Sunday, October 21, 2018
Public safety

Pinellas Sheriff's Office investigating death of Oldsmar man under protective custody

OLDSMAR — Pinellas sheriff's detectives are investigating the death of an Oldsmar man who was under protective custody when he became unresponsive as deputies Tasered and handcuffed him.

On Wednesday about 5:15 a.m., deputies were called to 1739 Split Fork Drive after Julie Degraw reported that her husband, Donald Degraw, was in bed "screaming and grunting for no apparent reason," the Sheriff's Office said.

Degraw, 58, told paramedics and deputies that he was having a bad dream, adding that he was taking medication for post-traumatic stress disorder. Deputies determined he didn't meet criteria to be placed in protective custody under the Baker Act.

About 3:45 p.m. the same day, Degraw's wife called deputies again, saying that he was acting erratically. When they arrived, Degraw was screaming, and deputies determined that his "erratic behavior" met the Baker Act criteria, the Sheriff's Office said. Under the Baker Act, people may be involuntarily committed if they are judged a danger to themselves or others.

He resisted their attempts to place him in custody. Because he had access to a loaded firearm within his reach, the Sheriff's Office said, deputies Tasered him so they could handcuff him. At that point, Degraw became unresponsive.

Oldsmar Fire Rescue paramedics treated Degraw and transported him to Tampa Community Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

The Sheriff's Office said no further information will be released until the results of Degraw's autopsy.

On Thursday afternoon, cars of family and friends lined the manicured street outside the Degraw home. Friend Alecia Janczak, who said she has become somewhat of a spokesperson for the family, said Degraw did not have any health problems that would have caused the Taser to kill him. She said she is unsure about the details of the incident, but called it a "horrible tragedy" in a statement she wrote on behalf of the family.

The statement said police were called after Degraw had suffered "seizure-like activity" and when they got there, he "became disoriented, confused and had trouble following directions."

Janczak said Degraw was a retired Gulf War veteran, known to be kind, thoughtful and gentle. He was a father of two children and had been married to his wife for 30 years.

"He will truly be missed by all of us who knew and loved him," the statement said.

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