Foster youth was Tased five times at Good Samaritan Hospital

Officials say death of George V. King is being investigated

May 19, 2014|By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

A city police officer used his Taser five times to subdue a heavily medicated 19-year-old man who was fighting staff at Good Samaritan Hospital and later died, according to his family's attorney and an account from a law enforcement source.

State social services officials identified the teen Monday as George V. King, a Charles County foster youth living in a Baltimore residential facility. King was in a coma for a week after the altercation, then died May 14.

Police disclosed the incident a day later, saying they had opened a criminal and administrative investigation. Officials say they have not determined what role, if any, the officers' actions played in King's death.

The teen's mother appeared Monday with her attorney, Granville Templeton III, at a rally outside Good Samaritan. Georgette King said her son had been hospitalized overnight for a reaction to medication after a dental procedure. The fight took place the day after hospital staff tried to administer a medical procedure, she said.

Georgette King faulted hospital officials and said police "brutalized" her son.

"He's my only child that God has given me," she said. "Police are supposed to protect and serve, and this is not protect and serve."

Lt. Eric Kowalczyk, a police spokesman, said that while police "clearly had an interaction" with King, investigators were looking at "everything that transpired and trying to put together all of the pieces to see what happened here." He said the autopsy was pending, and the officer who used the Taser remains on duty.

The death comes as city police are moving — at a cost of $1.5 million — to equip the entire force with the electronic stun devices, which proponents credit with saving lives because officers can avoid using lethal firearms.

Critics have pointed to deaths associated with the electronic shock from the devices, and some say officers are too quick to reach for them.

City Councilman Robert Curran attended a meeting Monday between hospital executives, police and members of the faith-based community to discuss the hospital's protocols. He said police couldn't discuss specifics due to the ongoing case.

But standing with King's mother, the Rev. Cortly "C.D." Witherspoon Sr., a Baltimore activist who organized the Monday rally, said police should release more information about what happened.

"There are a lot of assumptions taking place because the Baltimore Police Department has created an environment where there are a lot of unanswered questions," Witherspoon said.

A hospital spokeswoman said she could not comment, citing health privacy laws.

According to an account provided by a law enforcement source, the officers, Thomas Hodas and James Wynne, saw eight to 10 staff members trying to hold down King, who is listed in police records as 5-foot-9 and about 190 pounds.

He broke free, and Hodas instructed him to calm down or risk the Taser when King allegedly said, "Tase me then," according to the source's account. Hodas used the device, but King continued to fight.

Officers and staff were able to get him onto a gurney but could not secure restraints, according to the account.

Hodas then used the device four times in "drive-stun" mode — in which the device is thrust into a person's body instead of prongs being fired from a distance. It still had no effect, according to the source.

At that point, the teen was given a sedative, eventually passed out and was restrained. Before the officers arrived, King had been given a drug called Keppra to combat other drugs in his system and police believed it caused him to become violent, according to the source's account.

King had not been arrested and was not in police custody during or after the struggle with officers.

The Baltimore Police Department's Taser guidelines do not offer specific instruction on use of the device beyond saying that "any deployment must be reasonable and necessary" and that the agency forbids "unwarranted and excessive use."

Taser International, in its own guidelines, generally does not recommend using the device more than once on a subject, and says it should be "avoided unless the officer reasonably believes that the need to control the individual outweighs the potentially increased risk posed by multiple applications."

It also says that people suffering from "profound agitation" and drug intoxication are more susceptible to death or serious injury.

King had been arrested three times in the past year, court records show. In December, police said, he got into a fight over someone borrowing his clothes without permission at a group home where he was staying.

In court documents, the arresting officer wrote that King was "very cooperative with police" and was arrested without incident. Those charges were later dropped.

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