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N.Y. officer who gave Taser order commits suicide

Police say he was distraught over the man's death and the possibility of being fired and indicted.

October 03, 2008|Rocco Parascandola | Newsday

New York police Lt. Michael Pigott turned 46 on Thursday, but before the sun rose, he slipped out of his home, drove to his former command in Brooklyn and fired a single bullet into his head, police said.

Pigott, a respected 21-year veteran, was declared dead at a hospital. He had been tormented since Sept. 24, when his order to Taser a psychiatric patient led to the man's death, according to police officials and sources.

Several police sources involved in the investigation into the death of Iman Morales, 35, said Pigott was worried that he could lose his job and be indicted. Morales was killed in a 10-foot fall outside his Bedford-Stuyvesant building.

"The lieutenant was deeply distraught and extremely remorseful over the death of Iman Morales in Brooklyn last week," Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said. "Sadly, his death just compounds the tragedy of the loss of Mr. Morales."

On Thursday, shortly before 6 a.m., Pigott took a 9-millimeter Glock from another officer's locker and committed suicide. A photo of his wife and children was nearby, along with a suicide note.

He didn't want his family to see him be arrested, sources said, and he didn't want anyone to blame Officer Nicholas Marchesano, who fired the Taser at Morales on his order.

"It's obvious how torn up he was over what happened," one police source said.

Earlier this week, the Emergency Service Unit lieutenant had appeared stoic, according to sources who spoke to him. He attended NYPD-mandated counseling sessions and he spoke frankly, if measuredly, to a Newsday reporter outside his Sayville home -- his only public comments.

"I am truly sorry for what happened to Mr. Morales," Pigott said. "I feel terrible about what happened to the man."

Beyond that, he would not discuss the incident, but suggested that his career would never be the same.

Pigott was reassigned by Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly to the motor vehicle fleet, in Queens, and placed on modified duty, with his gun and shield taken from him.

Sources said investigators think Pigott went to the station because he had a locker there and believed he would be able to get a gun.

Morales suffered from depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The day of the incident, he did not recognize his mother, she said, and he was naked and talking about dying. He climbed out his fourth-floor window onto the fire escape and a storefront security gate container.

Police responded to a 911 call. Morales kept them at bay for 20 minutes, waving an 8-foot-long fluorescent lightbulb.

Pigott had to make a decision. He ordered Marchesano to fire the Taser.

The 5,000 volts of electricity temporarily incapacitated Morales, who plunged headfirst 10 feet to the sidewalk. He died a short time later.

Authorities believe the fall killed Morales, but an autopsy was inconclusive. The next day, police said use of the Taser was an apparent violation of departmental guidelines, which prohibit using it "in situations where the subject may fall from an elevated surface."

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Zachary R. Dowdy and Maria Alvarez contributed to this report.

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