Man Dies After Cops Subdue Him In His Back Yard
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
November 21, 2005
DES PLAINES, ILLINOIS--Hansel Cunningham, 30, died Sunday afternoon, after police officers shot him with a Taser stun gun, sprayed pepper spray in his face, and restrained him in his back yard.
Des Plaines Police Chief Jim Prandini said Monday that an autopsy on Cunningham's body failed to reveal the cause of his death. Prandini said he asked the State Police to investigate the incident, even though he believed his officers acted appropriately in dealing with the young man.
Cunningham, who had autism and used sign language to communicate, was a resident at a group home for several men with developmental disabilities operated by Rimland Services for Autistic Citizens
Tony Jones, a staff member who had worked at the group home earlier in the day, told WMAQ-TV Monday morning that he had known Cunningham for six years and had never seen him be violent.
Jones said that Cunningham was in a good mood when he ended his shift at the home at 3:00 Sunday afternoon.
At 3:40, police responded to a call from another resident at the home reporting that Cunningham had severely bitten staff member Ahmed Sayed on the hands and arms. In his interview with WMAQ, Jones said he believed Cunningham bit Sayed because he tried to block Cunningham from entering the kitchen -- a place where residents are ordinarily allowed to go. Jones said he thought Cunningham might have been confused and did not mean to hurt anybody.
A police press release said Cunningham became enraged at officers and resisted their attempts to arrest and handcuff him. He pulled away from the officers and ran into the back yard, where he took off his clothes. Officers shot Cunningham with a Taser and pepper spray, but when these were not successful in subduing him, they tackled the 5-foot-7 inch, 140-pound man. Once Cunningham was handcuffed, emergency workers sedated him.
Then they noticed that he was experiencing difficulty breathing. Emergency workers who were on site to treat Sayed's wounds then tried, without success, to revive Cunningham.
He was pronounced dead at 4:40 at a local hospital.
"We did everything we knew in our tool box, so to speak, that we were exercising proper care with this gentleman," said Chief Prandini.
Disability rights advocate Don Moss told the Chicago Tribune that there are some questions about whether police or Rimland staff may have overreacted.
"Our basic concern is, was unnecessary force used by the Des Plaines police, merely because the person was diagnosed with" a disability, Moss said.
"Man dies after stun-gun shooting" (Chicago Tribune)
"Autistic Man Dies After Struggle With Police" (WMAQ-TV)
"Autopsy fails to uncover cause of death of Tasered man" (WQAD-TV)