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3 Taser stuns, then death

PLANT CITY — Something went off in Roney Wilson's mind Thursday night.

While visiting his mother, he became upset, climbed inside her Nissan Frontier, smashed out the windshield with his fist and refused to budge.

"You need to come out here and Baker Act my brother," Jessie Wilson, 51, told a 911 operator in a recorded conversation at 9:35 p.m. "He ain't been taking his medication."

Jessie Wilson had called looking for help. What he got left him numb:

Roney Wilson, 46, died.

After three stuns from a deputy's Taser gun, the father of three fell silent, the Sheriff's Office said.

Paramedics took him to South Florida Baptist Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

"They just killed my son!" Annie Louis Wilson, 70, cried Friday afternoon as she stood in the driveway where the incident happened. "We didn't mean for them to just come and kill him."

The Hillsborough County medical examiner was still trying to determine a cause of death.

Hillsborough sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said the actions of the deputies involved are under administrative review but that "all indication right now is that they followed appropriate protocol."

The family has a different assessment. Wilson was not armed. He had no car keys. He just didn't want to leave.

That wasn't enough, the family says, to warrant being stunned by a Taser — let alone dying.

Veronica Wilson usually knew how to calm her father. A heavy equipment operator diagnosed a few years ago with bipolar disorder, Roney Wilson would hit walls of depression.

"It wasn't like it was an everyday thing," the 21-year-old daughter said. "He was a wonderful dad."

When Roney Wilson entered an emotional spell, the family knew to let him talk. Veronica would rub his back and listen.

"He just wanted that love," she said, "that attention."

The family had Wilson committed for state-mandated psychiatric care on more than one occasion under Florida's Baker Act.

Jessie Wilson said that's what he wanted when he called 911.

Deputy Jessica Guthrie, 27, was the first to arrive at 607 Hunter Road in Plant City.

Carter, the sheriff's spokeswoman, said Guthrie talked with Wilson, who gave agitated, rambling answers. Guthrie said he smelled of alcohol.

Jessie Wilson said he told the deputy that his brother was on medication and had high blood pressure.

Two other deputies arrived — Mary Angelo, 43, and Dustin Hartline, 24. (Angelo is married to a St. Petersburg Times employee, news researcher John Martin.)

Family members said Roney Wilson's mother, trying to get him to leave, had sprayed him with a garden hose before deputies arrived, Carter said.

As one of the deputies talked with Roney Wilson, another opened the truck door and grabbed him, Carter said.

Wilson held on to the steering wheel, she said. Struggling, he kicked Hartline in the stomach, she said.

Angelo fired her Taser gun into Wilson's upper torso.

Annie Wilson watched her son spasm. Jessie Wilson said the deputies tried to pull his brother from the truck with a choke hold.

Angelo pulled the trigger on the Taser a second time, Carter said, sending another shock.

"Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!" Annie Wilson and Wilson's youngest brother, Richard, yelled to deputies.

Carter said the deputies then took Wilson to the ground and called for paramedics because of the Taser use. Wilson tried, Carter said, to move under the truck.

Angelo placed the stun gun against Wilson's skin and shocked him a third time, Carter said. Deputies then handcuffed him and placed him in leg irons.

According to Carter, Wilson was still struggling with deputies while they cuffed him.

But Jessie Wilson said he remembers his brother going limp before deputies finished restraining him.

Deputies administered CPR until paramedics arrived, at 10:17 p.m., 11 minutes after they were called to the scene, according to Hillsborough Fire Rescue.

At 10:37 p.m., Wilson arrived at the hospital. Family members said they weren't told that Wilson had died until after midnight.

All three deputies have been with the Sheriff's Office less than two years and have had no disciplinary issues.

• • •

Wilson's body showed bruises on his neck, Jessie Wilson said. Blood showed in his nose.

"We don't know if he suffocated," said Wilson's nephew Joseph Callins, 34, "or if the Taser killed him."

Wilson had been arrested before on charges of domestic battery and driving with a suspended license, records show.

Dr. Vernard Adams, Hillsborough County's medical examiner, said it's too early to say why Wilson died. But speaking generally about Tasers, he said studies show that a Taser has no adverse effect on heart function.

Still, the devices are controversial.

Amnesty International studied 290 post-Taser deaths and found that most people were shocked more than once and that 92 were stunned three or more times.

While most medical examiners attributed the cause of death to other factors, some coroners expressed concern that shocks from a Taser could exacerbate the risk of heart failure for people who have health problems or who are under the influence of drugs.

The Wilson family is seeking an attorney.

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (813) 226-3383. Times researcher Will Short Gorham contributed to this report.

>>Fast facts

Incidents elsewhere

Across the United States, people have died after law enforcement officers used Tasers. Amnesty International reports more than 290 related deaths since 2001. Here are some of the recent incidents elsewhere:

Birmingham, Ala.: Willie Maye, 43. Died June 5. Tasered when he struggled with police after fleeing a traffic stop.

Louisville, Ky.: Isaac Bass, 34. Died July 2. Tasered as police broke up a fight between Bass and his brother. The coroner ruled that Bass died of cocaine toxicity and heart disease.

Miami: Kenneth Oliver, 45. Died Aug. 15. Tasered after hesitating to put his hands behind his back during an arrest. His brother claimed that pins in Oliver's shoulders would have prevented him from complying with officers' orders. Police say he went into shock while in custody.

Moberly, Mo.: Stanley James William Harlan, 23. Died Aug. 28. Tasered after he resisted arrest during a traffic stop.

Orange County, Calif.: Andy Tran, 32. Died Sept. 3. Tasered while struggling with officers who found him climbing through a residential window. He had a history of mental illness and encounters with police.

Rockford, Ill.: Keithedric Hines, 31. Died Aug. 10. Tasered by police as he tried to break into his ex-girlfriend's apartment. Also, Ernest Graves, 29. Died June 25. Tasered by police investigating his involvement in a domestic dispute. The coroner blamed his death on cocaine.

Swissvale, Pa.: Andre Thomas, 37. Died Aug. 4. Tasered after behaving erratically. A family attorney asked the state attorney general to investigate whether excessive force was used.

Compiled by Will Short Gorham, Times news researcher.

Sources: ABC News, Associated Press, Columbia Tribune, Louisville Courier-Journal, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, San Francisco Chronicle

3 Taser stuns, then death 09/12/08 [Last modified: Friday, September 19, 2008 7:08pm]
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