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Thursday, June 5, 2008

O.C. Grand Jury calls for limits on Taser use

Alarmed by the recent deaths of two jail inmates who had been shocked with Taser electronic stun weapons, the Orange County Grand Jury on Wednesday recommended that deputies no longer use the weapon if other means to control inmates are available.

In its annual report, the State of the Orange County Jails, the grand jury said the recent inmate deaths were a "cause of alarm."

The report noted that jail staff used Tasers on 437 inmates between 2004 and 2007.

"There is major debate amongst experts as to whether the use of the Taser may cause heart failure and death," the grand jury wrote.

The grand jury recommended that the department prohibit deputies from using Tasers in situations where an "alternative form of control can be effectively used," and that it prohibit use of the Taser on people who are handcuffed.

The grand jury also suggested that a panel of experts review instances in which individuals die after deputies used Tasers on them.

Jason Jesus Gomez died April 1, six days after deputies used a Taser while restraining him at the Intake Release Center in Santa Ana.

Interim Sheriff Jack Anderson suspended several employees after reviewing Gomez's death, and the district attorney's office opened an investigation, which is ongoing. An attorney for the Gomez family has contended that Gomez died from blunt-force trauma, but no cause of death has been released by the sheriff or coroner.

Gomez had been sentenced March 20 to 90 days in jail for violating terms of his probation, the result of a 2006 conviction for displaying a firearm and cultivating marijuana, court records show. [Mark Godsey]

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