LOVELAND — Three weeks after he went into cardiac arrest while struggling with deputies, Timothy Mathis of Loveland died at 6 a.m. Tuesday at the hospice unit of McKee Medical Center. He had been in a coma since the Oct. 3 incident, during which he was hit three or four times with an electronic stun gun.
However, it is unclear exactly what led to his death. After an autopsy Tuesday, the cause of death is still pending completion of toxicology and tissue tests, said Greg Fairman, Larimer County deputy coroner. A cause likely will be determined within a week, he said.
Larimer County Sheriff’s deputies deployed a Taser, a device that emits a debilitating electrical current, on Mathis three or four times before he went into cardiac arrest on South St. Louis Avenue. The current seemed to have no effect on Mathis, officers reported.
Although the deputies resuscitated him, Mathis did not regain consciousness, according to reports.
Shortly after the incident, Sheriff Jim Alderden said he believed Mathis was suffering from “excited delirium syndrome,” a condition that can be caused by a large amount of drugs. He pointed to Mathis’ irrational behavior as signs of the condition.
Witnesses called 911 after seeing Mathis break a window in a trailer, act confused and stab himself in the leg with a stick. He was bleeding when deputies arrived and tried to help him.
Deputies said he wielded a large rock and advanced on them, prompting the use of the Taser. Sheriff’s reports indicate he simply removed the Taser prongs and continued to advance on deputies.
Medical information to confirm that hypothesis has not been released.
However, Mathis was under the influence of drugs. Toxicology tests, which were included in Sheriff’s Office reports, show Mathis had methamphetamine in his system. The amount of the drug was not reported.
And, according to a report by Cpl. Dan Gilliam, hospital staff suspected “the cardiac arrest had been brought on due to drugs the suspect had taken.”
The death falls in the middle of a nationwide debate over the use of Tasers. Some blame the device for the deaths of people in custody, while others tout its safety and say it prevents officers from using lethal force.
The American Civil Liberties Union reports that at least 148 people have died in the United States and Canada since 1999 after encounters in which officers shocked them with a Taser, and recommend stiffer regulations.
The watch-dog agency says the numbers call for regulations limiting the number of times someone can be Tased and stipulating they can only be used in situations that otherwise would require deadly force.
“We fear that in the absence of strong regulations on how police use the weapon, we are likely to see more unnecessary deaths,” said Mark Schlosberg of an ACLU office in California, where 15 deaths have occurred.
However, Loveland Police Officer Steve Friedle, who trains his fellow officers on the use of Tasers, does not agree.
He said the device actually makes police work safer for officers and reduces the use of other types of physical force. In fact, police report three incidents in which the Tasers likely prevented a shooting in Loveland.
Steve Tuttle, spokesman for Taser International, the company that makes the technology, echoed that sentiment.
“Injuries to both officers and suspects have declined with 118 law enforcement agencies deploying TASER devices in Colorado and over 8,000 agencies nationwide,” Tuttle said in a written statement.
He said officers need to use common sense and stop applying the Taser if it does not appear to work. However, three or four tries are not too many, according to Friedle.
The 8th Judicial District Attorney’s Office agrees.
Prosecutors who reviewed the incident determined that the three deputies — Kevin Kingston, Chris Gilliland and Bill Nestlerode — used reasonable force to defend themselves against Mathis, according to a letter District Attorney Larry Abrahamson wrote to Alderden. The letter also states that lethal force would have been justified.