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Family sues NYC police over stun gun death

The family of an emotionally disturbed man who plunged head first to his death after he was shocked by a police stun gun is suing the New York Police Department and the officers.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The family of an emotionally disturbed man who plunged head first to his death after he was shocked by a police stun gun is suing the New York Police Department and the officers.

The family of 35-year-old Iman Morales is asking for $10 million in damages against New York City, the police department and two officers involved in the September incident.

One of the officers, Lt. Michael Pigott, committed suicide after becoming increasingly distraught over ordering another officer to use the Taser.

Morales was teetering naked on a building ledge in Brooklyn jabbing at police with a long fluorescent light when they fired the stun gun. The 50,000-volt shock immobilized him and he fell 10 feet.

The city law department says the suit involves a very tragic case and it will review the legal papers.

NYPD expanded Taser use
Thousands of police sergeants began carrying Tasers on their belts last year after the NYPD expanded use of the weapons, a trend that has been playing out in police departments across the country in recent years. The pistol-shaped weapons fire barbs up to 35 feet and deliver powerful shocks to immobilize people.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has acknowledged that the weapon is controversial, and some organizations are strongly opposed to police use of Tasers — fearful that the guns can be abused without clear guidelines.

Police said the use of the stun gun in the death of Morales appeared to violate department guidelines, which explicitly bar their use "in situations where the subject may fall from an elevated surface." The officer who fired the gun was reassigned to desk duty but was not stripped of his gun and badge.

Pigott learned firsthand the dangers of Tasers after he was called to a Brooklyn apartment building on the night of Sept. 24.

Witnesses and neighbors said Morales grew increasingly agitated and threatened to kill himself, leading his mother to call 911. When police arrived, Morales fled naked out the window of his third-floor apartment to the fire escape. He tried to get into an apartment on the floor above, and then climbed down until he reached a ledge over a shuttered storefront, where he started jabbing at officers with the light bulb.

Ordered the Taser to be fired
Pigott had to make a decision about what to do. He ordered Officer Nicholas Marchesona to fire the Taser.

The 5,000-volt shock immobilized the 35-year-old Morales, who then toppled from his perch. He plunged 10 feet to the ground and died. Officers had radioed for an inflatable bag as the incident unfolded, but it had not yet arrived when Morales fell.

Authorities believe the fall killed Morales, but an autopsy was inconclusive.

After the episode, Kelly ordered refresher training for the NYPD's emergency services unit on how to deal with the mentally ill and appointed a new commander of the unit.

Pigott was stripped of his gun and badge and assigned to a job with the department's motor vehicle fleet — a huge demotion for a 21-year veteran who was assigned to such an elite team. The Brooklyn district attorney's office and the police department investigated.

Pigott apologized for what happened, telling the Long Island newspaper Newsday that he was "truly sorry."

On Oct. 2, the lieutenant went to the locker room at his unit's headquarters by himself and found a weapon that was not his. The married father of two sons and a daughter shot himself in the head on his 46th birthday.

About four hours later, the Morales family gathered at a church in Manhattan for their relative's funeral.

"This is horrible," said Morales' aunt, Ann DeJesus Negron. "I mean, for me personally, I know it's horrible because I would have never wished this on anyone, and we never wanted, of course, this for Iman, and we would never wanted this to happen to the officer at all, or anybody at all."