Chief defends stun gun use following suspect's death

Cincinnati PD Taser death and perspective (VIDEO)
Shell gas station (FOX19 NOW/Mike Buckingham)
Shell gas station (FOX19 NOW/Mike Buckingham)
James Carney III (Source: Hamilton County Jail)
James Carney III (Source: Hamilton County Jail)

OVER-THE-RHINE, OH (FOX19 NOW) - A robbery suspect died after Cincinnati police subdued him with a Taser stun gun on Monday.

Officers twice deployed the stun gun on James Carney III, 48, as he attacked a woman at the Shell gas station at Liberty and Walnut streets around 10 p.m.

At a press conference Tuesday, Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell said the officers were brave and justified in their response.

Responding officers witnessed Carney leaning through the driver's side window trying to take money the victim had withdrawn from the ATM, Blackwell said.

The victim told police that Carney bit and choked her as she screamed for help.

After ignoring verbal warnings, officers deployed the stun gun. He continued to "actively assault" the victim and was tased a second time, Blackwell said. Carney fell unconscious between the car and ATM machine.

Police had to lift the vehicle to get to Carney and perform chest compressions before medics arrived.

He was taken to University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

Police are still investigating. They said they are not sure if Carney had a pre-existing condition that contributed to his death or where exactly on his body the Taser barbs struck. At this point, Blackwell said the barbs did not appear to strike Carney's chest.

The chief said Carney's erratic behavior suggests narcotic may have been a factor. The Hamilton County Coroner will determine the official cause of death and if drugs were present in Carney's system.

"Historically, drug induced delirium and excited responses from people who are under the influence of drugs have often made the tasers ineffective," said Blackwell.

Carney has a lengthy criminal record with cases dating back to 1985, records show.

Cincinnati police changed their Taser policy in recent years to prohibit officers from firing shots at the front of a suspect unless it is self-defense or defense of another person.

"We believe that the officers conducted themselves in according with training, rules and policies of the department. They acted bravely in this incident," said Blackwell.

Police said the victim was "shaken up" by the incident but was not seriously injured.

The use of stun guns by Cincinnati Police has decreased in the past two years.

This is the first time a suspect has died after being Tased by Cincinnati police, said FOX19 NOW legal analyst Mike Allen, who also is Hamilton County's former prosecutor.

"I think it's a situation where the police are damned if they do and damned if they don't," he said. "In this situation, if the officer had used a service weapon he would have been criticized and he chose what what supposed to be non-lethal force through the Taser and I am sure he will be criticized for that as well. It sure sounds to me like an appropriate use of the Taser with an unfortunate result. What happens a lot of times if they will find the (suspect) had some previous pre-existing condition or ingested some type of drugs and we just don't know for a while."

The officer is placed on paid administrative leave, as customary with police-involved deaths.

According to CPD procedures, "the TASER should never be aimed at an individual's head, neck, eyes, throat, chest/breast, or genitals," the agency's procedural manual states. "The preferred target area is the back of the individual actively resisting arrest. The TASER should never be deployed on an individual operating a moving vehicle."

"In rare circumstances, there have been medical concerns raised about TASER barbs deployed to the chest region causing sudden cardiac arrest," the manual continues. "According to the manufacturer of the TASER, the aforementioned preferred target areas increase the distance of the dart-to-heart safety margin. When deployed in the drive stun mode, the neck and groin are acceptable targets."

Cincinnati police began carrying Tasers in 2004 after the 2003 death of Nathaniel Jones in police custody and have changed their policy concerning the devices at least once since then due to concerns over the "non-lethal" devices contributing to death.

Jones, 41, was violently struggling with officers when his heart stopped. He had cocaine, PCP and methanol in his system.

Tasers administer 50,000 volts that usually temporarily immobilize a person's muscles so police can gain control of the suspect.

The Taser can be fired from about 15-20 feet away; wires are attached to barbs that pierce a person's skin. That distance helps keep officers safe, law enforcement experts maintain.

But critics have argued for years that Tasers are not as "non-lethal" as they were first touted to be.

Since 2001, at least more than 500 people have died following Taser stuns, according to Amnesty International, which said in 2012 stricter guidelines for Tasers were "imperative." But only in a few dozen cases have medical examiners ruled that Tasers contributed to deaths. In some cases, other factors such as drug use and prior medical conditions, also were factors.

A 2012 article published in the American Heart Association's premier journal "Circulation," Tasers with cardiac arrest and death.

In Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, at least six have died in recent years after being shocked by a stun gun, including Everette Howard, 18.

He died in Aug. 6, 2011, after a University of Cincinnati police officer Tased him when they responded to a report of fights outside a dorm. After he was Tased, he went into cardiac arrest while being attended to by medics.

A coroner' s investigation could not determine his cause of death, but after his parents sued, UC police stopped using Tasers and paid the family $2 million.

The university also had to create a memorial for the student, provide free tuition to his siblings and send a letter to his family expressing regret over the incident.

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