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Arrest death is being probed

December 04, 2007|Richard Winton | Times Staff Writer

Authorities are investigating the death of a 32-year-old man who lost consciousness sometime after being shocked with a Taser gun during a confrontation with Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies.

Cesar Silva, who authorities suspect was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time, passed out in the back seat of a patrol car after struggling with officers shortly before midnight Friday, said Steve Whitmore, a department spokesman.

Silva was rushed to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Whitmore said Monday.

The Sheriff's Department's internal affairs unit and the district attorney's office are investigating.

The Taser, which delivers a 50,000-volt shock at five-second intervals, was used because Silva was so combative and had injured at least two deputies, Whitmore said.

But it may not have been effective, because deputies had to use force to get Silva under control, Whitmore said.

"Eyewitnesses indicated there was a real struggle. He had a deputy's leg in a hold," said Michael Gennaco, head of the sheriff's Office of Independent Review.

An autopsy is expected to be completed in a few days. Preliminary information from deputies indicated Silva was shot and shocked with the Taser's nitrogen gas-propelled darts, then shocked again by direct contact with the gun, Gennaco said.

The Sheriff's Department was one of the first large law enforcement agencies in the country to widely deploy this new generation of the Taser gun, which is marketed as a nonlethal alternative to firearms.

But civil rights groups and Amnesty International have criticized the use of the Taser because more than 230 people have died in the United States since 2001 after being shocked with it.

Sheriff's Cmdr. Sid Heal said in an earlier interview that although deaths had occurred after Taser use, none had been conclusively linked to the stun gun. He said the Taser had probably saved many lives by substituting for firearms.

Responding to a neighborhood disturbance call Friday, deputies tried to arrest Silva shortly after 11 p.m. in the 1300 block of East 79th Street, an unincorporated area of South Los Angeles, Whitmore said. Deputies said they found an agitated Silva in the frontyard.

He fought with two deputies, and at least three more officers arrived to provide assistance before the Taser was used, Whitmore said. During the scuffle, at least two deputies were hurt.

Deputies handcuffed Silva and put him in the back seat of a patrol car, where he started kicking before having trouble breathing and passed out, officials said. Paramedics already at the scene treated Silva and took him to the hospital.

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richard.winton@latimes.com

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