17-year-old dead after Taser blast
Nick Cargo
Published: Sunday January 11, 2009

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An autopsy will decide whether a Virginia teenager was officially electrocuted by police in his own home on Thursday night.

17-year-old Derrick Jones of Martinsville was pronounced dead at a local hospital following an encounter with a police officer that ended in a Taser blast and immediate attempts to revive him by the officer, and later paramedics.

Jones, 15-year-old Justin Gregory and three others spent the day roughhousing in Jones' duplex apartment, according to Gregory. Alcohol was involved, and altercations between Jones, at one point laying down in the middle of the street, and Gregory, resulted in neighbors calling the police. Officer R. L. Wray found signs of forced entry and blood on a wall said by Gregory to be caused by the teens over the course of the day, and leaned into the living room of the apartment with his Taser drawn. Jones, who had been drinking, was said to have "moved rapidly" towards the officer while making unspecified "not too kind" comments.

Jones was immediately unresponsive after being Tasered halfway into the living room, according to Gregory, who disagreed with the officer's account and said that regardless of the situation, "too much force" was used on the 130-pound teen, who stood at 5'7". He told his mother that Jones "just melted" on the floor. "It was the last time they saw him move."

The officer was "well within the guidelines" of department procedure in using the device on Jones, according to Police Chief Mike Rogers. The department's "Use of Force" policy states that the Taser is only to be used when less drastic methods would facilitate the subject's escape or expose others to physical injury.

Virginia State Police are investigating the incident.

A CBC study has shown that the Taser has killed at least 400 people in the United States and Canada since 2001. The research showed that a person hit with a Taser could face as high as a 50 percent chance of cardiac arrest. Arizona-based Taser International has released studies of its own denying a link between its products and reported deaths, and has even argued against medical examiners in court when a Taser product is found to be a factor in a death.

Police have been accused of misusing or overusing their Tasers in lieu of less electrifying techniques such as physical force or pepper spray in their encounters with such individuals as Robert Dziekanski, Elizabeth Beeland, Inman Morales, Andre Thomas, Mace Hutchinson.

"You have people who are often in custody, and when they are in custody and it's being used repeatedly on them, it's hard to describe it as anything else but torture," Amnesty International USA's executive director Larry Cox told CBS' Early Show in November 2007. The Taser works by injecting electricity directly through metal prongs that have been shot into its target's body. The shocks cause severe pain and temporary paralysis along with a rise in heart rate. Among those benefiting financially from the marketing of Taser International's products to police departments are former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and his former police commissioner Bernard Kerik.

"The penalty for resisting arrest should not be death," Cox said.