Officers and Deputies Killed Michael Tolosko with Tasers

INQUIRY INTO SONOMA MAN SHOT BY TASER WHILE IN CUSTODY FINDS REASONABLE FORCE USED

Author: LORI A. CARTER

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
An article and headline on Page B1 Dec. 29 misstated the sequence in which a Sonoma man was shocked in 2005 with a Taser stun gun by Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies. Michael Tolosko was shocked while fighting with deputies, who later were able to handcuff him. He died later that day.

The Sonoma County district attorney cleared four police officers of criminal wrongdoing in the death of a Sonoma man last year after he had been handcuffed and shocked with a Taser stun gun.

A review by prosecutors of the Dec. 7, 2005, incident concluded that Sonoma Police Officers Patrick Sharp and Travis Koeppel and Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputies Rick Bostic and James Mauro used reasonable force against Michael Tolosko.

District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua said Tolosko, 31, who had a history of mental health problems, attacked the deputies without provocation and they used reasonable force to protect themselves under the circumstances.

There was no evidence of criminal negligence, and the deputies’ efforts to render medical assistance were appropriate, the district attorney said in a statement issued Thursday.

Tolosko’s death, the county’s second involving a Taser, sparked changes in the Sheriff’s Department’s training guidelines for using the zapping devices. Tasers are hand-held weapons that shoot darts at the end of wires into a person’s skin and can deliver 50,000 volts of electricity.

The weapons have been implicated in the deaths of dozens of people nationwide who suffered from “excited delirium,” a controversial medical condition marked by extreme agitation. The deaths often have occurred after fights with police and the use of Tasers and other methods of restraining and subduing unruly suspects.

Sonoma County’s coroner said Tolosko died of “cardio-respiratory arrest” related to agitated psychosis and psychiatric illness. He also had underlying heart disease.

Tolosko’s family filed a federal lawsuit last month against Sonoma city and county officials, charging that police used excessive force and knew or should have known that the Taser posed a significant risk of death given Tolosko’s mental health and previous contacts with police.

Two Sonoma police officers responded after Tolosko’s mother called 911 about 2:15 a.m. on Dec. 7 last year reporting that he was acting strangely and not taking his psychiatric medication.

She told the officers that her son had not slept in 10 days and was out of control, investigators said.

When police arrived at her Verano Avenue home, a fight ensued and Tolosko was shocked with a Taser, then restrained with handcuffs and a nylon cord.

Shortly thereafter, he lost consciousness and stopped breathing and was taken to a hospital, where he died.

After Tolosko’s death, the Sheriff’s Department introduced new training guidelines that include teaching deputies how to recognize excited delirium, limiting use of Tasers and having medical personnel on hand at certain types of calls. Other county law enforcement agencies have followed suit.

Sheriff’s officials couldn’t be reached to comment late Thursday.

The incident involved two Sonoma police officers, who are county sheriff’s deputies under contract to the city of Sonoma for police services, and two deputies from the sheriff’s Valley of the Moon substation.

Tolosko’s father declined to comment until he had spoken with the family’s lawyer.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 568-5312 or lcarter@pressdemocrat.com.

Copyright (c) 2006 The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, CA)
Record Number: 0612290176

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