Medical Examiner: Man Died From Police Restraint, Not Taser
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
February 7, 2006
DES PLAINES, ILLINOIS--A Des Plaines man did not die from the shock of a Taser stun gun, but from suffocation while being held down by police in his back yard, a medical examiner said Monday.
The Cook County medical examiner's office determined that Hansel Cunningham's November 20 death occurred when officers held him facedown for at least four minutes.
Hansel's death was ruled a homicide, but it will be up to the state's attorney's office to decide whether criminal charges are to be filed against the two male and one female officers involved in the incident.
The Illinois State Police public integrity task force is investigating Cunningham's death.
Since the incident occurred, Des Plaines Police Chief Jim Prandini has insisted that his officers acted appropriately.
Cunningham, 30, who had autism and used sign language to communicate, was a resident at the Des Plaines group home with several men that have developmental disabilities. Initial news reports indicated that police and an ambulance were called after Cunningham bit a staff member on the hands and arms when the staff member tried to block him from entering the kitchen.
An early police press report 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. 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. They soon noticed that he was experiencing difficulty breathing, and then tried without success to revive Cunningham.
The medical examiner determined that the 50,000-volt Taser did not contribute to Cunningham's death, nor did the sedative, perhaps because it was injected after he was already dead.
Richard Burke, a Chicago attorney representing Cunningham's family, told the Chicago Tribune that the officers went too far, too quickly.
"There are well-known procedures for police officers to adhere to in restraining civilians," Burke said. "It appears that those were not followed here and it contributed to the unnecessary and untimely death of a young, autistic man."
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, civil rights groups closely watched the results of the Cunningham autopsy. Amnesty International has called for law enforcement agencies to temporarily stop using Tasers, because at least 120 people in the United States and Canada have died in the past five years after being shocked by them.
"Medical examiner rules Taser didn't kill autistic man" (Chicago Sun-Times)
"Death of autistic man ruled homicide" (Chicago Tribune)
"Death of Hansel Cunningham" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)