Just Another Guy with Opinions

Another Taser Death

Posted by shadmia on September 26, 2008

Iman Morales, 35, is dead after falling 10ft headfirst onto the sidewalk in front of his Brooklyn home. This was no accident. He was tasered by a police officer, under orders from lieutenant Michael Pigott, a 21-year veteran of the force. The officer, a 10-year veteran of the force, who fired the taser, which can deliver a five-second jolt of 50,000 volts of electricity through two wires, has not been identified.

When they Tasered him, he froze and pitched forward. He fell on his head,” said witness Ernestine Croom, 40. “They didn’t put out a mattress or a net or anything.”

“They didn’t try to brace his fall. They did nothing. I’ve seen a lot of things in my time. But what they did was wrong,” said neighbor Kirk Giddens, 39, a mental health worker.

According to neighbors Morales, who was emotionally disturbed, had “freaked out” earlier in the day, and his mother called the police at 1:52 p.m., saying he was threatening to hurt himself and had stopped taking his medication. An Emergency Service Unit (ESU) police truck showed up around 2:05p.m. at Morales’ third-floor apartment at 489 Tompkins Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.

Morales refused to open the door of his apartment for the police and instead opened a window and crept naked onto the fire escape. As the police forced their way in, Morales made his way up to the 4th floor apartment, occupied by Tanya Wright.

“He tried to get into my window. He banged. He said, ‘Let me in! Let me in!’ But no way I’m letting a naked man into my apartment,” said neighbor Tanya Wright, 40.

Unable to gain entry to Tanya’s apartment, Morales crawled down the fire escape, screaming and posing for the crowd, which by now had gathered outside, as he went.

“When the police came, he was screaming, ‘You’re gonna kill me and I’m gonna take everyone with me. I’m gonna die and you’re gonna die with me,'” said neighbor Sean Johnson, 43.

With the police close by, Morales left the fire escape and stepped onto the 2-foot-wide metal top of a roll-down security gate for a ground-floor business. He then ripped an 8-foot fluorescent light bulb from the business’ sign and used it to swing at the police.

“He was naked and he kept screaming,” said Joseph Adrien, who works at a nearby dry cleaners. Another witness said Mr. Morales’s mother was kept off to the side, pleading with the police to let her calm her son’s nerves, but being told repeatedly that it was now a police matter.

It was at this point that lieutenant Michael Pigott, gave the order to an ESU officer on the ground to taser Morales. The officer complied and half an hour after his mother called the police, Morales hit the ground at 2:27 p.m. headfirst and died.

Here is a videotaped recording of Iman Morales as he was tasered by the police.

The police said an officer at the scene had radioed for an inflatable bag, and it was not clear why the bag had not arrived when Mr. Morales fell, or why the officers had not waited for it before using the Taser on Mr. Morales.

According to a statement by the department’s chief spokesman, Paul J. Browne:

“None of the E.S.U. officers on the scene were positioned to break his fall, nor did they devise a plan in advance to do so,” the statement said, referring to the elite police Emergency Service Unit.

Michael Pigott, the lieutenant who gave the order to use the Taser, was placed on modified assignment without his gun and badge. The 37-year-old officer who fired the weapon was put on administrative duty. An investigation by the Police Department and the Brooklyn district attorney is ongoing.

Officers in the Emergency Service Unit receive intensive training for exactly the kind of crisis depicted on the video. Their training includes how to deal with emotionally disturbed people and the use of nonlethal restraints. They are taught how to use air bags and how to deal with would-be jumpers.

Last year, members of the unit helped respond to most of the 80,000 calls the Police Department received for reports of emotionally disturbed people, the police said. Stun guns are used about 300 times on average. So far this year, stun guns have been used 180 times. No other deaths have been reported.

The use of the taser in the Iman Morales case appears to have broken departmental guidelines. The order not to use tasers in certain situations appears in a 10-page interim order issued by the Police Department in June.

The order discusses types of people the Taser should not be used on, including children, the elderly and pregnant women, and instructs officers not to use them “in situations where the subject may fall from an elevated surface.

Spokesman Paul J. Browne said that the Brooklyn district attorney’s office has asked that the NYPD not question either officer – leaving open the possibility that criminal charges may be applied later.

City Councilman Peter F. Vallone Jr., chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said in a telephone interview that the situation could have been handled better by the police.

“My first take is that while I’m sure there are no experts out there on how to handle a crazy naked man with a weapon on top of a ledge, I’m also sure this wasn’t the right way, ” Mr. Vallone said on Wednesday evening.

“A situation like that is never going to end in a good way,” Mr. Vallone said after watching the video. “The most important thing is that no innocent bystanders or police got hurt. But clearly, it could have been handled better.”

Mr. Vallone said a public hearing on the department’s use of Tasers might be needed to fine-tune its policy on using them.

One frequent critic of the Police Department, State Senator Eric L. Adams of Brooklyn, said that the death of Mr. Morales underscored its continued inability to deal with the mentally ill. Standing in front of Mr. Morales’s building, Senator Adams said, “You can give someone desk duty, you can suspend someone, you can fire someone, but these are Band-Aids.”

“His mother called 911,” said Sharonnie Perry, a community advocate who lives down the street. “She called for assistance and the assistance she got was her son being killed.”

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2 Responses to “Another Taser Death”

  1. Raul Anthony said

    I lived with Iman in that apartment at 489 Tompkins ave for one year. we have been very good friends since we met ay Barnys NY in 1989. I spoke to him on the phone 2 days before this happened. he was looking forward to moving to San Francisco in Oct/Nov.I moved back to San Francisco on Sept 11 2008.
    I am so very sad and a hole has been left in my heart. I have better pictures of him if youd like people to see him in a better light.His funeral is today and tomorrow at 199 Bleeker street.I really am sad that I was not able to be there.
    thank you and be well,
    Raul Anthony

  2. Hi Raul,

    I had some questions about Mr Iman. I am wondering if you see this post if you can email me, or can you tell me if Mr Iman ever complained about any harassment he was experiencing? Thanks.

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