Probe of death looks at drugs, Taser

Published: Saturday, January 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 31, 2004 at 10:52 p.m.
NAPLES - A man who died nearly eight hours after being hit with a Taser stun gun told hospital officials that he used cocaine at a nightclub before his fight with officers, authorities said.
Christopher Hernandez, 19, was hit twice with a Taser and doused with a substance similar to pepper spray as he fought three Collier County sheriff's deputies early Tuesday outside a North Naples convenience store, the sheriff's office said. He died about 8:45 a.m. Tuesday at an area hospital.
Hernandez, of Fort Myers, was the third suspect to die in Florida this month after being subdued with a Taser gun.
Investigators were trying to determine if the Taser caused Hernandez's death or if the suspected use of cocaine, a pre-existing medical condition or another reason led to his death.
A toxicology report will determine if there were illegal drugs in his system and a medical examiner will determine the cause of death.
Police said they took Hernandez to the hospital because he suffered a cut above his eye. Police said they had no indication his injuries were life-threatening.
But Hernandez's relatives say he was beaten unnecessarily. They said that when they saw him at the emergency room his head was swollen, his eyes were ''blood red'' and his arms and face had road rash. Blood from somewhere on his head stained the hospital pillow.
The incident began about 1 a.m. Tuesday in a parking lot near a nightclub, when the driver of a car in which Hernandez was a passenger was cruising recklessly, police said. When deputies ordered the driver to stop, he continued instead, and police halted the car in the parking lot of the convenience store.
Hernandez got out of the back seat, and attacked deputies, kicking them and ripping their uniforms, deputies said. They used CapStun, similar to pepper spray, and a Taser stun gun, which inflicts a shock, in an attempt to subdue him, but several minutes passed before he was handcuffed, they said. At least one deputy suffered knee injuries.
The driver of the car, a 16-year-old from Fort Myers, was arrested on an outstanding warrant. Front-seat passenger Jasper Johnson, 17, of Fort Myers, was arrested on suspicion of possession of a concealed firearm, and possession of an altered firearm, after police found a .25-caliber handgun under his seat.
Taser stun guns zap suspects with 50,000 volts of electricity, incapacitating them.
Arizona-based Taser International says its weapons are safe to use to subdue violent individuals, and are a non-lethal alternative to shooting a suspect.
--- Information from: Naples Daily News, http:// WWW.NAPLESNEWS.COM

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