INQUEST CLEARS POLICE IN TASER FATALITY
A jury cleared the Butte police of any wrongdoing in a fatal altercation involving their new Tasers after a coroner's inquest Monday in the Butte-Silver Bow courthouse. Eight jurors listened to 11 witnesses and deliberated for half an hour before reaching that verdict.
The altercation occurred at 131 Trinity Loop on July 5 around 6 a.m. The late Otis Gene Thrasher, 42, was allegedly high on methamphetamine and threatened his family with a 12-inch butcher knife.
Police eventually arrested Thrasher after dousing him with pepper spray and shocking him with a Taser stun gun. Thrasher was only the second person police had Tased after buying Tasers in May.
Thrasher's heart stopped and he quit breathing for a period shortly after the altercation. He was pronounced brain dead within days. And he was disconnected from life support on July 15.
During the inquest, jurors heard from police, medical staff and state investigators. The purpose of the inquest was to determine if police committed any crime leading to Thrasher's death. Montana State Medical Examiner Gary Dale did the autopsy on Thrasher. He concluded that the Taser shock and meth may have contributed to Thrasher's death, but the primary cause was his weak heart.
Dale's autopsy revealed that Thrasher's coronary arteries were severely clogged by plaque. One artery was clogged more than 90 percent. This condition was "the most significant precipitating factor" causing Thrasher's heart to stop and his eventual death.
People with clogged arteries can die suddenly, and meth use increases that risk, Dale said.
Dale noted Thrasher had three types of drugs in his body when he died - - meth, marijuana and a Valium-like drug.
Another injury Dale noted was a piece of metal that was lodged in Thrasher's forehead. It came from one of the two Taser darts that delivered the electric jolt.
In other testimony, Reed Scott of the Montana Division of Criminal Investigations defended the force police used to subdue Thrasher. He investigated the incident at the request of Butte police.
"Every officer there would have been legally authorized to use lethal force very early on," Scott said.
Tasers and pepper spray are considered less-than-lethal weapons.
The altercation that led to Thrasher's death began with a 911 call. His mother, Carol Crittendon, called and said Thrasher had a knife and was threatening to hurt himself and everyone else in her apartment. Thrasher's wife, Staci, and his daughter were also present.
Jurors heard Crittendon's 911 call, which had been recorded. "He is tearing the apartment up ... He is crazy as a loon ... I'm scared to death ... He's on meth bad ... Oh, my God ... ," she said in part.
Several police officers who responded to her residence testified. In essence, they said Thrasher appeared to be high on meth and extremely agitated.
He was waiving a knife around while threatening to hurt himself and them. He refused to drop the knife and eventually threw it and furniture at them.
Capt. George Skuletich subdued Thrasher by shocking him with a Taser after one failed attempt. Tasers work by propelling two darts up to 25 feet into a subject. Copper wires connecting the gun to the darts deliver 50,000 volts of electricity. That shock momentarily incapacitates the subject by contracting the muscles.
One of the darts that struck Thrasher lodged into his forehead because he ducked, police said. Skuletich said a Taser shock to the head is no more threatening than to any other part of the body.
After the jolt, police cuffed Thrasher's hands. But he continued to resist arrest, so they also tied his legs together.
"It appeared to me when he started kicking and thrashing and yelling at us that he had recovered from the Taser," Skuletich said.
Butte police continue to use Tasers. Since this incident, they have used them numerous times without any serious injury.
Helena Independent Record (MT)
Copyright: 2005 Helena Independent Record