Deputies cleared in man's death; The victim had taken cocaine, methamphetamine

Monterey County Herald (California)

Copyright 2006 Monterey County Herald
All Rights Reserved
Monterey County Herald (California)

August 29, 2006 Tuesday



Local prosecutors have determined Monterey County sheriff's deputies were justified in the Taser shooting that lead to the death of Jaime Coronel of Castroville in January.

It is the third time in less than two years that authorities have concluded that methamphetamine intoxication was the primary cause of death in a local man who was stunned more than once during a confrontation.

In a news release issued Monday afternoon, Managing Deputy District Attorney Ed Hazel said Coronel had ingested potentially lethal doses of methamphetamine and cocaine before Deputy Brian Hoskins was forced to stun him on the roof of a Castroville home. Hazel said Hoskins acted to protect himself and other deputies from the combative Coronel.

A leading civil rights activist responded to the finding by calling on the Sheriff's Department and other law enforcement agencies to use specially trained personnel to subdue mentally ill and drug-intoxicated subjects, rather than resorting to the use of Taser guns. The weapons, which have been promoted as non-lethal tools, have lead to the deaths of dozens of people across the nation.

. . .

Toxicology reports later revealed that Coronel had more than twice the potentially lethal amount of methamphetamine in his system, as well as a high level of cocaine. Pathologist John Hain, who conducted the autopsy, concluded the primary cause of death was respiratory arrest. He listed the Taser jolt as a contributing factor.

. . .

It is the third time since November 2004 that the District Attorney's Office has concluded that a Taser-related death was brought on by methamphetamine intoxication.

Last year, prosecutors cleared Salinas police officers of wrongdoing in the Taser shooting of Robert Heston, who died in February 2005 after being shot with a Taser at least five times.

And in November 2004, Seaside police were cleared in the death three months earlier of Michael Robert Rosa of Del Rey Oaks, who also was stunned multiple times. Both men were found to be high on methamphetamine.

Lawsuits by of their families are pending in Monterey County Superior Court.

Each death has sparked a call for a reevaluation of the use of the Taser guns. From 1999 to 2004, 71 people in the United States and Canada died in incidents involving the police and Tasers, said a report by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Attorney John Burton, who represents both Heston's and Rosa's families, said he believes it is the multiple stunning of victims that leads to deaths.

"One tasing might be harmless for most people," he said. "That doesn't mean multiple tasings are harmless, especially to those who may be (under the influence of drugs) at the time."

Bill Melendez, a spokesman for the League of United Latin American Citizens, on Monday said the finding that Coronel's Taser shooting was justified was "mind-boggling," and called on local law enforcement agencies to review their protocols for use of the weapons.

In cases where a person appears mentally ill or high on drugs, Melendez said, authorities should depend more on family members who may be close by -- as was the case in Coronel's and Heston's cases -- and specially-trained officers to calm a subject down.

"The county has spent money to train people. Use them in these situations," he said. "When you're dealing with mentally ill people, you have to use a different technique to keep them from killing themselves or being killed."

Virginia Hennessey can be reached at 753-6751 or vhennessey@monterey