Officers fled after firing a stun gun that set a man on fire, video shows
A tall man walks into the lobby of a small upstate police station, followed by two officers. He is restless and appears to be intoxicated. He staggers into the cramped room, pushes aside a small table, empties his pockets, bangs repeatedly on a glass partition, undresses, sits down, gets up, sits down, then gets up.
The two officers, joined by a third, mostly keep their distance, speaking to the man in a way that seems intended to calm him down. After about 20 minutes, he leaves the room, returns and begins squirting hand sanitizer on his head and body from a large dispenser.
At this point, the meeting, filmed by a security camera, seems to harden. The officers walk towards the man, who is out of the camera frame, and one of them shoots a stun gun at him. Suddenly, the police have fled as the man enters the frame, his head and body in flames.
The disturbing footage was released to the public on Friday by Attorney General Letitia James, who opened an investigation into the Oct. 30 confrontation after the death of man, Jason Jones, 29, of Catskill, NY, last month.
Ms James said in a statement that her office’s investigation was continuing and the footage was “being released to the public in order to increase transparency and build public confidence in these matters.”
Kevin A. Luibrand, an attorney for Mr Jones’ family, said he and his clients reviewed the footage about two weeks ago and it corroborated what they believed happened.
“This only vividly confirms it that only such an incident can be captured,” he said.
Mr Jones, a former local high school sports star, died in a hospital burns unit in Syracuse, NY, in December. The official cause of death has not been released, but Mr Luibrand said Mr Jones’ lungs were ‘destroyed’ when he inhaled flames as he tried to put them out.
The episode at the police station began after officers responded to a call at a nearby bar at around 1 a.m. on October 30, Greene County, NY attorney Joseph Stanzione said in an interview last month. .
It was not clear, Mr Stanzione said, whether Mr Jones had been involved in what prompted the call, but he had “surrendered” to the police station while the police were still at the bar.
As well as showing the events leading up to the stun gun firing, the footage also shows the aftermath: officers returning and trying to help him, and another person entering the lobby, hugging Mr Jones and rubbing his back. As the group awaits the arrival of paramedics, Mr. Jones continues to exchange words with officers.
Many hand sanitizers contain ethyl alcohol which, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “readily evaporates at room temperature to a flammable vapor and is considered a flammable liquid.” The incidence of fires associated with these disinfectants is “very low”, according to the CDC, but “it is vital” that they are “stored safely”.
Catskill Police Chief David Darling did not respond to calls for comment on Friday. He told the Times Union of Albany, NY, in November, that Mr. Jones appeared to be intoxicated when he arrived at the police station.
“I think they were afraid he would get hurt, and that’s what started it all,” Chief Darling told The Times Union, calling the episode “horrible.”
In an investigation into the use by officers of stun guns – the best known being the Taser – USA today and the Arnolt Center for Investigative Journalism at Indiana University discovered “a pattern of negligent, reckless and lethal use of the weapon involved in hundreds of deaths and injuries over the past decade “.
USA Today noted that no entity verifies whether law enforcement authorities adopt the myriad of safety guidelines recommended by manufacturers and police training groups for the use of such weapons.
Brian Higgins, a criminal justice instructor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City who also teaches the use of stun guns, said he specifically discussed in his training sessions that it is important to determine if any accelerators are present when considering whether to use such weapons.
He said if officers are properly trained, they should try to confirm if any liquids nearby are alcohol based.
“Most people, not everyone, know that hand sanitizers are alcohol-based,” he said, adding, “Based on that, they shouldn’t have deployed their Tasers. “
“He was an unarmed individual in a locked room with three officers,” Higgins continued. “They had several options available to them.