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Autopsy report in Taser death released; officer cleared of wrongdoing

Posted - Nov. 19, 2009 at 10:06 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY -- Prosecutors in southern Utah announced Thursday they will not file charges against Hurricane City police for the death of a mentally ill man they subdued with a Taser.

That's in spite of a medical examiner's report which says the Taser may be what killed him.

Cause of Brian Cardall's death

Officers at the scene attributed Brian Cardall's death to a controversial medical diagnosis called "excited delirium." But the medical examiner's report KSL News obtained Thursday said some elements of that supposed disorder did not occur.

The cause of Brian Cardall's death was ventricular fibrillation--a faulty rhythm in the heart muscle--after he was tased. The medical examiner's report says it "is consistent with findings seen in cases of electrocution," but the report did not conclusively find it was caused by the Taser.

Cardall died of cardiac arrest last June after he was hit by a Taser and then given two jolts of 50,000 volts. He had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was experiencing a manic episode, running naked on a rural stretch of state Route 59.

After Cardall's wife called 911 for medical assistance, police officer Ken Thompson fired Taser darts into Cardall's chest.

A team of prosecutors recommended unanimously that Thompson not be charged with a crime.

Washington County prosecutors' findings

Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap said Officer Thompson "responded to a tense, uncertain and rapidly unfolding situation in a manner consistent with his training."

During a press conference Thursday afternoon, Hurricane Police Chief Lynn Excell said, "I was there. I know what happened at the scene. The evidence in this case clearly shows that the officers were justified and that their actions were justified and that their actions were reasonable under that circumstance."

Peter Stirba, who is the attorney representing Hurricane City, said, "We view this as a very deep human tragedy for everyone involved.

But they refused to answer any questions about the investigation or the medical examiner's report.

The report says "it is possible that the [Taser] is a primary or contributory cause of death" and that certain factors increased the risk. Among those was that the Taser's electric darts were not impeded by clothing, so they penetrated into muscle very close to the heart.

"Sometimes two and two equals four; and I think that's what the ME's report said, that he was killed by the tasering," said Cardall family attorney Karra Porter. "What the family wanted, and still wants, is for a more thorough investigation of what happened."

Cardall family's response to report

As for the Cardall family, Porter said they are disappointed but not surprised by the report. She said the investigation failed to address "key evidence" in the case from an eyewitness account of the tasing.

"The prosecutor's office makes no effort to explain the clear contradiction of Officer Thompson's claim that Brian was running at him with the account of both the eyewitness and Anna Cardall that Brian took only a single step towards Thompson," said Porter in the statement.

Porter also told KSL News, "They really still don't explain why Officer Thompson tased Brian again when he's sitting on the ground."

In addition, Porter said the report failed to address the fact that Thompson "got out of the car with his Taser already drawn" and that Thompson "knew that Brian had no weapon."

"In light of the county attorney's decision, the family will discuss their options for ensuring that the full truth emerges regarding Brian's death," said Porter. "I think they also want to feel reassured that steps are being taken to prevent other senseless deaths in the future." [CLICK HERE to read the full statement from Karra Porter].

More than 400 people have died over the years after being tased by police.

As Porter alluded to, the Cardall family is contemplating further legal action. They're also upset that Cardall's wife was detained at the county jail for more than an hour right after her husband died and wasn't even allowed to get a diaper for their baby.

Response from Nami Utah

Meanwhile, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Utah says the Cardall case shows how important it is that all Utah law enforcement officers receive crisis intervention training.

Sherri Wittmer of NAMI Utah says Utah has one of the best CIT programs in the nation, and it includes how to deal with people who are mentally ill.

CLICK HERE for more information on Utah's CIT program.

Brian Cardall is the son of longtime reporter and now KSL editorial director Duane Cardall.

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Story compiled with contributions from John Hollenhorst and Cleon Wall.

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