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5 Pittsburgh officers fired after internal investigation into man's stun gun death

Jim Rogers, 54, was shocked multiple times by an officer Oct. 13 and died the next day. Three of the eight officers recommended for discipline will keep their jobs.
/ Source: Associated Press

Five Pittsburgh police officers were fired in connection with a man who was shocked with a stun gun last year and died, authorities said this week.

Jim Rogers, 54, died in October after police tried to arrest him over an allegedly stolen bicycle. NBC affiliate WPXI of Pittsburgh reported one of the officers used a stun gun 10 times and Rogers said "I can't breathe" before he lost consciousness.

Eight officers were recommended for discipline related to the Oct. 13 incident. Five were fired, and three will remain employed, city officials announced Wednesday. The three who will remain on the force must undergo retraining. The officers' names were not released.

The city did not disclose why five officers were fired while three others were not. All eight had been suspended without pay.

The eight officers have two weeks to accept their discipline or alert the department that they intend to move to arbitration, the Department of Public Safety said in a statement Thursday.

Mayor Ed Gainey said at a news conference Wednesday that Rogers should still be alive.

“Mr. Rogers deserved to live a life of joy,” Gainey said. “He didn’t deserve to lose his life at the hands of police officers. What his life could have been will stay with me as long as I am mayor.”

Rogers' relatives said in a statement to WPXI: “The family is pleased with what they consider to be a substantial first step in the direction of justice and accountability."

“It should be noted that the loss of life under such horrific and unconscionable measures at the hands of the police is a story to often told to the black community," the statement said. "While we appreciate the thoughtful comments of Mayor Gainey we look forward to substantial changes in the City of Pittsburgh Police Department to ensure that this never happens again.”

Robert Swartzwelder, the president of the Pittsburgh police union, said the union will appeal the decisions on behalf of the eight officers. He said the appeal would include an arbitration process for the five officers to get their jobs back and for the three who received 40-hour suspensions without pay.

Swartzwelder also took exception to Gainey’s comment that Rogers died at the hands of the police.

“It’s premature to make statements without all the evidence being gathered that the police caused the death of Mr. Rogers,” Swartzwelder said.

The medical examiner in January ruled the death accidental, resulting from a lack of oxygen to the brain.

The city said in a statement in December that the eight officers faced discipline. After Rogers died, police empaneled an internal Critical Incident Review Board to review their actions, officials said.

The review board looked at all evidence, including video and officer statements, and found that “a series of procedural failures contributed to this tragic outcome.”

The statement said two of the eight officers were supervisors.

The review board also recommended the following changes: Any use of force incident would require the presence of a supervisor on the scene to complete a medical assessment and request appropriate personnel, and any incident involving the use of a stun gun would require emergency medical services personnel to assess the patient.

All officers were also required to complete a refresher course on stun guns, followed by an exam, officials said.