Archive for Saturday, September 9, 2006

Family blames officers in stun gun death

Victim’s relatives outraged after 39-year-old died last week in altercation with police

September 9, 2006


— Family members are faulting officers for the death of a southwest Kansas man who is among more than 180 people nationwide to die after being subdued with a stun gun.

Juan Soto Jr., 39, of Liberal, died last week after an altercation with two officers. Both officers have been placed on administrative leave while the Kansas Bureau of Investigation looks into the case.

"We're incensed, we're outraged," said Matt Navarro, the husband of one of Soto's stepdaughters. Eyewitnesses "tell us he did not deserve what happened to him," he said.

Police have said the officers received a report of a suspicious person and found Soto behind a business behaving strangely. A struggle broke out, and one officer used a Taser stun gun on Soto.

Police did not immediately return a call seeking comment Friday about the claims of Soto's family members.

Tonya Bowen-Soto, the widow of Soto, said witnesses told her and other family members that Soto suffered three to five jolts from a stun gun and that as many as five officers were involved in apprehending him.

A preliminary coroner's report indicates Soto had cocaine in his system, though the report does not indicate the amount. The report indicates Soto died of respiratory and cardiac arrest.

Bowen-Soto, a teacher at Garfield Elementary, questioned the use of the stun gun. Because witnesses said Soto was either nude or wearing only a T-shirt, she said there was "no chance of there being a weapon pulled out of a pocket."

"He wasn't violent or anything," Bowen-Soto said, though she acknowledged he had drug problems in the past. "I've never known him to be that way."

Taser International of Scottsdale, Ariz., the largest maker of stun guns, credits the devices with saving thousands of lives because police officers have been able to use the weapon instead of handguns that fire bullets. Tasers deliver a 50,000-volt jolt through two barbed darts that can penetrate clothing.

"Until all the facts surrounding this tragic incident are known, it is inappropriate to jump to conclusions on the cause of death," Steve Tuttle, a company spokesman, said in a written statement. "We believe in the lifesaving value of Taser technology, and we are prepared to help the investigation of this unfortunate incident."

A government study last year found that more than 7,000 of the nation's 18,000 police agencies used Tasers, up from 1,000 in 2001.

Many of those who died were high on drugs, mentally ill or otherwise agitated, according to an Amnesty International report released in March. Many deaths in the past year occurred after victims were hit by Tasers at least three times and, in some cases, for prolonged periods, the report said.

Authorities are trying to determine what role, if any, drugs and the stun gun jolts had in Soto's death.


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