Alonzo Ashley death: ACLU wants coroner's docs, possible changes in police Taser training
The decision by Denver DA Mitch Morrissey not to charge anyone in the case of Alonzo Ashley, who died at the Denver Zoo after an incident involving police, has already stirred controversy. But the ACLU of Colorado also believes it raises doubts about police training regarding Tasers and the positioning of a suspect's body -- both of which may have contributed to Ashley's death.
As we've reported, the Denver Police Department -- whose account differs substantially from the one shared by the victim's family -- maintains that Ashley got into a heated argument with his girlfriend on a hot July day at the zoo. Shortly thereafter, he began acting irrationally and attacked a zoo security guard prior to the arrival of DPD officers. Ashley is said to have ignored their verbal commands to calm down, and when the cops tried to arrest him, he began biting, sinking his teeth into one cop and a zoo employee. One officer was also hit by the man, and another zoo staffer wound up with a head injury.
At that point, Ashley was contact tased, as opposed to being struck by Taser barbs. What's the difference? DPD spokesman Sonny Jackson explained it to us this way: "A contact tasing is where you basically put the Taser against the skin -- and it only affects that area. It doesn't necessarily affect the whole body. The other one, the one with the barbs that you shoot, they can't stand, and you can't touch someone if it's been deployed. Whereas contact tasing works locally on the area being touched, so you can get the person to comply."
Marvin Booker, who also died after being contact-tased.
Not in this case. The DPD says Ashley kept fighting for several more minutes before he could finally be taken into custody. At that point, however, he began to convulse and his breathing stopped. He later died of a heart attack and respiratory arrest, according to the autopsy. But that's not all the report showed, according to Mark Silverstein, the local ACLU's legal director.
"It also revealed that there were five discharges of the police Taser, and the report says it was in the drive-stun mode" -- the technical term for contact tasing, as referred to DPD spokesman Jackson above. However, Silverstein believes such usage can be "really unfortunate and counterproductive," particularly in cases like this one.
"When the Taser is held up against the subject's body, it doesn't have that much-promoted paralyzing effect," he points out. "All it does is cause pain. And so, when you have an agitated subject who's displaying signs of being irrational and is resisting being handcuffed, causing him pain doesn't produce compliance. It causes thrashing and agitates him even more -- and that's the opposite effect of what the police officers would want."
For Silverstein, Ashley's tasing recalls the device's use on Marvin Booker, who died in law-enforcement custody in July 2010; charges weren't issued in this incident, either. And while there's no mention of Ashley having been put in a chokehold, as was done in Booker's case, the positioning of his body as police tried to get him under control troubles Silverstein.