UPDATE: The Michael Jacobs Case
Friday, August 28, 2009
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports reads: “Fort Worth Taser Death Ruled Homicide”.
FORT WORTH — The Tarrant County medical examiner ruled Thursday that the death of a mentally ill man in April who was shocked twice by a Taser stun gun wielded by a Fort Worth police officer was a homicide.
It was the fourth time that a person shocked by a Taser has died in Fort Worth police custody since the department started using the devices in 2001, according to the Police Department.
But the death of Michael Patrick Jacobs Jr., 24, is the first that Medical Examiner Nizam Peerwani has ruled to be a homicide.
From Eddie Griffin (BASG)
In an interview with Fort Worth Weekly writer Peter Gorman, Tarrant County Medical Examiner Dr. Nizam Peerwani says, “It's still very difficult to determine the role a Taser charge may play in a death, but what we can learn from history is that there are people in certain excited states who perhaps should not be shocked.”
When asked if he about the maker of the taser device, the doctor noted the actions of TASER International had "a policy of suing medical examiners who find Tasers as having contributed to or caused a death".
“That can be very intimidating, of course,” he said. But, he added, it doesn't affect his decisions. “We are working on a case right now where the Taser was used, and we are looking at it very closely. And if we determine that the Taser was a contributing factor, we will be clear on that.”
Who is Nizam Peerwani?
Dr. Nizam Peerwani is probably the highest-profile medical examiner in the United States. His territory covers four counties, but he's been called upon often to lend his expertise as far away as Afghanistan and Bosnia.
Peerwani has traveled a great deal for organizations such as Physicians for Human Rights, the United Nations, and Human Rights Watch, investigating claims of genocide and other abuses in far-flung corners of the globe - all pro bono.
Asked about his international work, Peerwani launched into a story about going to Rwanda in 1996, where his group had to be protected by Nigerian special forces under the banner of the U.N. while they searched for mass graves. "We found one that had 550 bodies in it. Our group only did one grave, but there were many more from that time."
Such work has taken him to killing fields in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Indonesia, El Salvador, Iraq, and Peru. He was called to Afghanistan in 2002, shortly after the United States sent in troops, to investigate what had happened to about 2,000 suspected Taliban and al Qaeda members who allegedly had surrendered to a local warlord and U.S. ally and then been killed. Their bodies had not been located, but human rights officials believed they'd been buried in mass graves in the desert. Peerwani and others with Physicians for Human Rights questioned local shepherds, found the bodies, and identified them as those of the men who had surrendered to the warlord.
There's another area of human rights work where Peerwani is a player in a much different way. Amnesty International and other groups around the world for years have complained about the abuses of Taser electric-shock weapons by police agencies - especially in the United States and in Texas in particular.
Questions have been raised about several cases in which people died after having been tasered - in most cases, repeatedly - by Fort Worth police. Those deaths, in part, led the police department to change some of its policies on Taser use a few years ago.
Some local attorneys question Peerwani's willingness to go along with Fort Worth police on cases involving deaths by Taser. And there's some controversy about Peerwani's work for the federal women's prison hospital at Carswell. Judges, attorneys, former inmates, and families of inmates who died at Carswell or at local hospitals are outraged about the poor quality of the prison's medical care, which evidence suggests has led to many deaths. And yet, because Peerwani's private company holds the contract to do Carswell autopsies, families of inmates can't get copies of his findings on the deaths of their loved ones.
Columnist Bob Ray Sanders writes:
Speaking of the April 18th tasing death of Jacobs, who was also diagnosed as bipolar and schizoid, Columnist Bob Ray Sanders writes: “While that seems like a long time, we do want the medical examiner’s office to get it right.” Sanders recommends that the Fort Worth Police Department issue a moratorium “on the use of Tasers until there is another thorough review of the department’s policies on the stun guns and until there can be more independent analyses of their effectiveness versus their danger. For the most part we’ve depended on the manufacturer’s analysis.”
The taser death ruling as “a homicide”, coming from a world renowned Medical Examiner needs our attention. The Taser Death Case of Michael Jacobs Jr. will go before a Grand Jury.
Who will present the case?
District Attorney Joe Shannon said his office will review reports from police and Peerwani and present a case to a grand jury to determine what, if any, charge the officer might face. The grand jury likely will also hear testimony from witnesses.
Shannon emphasized that the homicide ruling does not necessarily mean that anyone will be charged with a crime.
“The word homicide does not mean crime,” he said. “It just means that the death involved another person.”
Charges involving death typically range from criminally negligent homicide to murder, but there are many other possibilities, Shannon said.
"There are probably 20 possibilities that could come out of this," Shannon said. "I don’t know if it will be any."
WHEN IS A HOMICIDE NOT A HOMICIDE?
Answer: When it is done with impunity and without consequences.
Someone must be held responsible for the death of an innocent man by lethal application of an officer’s weapon. Who is responsible for the death of the innocent, mentally ill Michael Jacobs?
Previously, Fort Worth Police Chief Jeff Halstead supported the officer’s use of force, as being consistent with department policies.
If policies for taser deployment were followed, as claimed, and it resulted in “homicide”, have we legalized “homicide” in the hands of the police?
And, what of these “20 possibilities” of homicide, are they saying there is an invention called “accidental homicide” defense?
Clearly, the district attorney has no heart for this… as does no one else in the community. But the facts must be laid bare, and the chips fall where they may. Let Justice reign instead.
If the Fort Worth Police Department still supports the policy and officer in question, then their only defense would be that they were “duped” by TASER International’s sales pitch of non-lethality.
RESPONSE FROM TASER INTERNATIONAL
“Taser International is always concerned when a death tragically occurs in police custody. While we have not been provided a copy of the medical examiner’s report, we continue to stand by the safety of our Taser technology,” said Steve Tuttle, Taser International’s vice president of communications.
Someone Must Take Responsibility for an Innocent Man’s Death
The Jacobs Family has endured emotional trauma and financial hardship since the death of their son. Four months of waiting for a ruling is too long for settling an insurance death claim, out of which comes funeral expenses and debt. And, only lately, as an after thought, the family gets condolences from the Chief of Police.
Who will pay the death damages? How much is Michael Jacobs’s life worth to the City of Fort Worth? Is the police department liable for wrongful death?