HARTFORD, Conn. – A Connecticut police officer was justified when he shocked a man with a stun gun for 20 seconds shortly before the man died of a heart problem and blunt injury to his head, a prosecutor said Wednesday.
Hartford State's Attorney Gail Hardy announced her findings in the case of Jose Maldonado, who died in April 2014 less than an hour after being beaten and shocked by several officers at the East Hartford police department. Her decision came under immediate criticism by the lawyer for Maldonado's family and the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut.
Hardy said the 22-year-old Maldonado was fighting with officers and the actions of the officer who fired the stun gun, Jason Kaplan, were "reasonable and appropriate." The medical examiner ruled Maldonado's death a homicide, saying he died of "cardiac arrhythmia following precordial electric shock and blunt injury to the head."
"Officer Kaplan's use of physical force to defend himself and his fellow officers against a combative Jose Maldonado was reasonable," Hardy wrote in a report. "Officer Kaplan had no reason to believe that his use of a Taser to prevent Jose Maldonado from escaping would lead Jose Maldonado to suffer either serious physical injury or death."
Hardy's report said that although Kaplan pulled the stun gun trigger for 20 seconds, it didn't mean Maldonado was shocked for that long. The report said the length of the deployment depends on the time it takes for the prongs of the stun gun to puncture the skin and deliver the charge.
Police said they arrested Maldonado for punching out a car window while intoxicated during a dispute with other people.
Maldonado's brother, Wilson Ramos, is suing East Hartford police, alleging officers used excessive force and violated Maldonado's constitutional rights. The lawsuit, which seeks at least $15 million in damages, also alleges the use of force was part of a discriminatory pattern of deadly police violence against blacks and Hispanics nationwide. Maldonado was Hispanic.
"Jose Maldonado's family has been waiting more than three years ... for a demonstration that Jose Maldonado's life mattered from a standpoint of criminal justice," said Ramos' attorney, David Cohen. "And the answer is no. The family had hoped there would be accountability."
David McGuire, executive director of the ACLU's state chapter, called Hardy's decision a "miscarriage of justice" and said the investigation took too long.
"Today's report is the latest symptom of a broken system for holding police accountable to communities," McGuire said. "Nobody, including the police, should be above the law. Yet once again, we have seen prosecutors allow police in Connecticut to kill an unarmed man of color with impunity."
Since 2005, 18 people have died after being shot with stun guns by police in Connecticut, according to the ACLU. No officers have been prosecuted.