Driver dies after troopers stun him

January 18, 2008 4:27:04 AM PST
More study is needed to determine why a 29-year-old man who had crashed his car died after state troopers stunned him with a Taser, according to autopsy results released Thursday. The family of Mark Backlund described him as healthy and said hospital staff told them his arms had been "flailing around" before he died.

"They couldn't get his heart started," Gordon Backlund, his father, said in an interview at the family home in Fridley, a Twin Cities suburb.

The autopsy report said only that "further studies" were needed. The State Patrol has said Backlund was "uncooperative" with troopers after crashing his car on Interstate 694 in the suburb of New Brighton.

"There's an inquiry, and we'll see the result," Gordon Backlund said. "Yes, it's important, and in due process we'll know, but right now it's secondary, if that."

The state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is leading the investigation, and five troopers were put on standard leave after Backlund's death. A patrol spokesman would not release details about the crash or describe Backlund's behavior.

"All those details are a part of the investigation the BCA is doing," Lt. Mark Peterson said Thursday. He said he couldn't immediately discuss the patrol's policies on Taser use in detail.

The State Patrol started using Tasers in August 2006 as a part of a yearlong pilot project before the agency began using them statewide. During the pilot period, Tasers were used 33 times, officials said. No injuries have resulted from the patrol's use of Tasers, the agency said.

The use of stun guns has become popular among law enforcement agencies in recent years. But the devices have also come under scrutiny after some studies showed a number of deaths occurring shortly after their use.

A U.S. Justice Department study released in October said arrest-related deaths after the use Tasers or similar devices are rising. From 2003-2005, there were 36 such deaths. More than half were blamed on other causes, including intoxication, not the Taser.

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