Man dies after hit from stun gun

Bipolar man refused to drop bat, Baltimore County police say

March 18, 2007|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,Sun reporter

Family says excessive force by police killed bipolar man A mentally ill Middle River man died Friday night after police, responding to a domestic violence call, fired on him with a Taser stun gun, officials said yesterday.

Ryan Lee Meyers, 40, of the 4000 block of Keeners Road, was shot with the weapon after he refused police orders to drop a baseball bat, authorities said.

Meyers briefly continued fighting after being stunned but then went into cardiac arrest, according to Baltimore County police. He was pronounced dead at Franklin Square Hospital Center, six miles away from his home. An autopsy was scheduled to take place yesterday. No results were available last night.

It was the first local death in recent memory caused by a Taser - a device that is being deployed in greater numbers by police around the region as a safer alternative to traditional guns.

Meyers' father and brother, who witnessed the incident, said police used excessive force in firing the Taser. They also said police refused to release an unconscious Meyers from handcuffs.

"They killed my brother," said William Meyers Jr. yesterday. After being stunned once, Ryan Meyers cried out, "'I give up, I give up,'" said the victim's brother, "and then you could hear him screaming again like [police] stunned him again, and then four or five of them jumped on top of him."

Meyers, who lived with his parents, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he was 15, said his mother, Anna Meyers.

Though he took mood-regulating and antipsychotic medications, Meyers still experienced sometimes-violent manic episodes every two or three years, his mother said. Friday night's outburst was her son's worst, she said.

Anna Meyers said she first noticed a change in Meyers' behavior early Friday. "All day, he kept coming over to me and asked me if I loved him," she said. "I don't know what was going on in his mind. He didn't get violent until his father came from work."

About 10:30 p.m., Meyers' father and older brother - both named William - returned home from their jobs at a nearby liquor store, his mother said. Then Ryan Meyers "flipped out," she said.

Meyers tried to block his father from entering the house, his mother said. When she tried to open the door, Meyers dragged her away and pushed her across the room. That's when Meyers' brother, who came in through a different door, confronted the agitated man physically, Anna Meyers said.

Ryan Meyers then ran into the kitchen and retrieved a large meat fork, which he started waving around, his mother said. He also picked up a baseball bat and started swinging, said William Jr., his brother.

Alarmed, all three relatives went onto the front porch. Meyers locked the door behind them, they said. The mother called 911.

It was not the first time she has had to call police when her son was behaving violently, she said.

At that point, Anna Meyers said, she walked to her daughter's house nearby, leaving her 83-year-old husband and eldest son to wait for police.

Police said Ryan Meyers continued to brandish the baseball bat when they entered; William Meyers Sr. said the bat was already on the ground.

Police said two officers entered the house and confronted Meyers, eventually stunning him with the Taser; William Jr. said "four or five" officers jumped on his brother after the shock had incapacitated him.

Once he was handcuffed, Meyers was dragged facedown from the dining room to the living room, already unconscious, said William Jr.

At some point, paramedics were called.

William Sr. asked police to release his son from handcuffs "because he wasn't breathing," said William Jr.

But the officer said, "'No, leave him like that because we don't want to have to [stun] him again when he comes to,'" said William Jr.

Police officials declined to address the family's allegations. "All of this will be reviewed, but right now we have no reason to doubt the police officers' story," said Bill Toohey, a department spokesman.

According to the police account, officers noticed Meyers went into cardiac arrest "as medics were arriving."

The officer who fired the weapon has been placed on routine administrative leave pending the outcome of a homicide investigation, Toohey said.

The hand-held Taser can deliver a 50,000-volt shock. When fired, two prongs attached to thin wires shoot out from the weapon and penetrate the skin. An officer can then deliver a shock designed to incapacitate a person for several seconds.

"The advantage is you can bring order to a situation with less lethal force," Toohey said.

But critics of the device say it can be unsafe. A 2006 Amnesty International USA report said that more than 150 people nationwide had died since 2001 after being shocked with stun guns.

Toohey said Baltimore County police have used the Taser weapon about 40 times in the past year without a major incident. The department is planning to expand its use of the device, he said.

This month, the Howard County Council authorized the Police Department there to acquire and use the Taser.

Anna Meyers said she was holding up "pretty good" yesterday, though her grief was compounded by recent chemotherapy treatments. The 72-year-old woman was diagnosed with aggressive lymphoma six weeks ago, she said.

She will remember her troubled son, who did not have a job and has always lived with his parents, for the good days.

"He liked to go out in the yard and garden and plant flowers," she said. "He helped me in the house doing a lot of stuff. He was constantly saying that he loved me."

gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

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