On an October afternoon in 2014, Daniel Tyson, a 30-year-old vocalist and a graduate of Miami’s New World School of the Arts who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, stepped out onto the balcony of his Hollywood apartment, naked.
A neighbor saw him talking to the air and a nearby tree and became concerned. She notified her landlord, who called the Hollywood Police Department. She said it wasn’t an emergency and emphasized that he was mentally ill.
Five to ten minutes later, Officer Alex Ramirez showed up at the complex. By then, Tyson had put on a robe, although he’d left the front door open. Ramirez told him he couldn’t be naked in public.
From there, the confrontation escalated: According to Florida Bulldog , Tyson grabbed a sundial off the wall and hit Ramirez in the head with it. Ramirez, who later received 13 stitches to close the gash, stunned him with his Taser. Tyson fell to the ground. Ramirez restrained him with handcuffs and leg shackles.
That could have been the end of the altercation. But according to a wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of Tyson’s mother, several other officers showed up and continued to Tase him. A neighbor came out and tried to describe Tyson's medications but was told to go back inside. When police finally turned Tyson onto his back, his body was limp. One officer tried to perform CPR, but it was too late.
Two years later, Tyson’s death is still under investigation by the Hollywood Police Department. This frustrates lawyer Joseph Kalbac, who represents his mother in court. “I don’t understand why it’s taking two years,” he says. “We’ve been unable to get the autopsy report because they’re claiming it’s under investigation. They’re investigating [on] their own, so we’ve been having a hard time getting any information from them.”
In theory, Tasers are a less-dangerous alternative to guns. But as Daniel Tyson’s death demonstrates, “less lethal” isn’t the same thing as “not lethal.” The device works by delivering an electric shock of up to 50,000 volts. Used as intended, it will temporarily (and painfully) stun someone. Used excessively, it can kill. According to an Amnesty International study, between 2001 and 2012, at least 500 people in the United States were killed by Tasers while under arrest or in jail. Those numbers have grown as Tasers have become more popular with law enforcement: Last year, the Washington Post found that, on average, there was at least one Taser-related death every week.
The numbers would probably be even higher if it weren’t for the fact that Taser International seems to really like suing medical examiners who list Tasers as the cause of the death and forcing them to change their rulings. As Vice News reported last year, the president of the National Association of Medical Examiners has called their lawsuits "dangerously close to intimidation." This may explain why no one, including Jean Suarez, Tyson’s own mother, has been able to get a copy of his autopsy report.
The lawsuit that Suarez filed last month claims both the Hollywood Police Department and Taser International are to blame for her son's death. It argues that Taser International failed to train officers to use its weapons safely. It also points out the officers were aware Tyson was mentally ill and should have helped him get medical care once he had been restrained and was no longer a threat rather than continuing to Tase him. (Hollywood Police Department spokesman Miranda Grossman declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation and pending litigation. Taser International has not yet responded to a request for comment.)
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“It’s not a complicated case,” Kalbac says. “He had some mental problems. The police were called, they responded, and he died. Those are the facts as I understand them, and as I understand it, he shouldn’t have died.”
You can view the full complaint here:
Update: Taser International has responded to say that they do not comment on pending litigation.