Investigation of man's death continues after stun gun deployment - WFSB 3 Connecticut

Investigation of man's death continues after stun gun deployment, sedation

Posted: Updated:
A man was killed after a Taser was deployed on Kelsey Street in Hartford last week. (WFSB photo) A man was killed after a Taser was deployed on Kelsey Street in Hartford last week. (WFSB photo)

Following the use of a stun gun by Hartford police, officials said a sedative was given to a suspect before he died.

While admitting it’s a complex case, the American Civil Liberties Union said it is among the groups keeping an eye on what happened.

The incident unfolded Friday night on Kelsey Street as Hartford police were called by mental health workers to a home.

Sources said 26-year-old Matthew Russo, whom has a history of mental health issues and violence, overwhelmed officers.

Police used a stun gun on him. According to sources, it was at a lower setting that does not involve firing probes and is considered less painful. However, it failed.

The "dry stun" setting does not discharge prongs into the skin.

Sources also said paramedics gave him a sedative. That’s when he began to have breathing problems. The medical examiner's office is looking to see if the sedative was the only drug in Russo's system.

Russo died at the hospital.

Wolcott Police Chief Edward Stephens, whose department has always been on the cutting edge of this type of technology, said a dry stun is often used when officers are in the middle of a struggle.

"You would just come right up to their body, place it on their body to hopefully get them them to subdue, submit, right away," he said.

Officials from the ACLU said they are looking for answers to questions about the incident.

"How long was it that led up to the raising?” asked David McGuire of the Connecticut ACLU. “What was he doing? Was he armed? Was he really endangering himself or someone else?”

McGuire said those are just some of his questions. However, he stressed that he is not judging the response since all of the facts have not come out.

“Hartford is a pretty good department in our mind,” he said. “They have these crisis intervention teams which were out to deal with Mr. Russo which many departments don't and we think that that's the best practice."

McGuire said he felt Taser cameras would have been helpful in this situation. He said they would have begun recording when the Taser was used. Body cameras need to be turned on separately.

Neighbors said Russo was about 400 pounds, so investigators are checking into his overall health.

"There were so many police officers," said eyewitness Anna Morales. "Seeing how many police were here, they could've held him down. I can tell you there were at least 25 police here."

Neighbors said they are questioning the use of force, but under state law, police are allowed to use their stun guns for defense purposes.

Stephens said he was one of the first to equip his officers with cameras on these weapons.

"Everything is videotaped. It's giving a different perspective from the police officer's perspective," Stephens said.

Neighbors said they saw crews from the state's Mobile Crisis Response Team converge on the home several times.

Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, describes the team as a better alternative to a hotline.

Members are usually paired up in twos and provide face-to-face support. Their main goal is to deescalate a situation.

"Really helping the person talk through what they're experiencing and what they're feeling," Delphin-Rittmon said.

On average, the Mobile Crisis Response Team goes out on more than 1,000 calls per year. Like in this case, police are sometimes called as a backup, but the commissioner said it rarely ends in tragedy.

"Face-to-face is a warm voice, but it's also the person right there with you, and sometimes two individuals. I think that it's really important and can be valuable for folks in the moment," she said.

The Russo family declined to comment.

Copyright 2015 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.