After firefighter attacker dies, calls for TASER cams grow
The man was being extricated from his car after an accident; police stunned him with a taser when he became combative towards the firefighter rescuing him
New Haven Register
NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Thomas Lane “was a great man” who didn’t deserve to be stunned with a Taser by police after he injured a firefighter while being extricated following an auto accident early Monday on Interstate 95 in West Haven, his son said Friday.
“I just feel there was no need for any Tasers,” said Brandon Lane, 20, of Ansonia. He spoke during a Connecticut NAACP press conference to call for a law requiring that automatically activated video cameras be included on all police-issued Tasers in Connecticut.
“You know, these men are trained, and I think they should have handled it very differently,” said Brandon Lane, who was accompanied by his mother and Thomas Lane’s girlfriend and his ex-wife during the press conference in the Greater New Haven NAACP office.
“Maybe he would still be here recovering from his injuries,” Brandon Lane said. “I’ll never know.”
The state medical examiner’s office has not yet ruled on the cause of death.
According to police, Thomas Lane suffered “significant” head injuries after he lost control of his Jeep on northbound Interstate 95, striking a tractor-trailer before rolling over into a grassy embankment and crashing into a metal pole holding the sign for Exit 43.
The West Haven Fire Department said Lane, referred to only as the “occupant” in its release, “assaulted” Fire Department Lt. William Heffernan, breaking his left hand. Lane also injured himself during his attack and, after officers deployed their stun guns, firefighters were able to extricate Lane, according to the release.
“During the extrication the occupant became combative and posed a threat to himself and to first responders,” the Fire Department release said.
Heffernan was taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital, where he was treated for a broken hand and released. He was placed on injury leave and has declined to comment.
Thomas Lane “got up and went to work every day” and “he had families” to support, Brandon Lane said of his father. “He was a big, strong, healthy man.”
Connecticut NAACP President Scot X Esdaile said Thomas Lane “was the 18th person to die after being Tased by police since 2005.”
“Although we do not know all of the facts about this incident, the mounting number of Taser-related deaths demonstrates the need for a greater transparency and oversight regarding Taser use in Connecticut,” Esdaile said.
“Governor Malloy and the legislature must mandate that all Tasers be equipped with readily available cameras that will automatically record audio and video of all Taser incidents,” he said.
Esdaile pointed out that “these situations ... are life and death” and said “most people who die from Tasers in the state of Connecticut are minorities.” In fact, “out of the 18 deaths, 12 have been black and Hispanic,” he said.
“That’s two-thirds!” Esdaile said, adding, “This is absurd.”
While it’s still being investigated, Esdaile called what happened to Lane “just a bad, inappropriate response ... There’s just no way in the world that an officer should be pulling out a Taser and shooting the one who they’re supposed to be saving.”
What is known, said the family’s attorney, Darnell Crosland, is that “this was not a police matter. There was not a police chase going on.”
Lane “was in need of immediate medical attention at the time,” said Crosland, who also is the president of the Norwalk chapter of the NAACP.
“What’s unclear is how long they discharged” their Tasers, and whether Lane “was made more vulnerable by his injuries,” Crosland said.
A fund is being started to help support Thomas Lane’s family in the wake of his death, Crosland said. Checks payable to Brandon Lane may be mailed to 777 Summer St., Suite 403, Stamford, CT 06901.
State police have identified Trooper Justin Lund, a five-year veteran, and West Haven police Sgt. Joseph D’Amato, an eight-year veteran, as the two officers who deployed their Tasers during the incident, which took place about 1 a.m. Monday.
One Taser was deployed “successfully” while another was “unsuccessfully deployed,” state police said in a news release. It did not specify which officer “successfully” deployed the Taser.
Crosland said that in Connecticut, as in many places, “Taser use has become the lazy man’s approach to law enforcement. It needs to stop — immediately.”
Also attending the press conference were Tony Dawson, former alder, Yale-New Haven Hospital police officer and first vice president of the New Haven NAACP chapter; Terry Wilson, treasurer of the Bridgeport chapter; Tammy Lanier, the state NAACP’s criminal justice chairwoman; and Dave McGuire, the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut’s legislative and policy director.
McGuire called it “a very disturbing disparity” that two-thirds of those who have died after being subjected to Tasers are black and Hispanic, and said “it needs to be addressed.”
He said the technology for automatic cameras that start recording when a Taser is removed from its holster exists and is offered as an add-on on the Taser website.
“In addition to mostly being people of color, it’s people in crisis,” he said.
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