Within a 30-minute time span one night last July, two officers Tasered a man 71 times as he thrashed violently on the floor of a gas station north of Flagstaff, including dozens of times while he was handcuffed.
A combination of cocaine and bath salts -- a new designer drug that was only banned in Arizona this week -- had thrown the 25-year-old man into a state of excited delirium that Coconino County Sheriff's Office officials say gave him "superhuman strength."
Despite being handcuffed and Tasered an average of more than twice a minute, it took eight people to put him into an ambulance.
The man, a 25-year-old whose relatives said was a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, was released from the hospital shortly after the incident and never charged with a crime.
Prosecutors are now reviewing potential charges against the officers involved in the incident, which happened last July.
A Sheriff's office deputy who Tasered the man 22 times has already been cleared of any wrongdoing by an internal investigation.
An internal investigation into an officer with the Arizona Department of Public Safety is awaiting results of the criminal investigation. Data downloaded from the DPS officer's Taser shows it shocked the man 49 times.
"We do not believe the situation played out in an ideal way and discourage multiple applications of the Taser, but do not believe it was the deputy's intent to be cruel, to be punitive," said Gerry Blair, a spokesperson for the Sheriff's office.
At about 8:30 p.m., the man walked into the Chevron station on North Highway 89 in Doney Park.
The clerks were disturbed by his appearance. He had no shoes on and was tracking mud as he paced around the store. Eventually, he approached the register and told a cashier to call police on him, according to an incident report provided by the Sheriff's office at the Daily Sun's request.
DPS Officer Brian Barnes heard the call go out. After a brief confrontation in the parking lot, the man sprinted inside with Barnes right behind him. The man collided with the door, and he and the officer collapsed on the asphalt, bloodying Barnes' arm in the process.
Inside, Barnes shot the man with his Taser and handcuffed him with help from a bystander, surveillance video shows. The officer's justification for firing his Taser the first time was not immediately clear because a public records request filed with DPS was not available in time for this story. A Sheriff's office incident report simply said the man was not complying with Barnes' orders. DPS officials declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.
Sheriff's Deputy Don Bartlett arrived soon after and started talking to the DPS officer. As they were speaking, the man "became very combative even though he was handcuffed and began kicking and thrashing," Bartlett wrote in his report.
The pair tried to control the man by having the deputy sit on his legs while the officer Tased him. The man calmed down for 30 to 45 seconds and then started thrashing and screaming again.
At the request of Barnes, the deputy tried his Taser, thinking maybe the first weapon was defective. Bartlett Tased the man twice before realizing one of his two prongs wasn't penetrating the man's skin. He switched to drive stun mode, where the weapon is touched against the skin in what officers refer to as "pain compliance," like touching a hot iron to skin.
"When the deputy arrived, the decision about whether or not to use the Taser had already been made," Blair said.
At that point, medics were called to the scene with lights and sirens running. Over the course of the ensuing 20 minutes, Bartlett would Tase the man 20 times in drive stun mode. The man was Tased every time he thrashed around, an officer said.
TASERS FUNCTIONING PROPERLY
Steve Tuttle, vice president of communications for Taser International, who hadn't heard of the incident, said that if the man was "locking up" as officers described, then the Tasers were working as designed. He also said he had never heard of anyone being Tased as many times.
"He was absolutely violent," one responding EMT would later tell investigators. "I've never seen anybody fight like that."
A surveillance video recorded in the gas station, which only captured an image every 20 seconds, appeared to show the man was on the ground for the entire incident.
Sgt. Gerrit Boeck of the Sheriff's office arrived several minutes later, and together with several firefighters and EMTs, they were able to load the man onto the gurney despite his thrashing. A "hobble" was used on the man's legs to stop him from kicking. Boeck would later tell investigators he was surprised at first to see the other two officers Tasing the handcuffed man, but soon thought it necessary to control him.
Even handcuffed and strapped to the gurney, the man was still able to reach the deputy's belt and grab onto his radio cord. The sergeant, believing the man had grabbed the deputy's gun, punched him in the arm five times. Bartlett Tased him again in drive stun mode and several people pried his fingers from the belt.
By that time, the man's family had realized he was missing from their nearby home and had come looking for him, only to find him being strapped to a gurney. They started pounding on the window and screaming for officers to stop as the sergeant struck the man. The door had been locked to keep the family from coming inside, a witness told investigators.
One family member told officers the man suffered from post traumatic stress disorder and had told them he had taken PCP and bath salts earlier that day. He had recently been "disowned" by family in Phoenix and had come to Flagstaff to stay with other relatives.
"He was fighting like I would be fighting if I knew somebody was going to take me outside and shoot me in the back of the head," Boeck told internal investigators. "If I had that Taser in my hand I would have done the same thing. I think we used the minimum amount of force necessary."
Before they got him to the hospital, medics gave the man two doses of sedatives. He continued to fight until being given Ketamine -- an animal tranquilizer -- at FMC.
CRIMINAL CHARGES CONSIDERED
All witnesses, with the exception of the man's family, were interviewed for the internal investigation and said they felt the force was necessary to contain the man. The family did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
Ultimately, Sheriff's office officials sided with their deputy and determined that his actions were within departmental policy. The Sheriff's office internal investigation did not consider whether the initial Taser deployment by the DPS officer was against their policy.
DPS referred the case to the Coconino County Attorney's Office to review for any potential criminal charges against Barnes, Bartlett or Boeck, mentioning each by name. The Sheriff's office did not see any criminal action on the part of their deputy, which is why they did not refer the case to prosecutors.
Coconino County Attorney Dave Rozema declared a conflict of interest in the case and appointed it to Yavapai County.
"Our office serves as legal counsel to the Sheriff's office," Rozema said. "Since we anticipate the possibility of civil suits in this matter, we have declared a conflict of interest in the criminal case and have referred it to the Yavapai County Attorney for an independent review."
A copy of that referral provided to the Daily Sun shows that it was accepted by Yavapai County on Jan. 30. A spokesperson for the Yavapai County Attorney's Office said prosecutors have yet to determine if charges are warranted.
The man was admitted to the hospital under a Title 36, which indicates he is a threat to himself or others, and released without ever going to jail or being charged with a crime. The Arizona Supreme Court website shows no records of the man ever being arrested for any charges.
"I don't know if he could have been charged with something, but that wasn't the focus," Blair said.
He added that the officers' main goal was getting the man medical attention as soon as possible.
Eric Betz can be reached at 556-2250 or firstname.lastname@example.org.