunate situation began with a common police-citizen encounter and evolved into a tragedy," Colburn wrote.
The city of Jerseyville has said Burch's findings exonerate the policemen who handled Holyfield, and that the two officers followed established policy and procedures regarding the use of force and the stun gun.
Cummings isn't buying that, insisting Sunday that the officers "won't have to stand up and take blame" and shocked her son with the stun gun even after he was handcuffed and face down.
"If things would not have happened that night, Roger would still be alive. He would not have died on his own," she said, still angry that the officers who confronted her son "haven't admitted any wrongdoing" and have eluded charges.
"I don't feel that justice has been served," she said. Charges "will never happen, so they get to get on with their lives like nothing. And I, every day, think about my son, and I'm without him because of them."
She said she settled the lawsuit to end the legal wrangling that "took a toll on me mentally and physically."
"I need to be able to move forward with my life and get some peace of mind," she said.
- Less Lethal