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O.C. limits use of Tasers

Grand jury said deaths after deputies' stun gun use is cause for 'alarm.'

August 20, 2008|Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writer

The Orange County Sheriff's Department has banned deputies from using electronic stun guns on restrained suspects unless alternative means of control fail to subdue "overtly assaultive behavior."

The policy changes went into effect in April but were not made public until Monday, as newly appointed Sheriff Sandra Hutchens responded to a report by the Orange County Grand Jury that recommended deputies no longer use stun guns if other means of controlling inmates are available.

In its annual report, the State of Orange County Jails, the grand jury said the recent deaths of two inmates who had been shocked with Taser guns were "cause of alarm." The report, released in June, noted that jail staff used stun guns on 437 inmates between 2004 and 2007.

Jason Jesus Gomez fell into a coma and died April 1 after deputies used a Taser while restraining him at the Intake Release Center in Santa Ana.

Gomez had been sentenced to 90 days in jail for violating terms of his probation, the result of a 2006 conviction for displaying a gun and cultivating marijuana, court records show. He pointed the gun at a neighbor during an argument about a fence, according to records.

According to the department's account, jailers entered Gomez's cell after he injured a nurse's arm and was acting erratically. A struggle ensued in which Tasers were used. Several jail staff members suffered minor injuries -- including a bitten finger, bruising and blood exposure when Gomez spit at staff, the department said. Gomez stopped breathing while awaiting the arrival of medical transportation.

Interim Sheriff Jack Anderson suspended several employees after reviewing Gomez's death, and the district attorney's office opened an investigation, which is ongoing. An attorney for the Gomez family has contended that Gomez died from blunt-force trauma, but the county coroner has not released a cause of death.

In October, Michael Patrick Lass died after deputies used a Taser while trying to restrain him.

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christine.hanley@latimes.com

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