Officers Ran Off After Firing Stun Gun That Set Man Ablaze, Video Shows
"The footage was released by New York’s attorney general as part of an investigation that began after the man, Jason Jones, died last month.
A large man enters the lobby of a small upstate police station trailed by two officers. He is agitated and appears to be inebriated. He staggers around the cramped room, shoves a small table aside, empties his pockets, bangs repeatedly on a glass partition, strips off some of his clothes, sits, stands, sits, and then stands again.
The two officers, joined by a third, mostly keep their distance as they talk to the man in a way that appears to be meant to calm him. After about 20 minutes, he leaves the room, returns and begins to squirt his head and body with hand sanitizer from a large dispenser.
At that point, the encounter, caught by a security camera, appears to grow tenser. The officers move toward the man, who is out of the camera’s frame, and one fires a stun gun at him. Suddenly, the officers run off as the man re-enters the frame, his head and body in flames.
The disturbing footage was released publicly on Friday by the attorney general, Letitia James, who opened an investigation into the Oct. 30 confrontation after the man, Jason Jones, 29, of Catskill, N.Y., died last month.
Ms. James said in a statement that her office’s investigation was continuing and that the footage was being “released to the public in order to increase transparency and strengthen public trust in these matters.”
Kevin A. Luibrand, a lawyer for Mr. Jones’s family, said that he and his clients had reviewed the footage about two weeks ago and that it corroborated what they believe happened.
“It just confirms it in the vividness that only such an incident can be captured,” he said.
Mr. Jones, a onetime local high school sports star, died in the burn unit at a Syracuse, N.Y., hospital in December. An official cause of death has not been released, but Mr. Luibrand said that Mr. Jones’s lungs had been “destroyed” when he inhaled flames as he tried to put them out.
The episode at the police station began after officers responded to a call to a nearby bar at around 1 a.m. on Oct. 30., Joseph Stanzione, the Greene County, N.Y., district attorney, said in an interview last month.
It was unclear, Mr. Stanzione said, whether Mr. Jones had been involved in whatever prompted the call, but he had “made his way” to the police station while the officers were still at the bar.
In addition to showing the events preceding the stun gun’s being fired, the footage also shows the aftermath: the officers returning and trying to help him, and another person entering the lobby, hugging Mr. Jones and rubbing his back. As the group waits for paramedics to arrive, Mr. Jones continues to exchange words with the officers.
Many hand sanitizers contain ethyl alcohol, which, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “readily evaporates at room temperature into an ignitable vapor and is considered a flammable liquid.” The incidence of fires related to such sanitizers is “very low,” the C.D.C. says, but “it is vital” that they be “stored safely.”
David Darling, the Catskill police chief, did not respond to calls seeking comment on Friday. He told The Times Union of Albany, N.Y., in November that Mr. Jones appeared intoxicated when he arrived at the police station.
“I think they were afraid he was going to hurt himself, and that’s what started it,” Chief Darling told The Times Union, calling the episode “horrible.”
In an investigation of officers’ use of stun guns — the best known being the Taser — USA Today and the Arnolt Center for Investigative Journalism at Indiana University found “a pattern of sloppy, reckless and deadly use of the weapon involved in hundreds of deaths and injuries in the past decade.”
USA Today noted that no entity tracks whether law enforcement authorities adopt the myriad safety guidelines recommended by manufacturers and police training groups for the use of such weapons.
Brian Higgins, a criminal justice instructor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York who also instructs in the use of stun guns, said he specifically discusses in his training sessions that it is important to determine whether accelerants are present when considering whether to use such weapons.
He said that if officers are properly trained, they should try to confirm if any liquids nearby are alcohol-based.
“Most people, not everybody, knows that hand sanitizers are alcohol-based,” he said, adding: “Based upon that, they should not have deployed their Tasers.”
“He was an unarmed individual in a closed room with three officers,” Mr. Higgins continued. “They had several options at their disposal.”