‘48 marks on his back’ — How Tasers figure into deaths in police custody


The Rockdale police summary of how Rosendo Gaytan died on Halloween night 2006 during his arrest for public intoxication is clinical and brief: “While in the booking area of the Milam County Jail the subject continued to be uncompliant and assaultive. Taser was utilized in an attempt to gain subject’s compliance. While subject was being restrained he became unresponsive.”

Gaytan, 52, was flown to Austin in a coma, according to police and medical reports. He died four days later.

An investigation by the Texas Rangers, completed three months after his death, contained a much more detailed — and troubling — narrative of Gaytan’s final minutes.

Gaytan had dozens of Taser marks on his back. More dotted other parts of his body. A civilian witness interviewed by the Rangers said he saw police shock Gaytan’s neck. An officer on the scene reported seeing sparks flying from Gaytan’s chest, where Taser darts had lodged.

His sister, Neomi Garcia, who lives in nearby Bartlett, can still recite the results from memory: “He had 48 marks on his back, six marks on his chest area, and he had four marks on his arm and two marks on his foot. They even tased him twice after he was unconscious.”

Gaytan is not the only person who died in police restraint after officers used so-called electric control weapons in questionable ways, the American-Statesman found. The paper examined more than 280 incidents in which people died during or shortly after being taken into police custody over the past decade. Police used Tasers on 87 of those people.

In addition to instances in which police deployed their stun guns up to dozens of times on suspects, the newspaper’s review found fatal encounters in which officers used the weapons in ways contrary to professional guidelines. The weapon was used disproportionately on African-Americans, and experts acknowledge that many departments don’t train according to the Taser company’s recommendations.

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