San Jose council approves Taser settlement

December 17, 2008 9:53:40 PM PST
The San Jose City Council on Tuesday approved a $70,000 settlement be paid to the family of a man who died in police custody after officers used a Taser against him in 2005, city officials said today.

The lawsuit filed in November 2006 against the city and five members of the San Jose Police Department alleged the wrongful death of Jose Angel Rios, 38.

Rios died after a Nov. 18, 2005 confrontation with police. An off-duty police officer apparently heard screaming from an apartment complex parking lot and found Rios standing near a sport utility vehicle with his wife screaming inside, according to the city attorney's office.

Rios allegedly appeared to have his arm around his wife's neck, so the officer and a bystander told Rios to leave the woman alone, according to the city attorney's report. The officer used pepper spray with no effect and called for backup.

Rios, a 6-foot-1-inch-tall man weighing about 330 pounds, allegedly resisted additional arriving officers who used a Taser and batons to subdue him enough for handcuffing, the city attorney's report states. When he was finally handcuffed, he continued to yell and struggle, the report states.

After paramedics arrived to monitor Rios, he stopped struggling and moving. Paramedics began CPR and transported Rios to Valley Medical Center, where he died.

The medical examiner's report cited blunt force impact and a 98 percent narrowing of the descending coronary artery consistent with repeated cocaine use, according to the city attorney. Rios was found to have cocaine in his system and the cause of death was listed as "cardiopulmonary arrest following violent struggle with police in individual with acute cocaine intoxication with psychosis," the report states.

However, Taser use and pepper spray were listed along with obesity and cardiovascular disease due to chronic cocaine use as contributory cause of death, according to the city attorney.

Rios' wife Christine Rios and son Angel Rios filed suit accusing excessive force and arguing that both Christine Rios and her son were not allowed to leave the police station for several hours despite not being arrested or formally detained. Officers denied the allegations.

The City Council approved the $70,000 settlement, to be paid out of the city's claims reserve fund, in closed session Oct. 21, City Attorney Richard Doyle said. The council approved the settlement again in a public vote during Tuesday's meeting.

Doyle said any settlement over $50,000 has to be approved in open session.

San Jose began using the Tasers in 2004 as a way for officers to avoid using lethal force, said Doyle, who added Tasers have been successful in that effort.

"It's non-lethal force and it allows the officers to use something less than having to use a gun," he said.

Doyle said he is aware of at least one other pending lawsuit that cites Taser use.

Steve Salinas, 47, a member of the Mongol Motorcycle Club, died in 2007 after a confrontation with police and alleged struggle to resist arrest.

Doyle cited drug use as a similarity between the cases.

"Typically in these excited delirium cases you have people on stimulants and it seems to cause a problem," he said.


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