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Dead after cop scuffle

Newsday | Apr 24 2005

Authorities and witnesses differ over officers' struggle with a man who died after being shot by stun gun

A Ronkonkoma man died Friday night after a violent encounter with nine Suffolk police officers, during which he was shocked five times with a Taser gun, Suffolk police said.

Yesterday, as the Suffolk County medical examiner's office found evidence of cocaine and alcohol in John Cox's blood and began an examination to determine exactly how he died, police and witnesses on the outside offered differing accounts of what transpired inside the battered home on Taylor Avenue in Bellport.

"The officers used commendable restraint. This was someone who was clearly not complying with what they were telling him to do," said Suffolk Homicide Commander Det. Lt. Jack Fitzpatrick.

Cox's friend, Daryl Harris, who was ordered to go outside the house by police, said officers should not have used the Taser gun. "They could have just held him down," Harris said. "We could hear the screams from the Taser from the street."

Police are investigating Cox's death and will turn over their findings to the Suffolk County district attorney's office. That office did not return a call for comment.

The incident Friday erupted several hours after Cox, 39, who came to visit his girlfriend, started drinking with friends at the house, police and witnesses said.

A muscular man who stood 5-foot-9, weighed 240 pounds and had been taking anti-psychotic medication, Cox suddenly became agitated, prompting an acquaintance inside the house to call 911, police and witnesses said.

"We called the police because Johnny forgot to take his medication and started yelling and screaming," said Harris, a Brentwood resident whose grandmother lives in the house. "He punched a hole through a bedroom door and was telling us he was God."

When officers arrived just after 8 p.m., they cleared several other occupants out of the house and confronted Cox in a bedroom, Fitzpatrick said.

"The sergeant shows up, says 'I have a Taser, calm down, get on your knees,'" Fitzpatrick said, "at which point, he charges them."

The sergeant fired once, sending two electrically charged darts from the Taser at Cox, striking him on his bare chest. Cox pulled the darts out and kept coming, Fitzpatrick said.

Over the next 10 minutes, Fitzpatrick said, the nine officers wrestled with Cox, trying to subdue and handcuff him.

During that time, he bit an officer on the left shoulder, broke another officer's wrist, and was shocked with Tasers four more times, Fitzpatrick said.

When Cox was placed facedown on a gurney and handcuffed in front of his stomach, he still resisted so much that three officers had to accompany him in the ambulance to Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center in East Patchogue, police said.

Margie Jackson, 21, of Bay Shore, who said she saw him leave the house, refutes the police account. "He wasn't moving," she said.

Once at the hospital, medical personnel attempted to place him on another gurney and noticed Cox did not appear to be breathing. He was pronounced dead at 9:37 p.m., Fitzpatrick said.

An autopsy conducted by the Suffolk County medical examiner's office indicated that Cox had a blood-alcohol content between .07 and .09, and cocaine in his system, although it was unclear yesterday how much of the drug was in his bloodstream.

Cox had no broken bones or skull fractures and only a few abrasions, Fitzpatrick said. Police did not strike Cox, or use pepper spray, and exercised restraint in trying to subdue him, Fitzpatrick said.

The only visible signs of trauma, Fitzpatrick said, were a cut to the bridge of Cox's nose and another above his eye. Both were inflicted by four men who initially tried to subdue Cox inside the house before police arrived, Fitzpatrick said.

But several witnesses who were just outside the house said they heard police beating Cox moments after they arrived.

"Nine cops were stomping on his head, kicking him in the [groin area] . .. while one put a Taser to his chest," said Jackson, who said she stepped on a chair and peered through a bedroom window.

"They were in the house with him for an hour," said Lucille Harris, an elderly woman who rents the tiny house. "The cops put us outside and shut the blinds."

FATAL encounters: Recent cases where individuals have either died while in custody or in the pr ocess of being apprehended.

Christopher Wade, 28

Shot nine times during fatal confrontation with a Nassau County police officer in December 1995. Despite being cleared of criminal wrongdoing by a Nassau grand jury as well as departmental investigations, a civil jury later concluded the officer used "deadly excessive force,'' and awarded Wade's three children $2.25 million.

Thomas Pizzuto, 38

Died from injuries sustained on Jan 8, 1999, after Nassau correction officers assaulted him. Five former officers were later convicted by federal authorities for violating Pizzuto's civil rights. Nassau County agreed to pay $7.75 million in April 2003 to Pizzuto's relatives, settling a federal civil rights lawsuit.

David Glowczenski, 35

Died while in custody of Southampton police. Family accuses police of using excessive force in the February

2004 confrontation during which police officers shocked Glowczenski nine times with a Taser. Relatives of Glowczenski have sued the Village of Southampton, its police department and Suffolk County in Federal District Court.


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