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Coroner: Taser Wasn't a Factor in Sacramento, CA Man's Death

By Christina Jewett, Sacramento Bee

A coroner's report released this month found no connection between the death of Ronnie Pino in the Sacramento County Main Jail and a Taser police used to subdue him.

Pino, 31, was shot twice Dec. 23 with a Taser by Sacramento police 17 hours before he was found dead in the jail. He was the third man in Sacramento County since August 2003 to die within hours of being shot by a Taser.

"It's too hard to accept," said his mother, Marjorie Pino. "I have to get someone higher - some doctor to really look over (the coroner's report) and make it definite whether the Taser killed him."

Ronnie Pino had a nerve stimulator implanted near his heart, and his mother questions whether two 5-second, 50,000-volt hits from a Taser may have contributed to her son's death.

The coroner's report lists Pino's main cause of death as "sudden unexpected death syndrome."

A growing coalition of California legislators, advocacy groups and police departments is questioning the Taser's use and calling for more detailed studies of its effects.

Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, is the author of legislation calling for more tracking of stun gun use. The bill passed one legislative hurdle April 5 - it was approved by the Assembly Public Safety Committee. It will go next before the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

"They can't honestly or with substantiation say this is safe," Leno said.

Steve Tuttle, Taser International spokesman, maintains that the stun gun - which was approved for use in Britain this month - poses no greater risk than taking Tylenol.

"We stand behind the safety of our technology," Tuttle said. "Medical science and research shows that the Taser is a safe alternative to use of force, especially compared to night sticks, pepper spray and canines."

Sacramento County Deputy Coroner Ed Smith said Taser use has not been linked to any of the three local deaths of men who were shocked.

"You're looking for physical evidence, evidence of something that affects this person's heart," Smith said. "If there is some interruption of the heart rhythm, you're not going to see it."

Pino had crashed through a window at a Sacramento mental health facility before he was hit with the Taser stun gun. Death reports on the other two men, Gordon B. Rauch, 38, and Ricardo Zaragoza, 40, list sudden cardiac arrest during a struggle as the primary cause, and both also list "excited delirium" as a secondary cause. The condition has been used to describe the state of five people who died in struggles with police or deputies within the last five years - but were not shot with a Taser gun, according to coroner's reports.

"Why they are so effective, you're able to neutralize a situation quickly," said Sacramento Police Sgt. Justin Risley. "We find that to be safer for everyone involved - officer and suspect."

About the writer: The Bee's Christina Jewett can be reached at (916) 321-1201 or cjewett@sacbee.com.

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