Taser is not ruled out

Medical examiner says jolt may be factor in death

June 01, 2007|By Julie Scharper | Julie Scharper,SUN REPORTER

The chief state medical examiner said yesterday that he is unable to rule out the possibility that a jolt from a Taser stun gun contributed to the death of a Baltimore County man two months ago.

Ryan Lee Meyers, 40, died March 18 after a county police officer stunned him with the weapon. Meyers is one of four people in Maryland to die this year after officers fired a Taser, which is often praised as a safer way for police to subdue a violent person.

"I cannot absolutely exclude the Taser from having some effect," said Dr. David Fowler, the medical examiner. "I have more evidence against the Taser having an effect than it having an effect."

Meyers died from cardiac arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat, caused by an enlarged heart and "complicated by agitated behavior in association with police restraint," Fowler said, a condition which is often called "excited delirium."

His family has said that the police used excessive force.

"I called for help and, to me, they killed him," his mother, Anna Meyers, 72, said yesterday after being informed of the medical examiner's findings.

On the night he died, Meyers, who had manic-depressive disorder and lived with his parents, flew into a rage. His parents and older brother left the house and called 911, as they had when he had suffered other violent manic episodes.

Police have said that Meyers was brandishing a baseball bat when they arrived; his father has said that the bat was on the ground. His brother has said that he believes that police stunned Meyers twice.

Tasers send an electrical jolt as strong as 50,000 volts through a person's body, causing a loss of neuromuscular control. Along with pepper spray and a beanbag gun, it is a "less than lethal" manner of controlling a person, said Cpl. Michael Hill, a police spokesman.

The Police Department does not plan to change its Taser policy and is buying 20 more weapons, Hill said. He refused to comment on Meyers' death because of "pending litigation."

Anna Meyers said the family has not decided whether to file a lawsuit against the Police Department.

In April, a 41-year-old woman died after a Baltimore police officer shot her with a stun gun after she assaulted them during a drug investigation, according to city police. Less than a month later, a 31-year-old man who was acting erratically in Baltimore was stunned by city police and died within an hour. On Saturday, a man died in Prince George's County after police used a Taser on him.

Human rights groups have expressed concerns about the weapon, which has become increasingly popular with law enforcement officials. According to Amnesty International, more than 250 deaths have been associated with the Taser since 2001, although some medical examiners have disputed those findings.

"Excited delirium," which can be brought on by drug use or mental illness, is often cited as a contributing factor in the deaths of those who have been stunned by Tasers, said John C. Hunsaker III, chairman of the National Association of Medical Examiners.

Vincent J.M. Di Maio, who, with his wife, wrote a book on excited delirium, noted that a Taser shot can often be the most effective way to subdue someone who might otherwise harm himself or others.

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

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