Illinois Teen Shouting for Jesus Dies When Police Taser Him

Authorities are investigating the death of a 17-year-old boy who died after officers in this St. Louis-area community shot him twice with a stun gun while he carried a Bible and cordless telephone, shouting "I want Jesus."

Roger Holyfield died Sunday night at a St. Louis hospital, a day after the former Jersey Community High School's confrontation with police.

In a statement obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, police in this community about 40 miles north of St. Louis said Holyfield would not acknowledge officers who approached him, continuing to yell "I want Jesus."

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Holyfield became combative when officers tried to calm him, then was shot with a stun gun after ignoring their warnings to comply with their commands, police said. He was shot a second time when he continued struggling, police said.

Holyfield vomited at the scene and was taken by ambulance to a local hospital, then was flown to St. Louis' Cardinal Glennon Hospital, where he died shortly after 8 p.m. the next day, police said.

An autopsy was planned for Tuesday.

While expressing sympathy by Jerseyville's mayor, city commissioners and police to Holyfield's family, the police statement said the city and officers would not discuss the matter further.

Messages were left Tuesday with Jerseyville Police Chief Brad Blackorby, whose department, according to its statement, has been using stun guns for the past five months.

Holyfield was a former Jersey Community High School student but did not attend that school this year, said James Whiteside, superintendent of Jerseyville schools.

In a report released in March, international human rights group Amnesty International said it had logged at least 156 deaths across the country in the previous five years related to police stun guns.

The rise in deaths accompanies a marked increase in the number of U.S. law enforcement agencies employing devices made by Taser International Inc. of Scottsdale, Ariz. About 1,000 of the nation's 18,000 police agencies used Tasers in 2001; more than 7,000 departments had them last year, according to a government study.

Police had used Tasers more than 70,000 times as of last year, Congress' Government Accountability Office said.

Amnesty has urged police departments to suspend the use of Tasers pending more study.

Taser called the study flawed by falsely linking deaths to Taser use when there has been no such official conclusion.

The company has said Tasers have saved more than 9,000 lives because police officers have been able to use stun guns instead of bullets.

Holyfield's death is at least the second in the Metro East calling stun guns into question in recent months.

Nick Mamino Jr. — the 41-year-old son of a former Collinsville police chief — died in April after Collinsville police shot him with a stun gun. Though Mamino's family speculated that the gun might have caused his death, an autopsy report said the weapon was only a contributing factor.

A coroner's jury later ruled Mamino died accidentally when he was hog-tied by police trying to arrest him while he was high on cocaine.

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