Use of TASER on bound Md. suspect raises questions of policy

Sources say man was shocked twice before he died

By Ruben Castaneda, Washington Post Staff Writer
The Washington Post

SEAT PLEASANT, Md. — A man who died after a confrontation with police in Seat Pleasant on Saturday afternoon was subdued by officers who used stun guns on him after he was handcuffed, two law enforcement sources said yesterday.

Marcus D. Skinner, 22, received at least one Taser shock from each of two officers, one of them from Fairmount Heights, the other from Prince George's County, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. The officers used their Tasers sequentially, not simultaneously, one of the sources said.

After being handcuffed, Skinner remained combative; he reportedly spit at officers and may have tried to kick them, one source said. At one point, Skinner's legs were bound with a cloth restraint, though it was unclear whether that occurred before or after the Tasers were used, the two sources said.

Tasers, which resemble pistols, deliver 50,000-volt shocks and can be used to shoot probes into a suspect or be applied directly to someone's body. The two officers applied their Tasers to Skinner, one of the law enforcement sources said.

The county police department's policy on the use of Tasers does not prohibit employing them on a handcuffed suspect. The policy says Tasers can be used "to control a dangerous or violent subject when lethal force does not appear to be justified."

Tasers can also be used when other tactics to control a suspect have been ineffective, when the suspect is actively resisting and when it would be unsafe to approach within reach of the suspect, the policy states.

Dean Jones, treasurer of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89, which represents most county officers, said a suspect "can still kick someone's head off when handcuffed, particularly if he's had any martial arts training."

Prince George's police and officials with the state's attorney's office are investigating the circumstances around the death. County police and state's attorney's officials said they could not comment on the investigation because it is ongoing.

Skinner's sister, Jamala Smith, 30, said yesterday that an official in the state medical examiner's office said an autopsy on her brother had been completed but that pathologists were awaiting the results of toxicology tests. She said the official did not tell her whether a cause of death had been determined.

Officers endangered Skinner's life by using Tasers, Smith said. "They could have used pepper spray, a baton, anything but a Taser," she said.

Public information officers for the county police have said that investigators were still sorting out which officers used Tasers. Officers from the Seat Pleasant, Fairmount Heights and county police departments responded about 3:30 p.m. Saturday in the 6800 block of Greig Street.

This is how the incident unfolded, according to one of the law enforcement sources and other officials:

A group of mostly children were at an apartment complex's pool Saturday afternoon when Skinner began fighting with a woman. Skinner may have also chased some girls around the pool, the source said. Skinner did not live in the complex but grew up in Seat Pleasant and had friends in the neighborhood, his sister said.

A lifeguard called police.

An officer from nearby Fairmount Heights was the first to arrive. By the time a Seat Pleasant officer arrived, the Fairmount Heights officer had Skinner on the ground and was preparing to handcuff him. The Seat Pleasant officer helped handcuff Skinner.

A county ambulance arrived after being called for the woman who was allegedly assaulted. The woman declined to go to the hospital, and the paramedics left at 3:50 p.m., said Mark Brady, chief spokesman for the county fire department.

About that time, a second Fairmount Heights officer and a county police officer arrived.

Skinner tried to spit on the officers, one of the law enforcement sources said, and the first Fairmount Heights officer to arrive used a Taser on him. The county officer later also used his Taser on Skinner, the source said.

The county police officer took Skinner in his cruiser to Prince George's Hospital Center in Cheverly.

By the time they arrived, Skinner was unresponsive. He was pronounced dead at 5:20 p.m.

The police departments involved did not identify any officers in the incident.

Smith said her brother lived with another sister in District Heights. She said he had had troubles off and on but was trying to get his life together.

According to Prince George's court records, Skinner in recent years has been arrested on suspicion of a handful of petty crimes, including possession of marijuana and stealing car plates. All of the charges were dropped by prosecutors or dismissed.

Copyright 2007 The Washington Post

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