No Clear Answers Yet On Inmate's Death
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
June 26, 2006
FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA--"We just want to know what happened."
Merlene Rigby has waited more than four months to learn why her 29-year-old brother, Troy, died after being zapped with Taser stun guns on an airport tarmac and scuffling with sheriff's deputies at a Broward County jail.
"It's very frustrating for us, very hard for my mother," she recently told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Troy Rigby, who had schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, died February 6 after he was taken off life support at North Broward Medical Center. Rigby had been taken to the hospital less than two weeks earlier, when he was found lying unconscious on the floor of his cell in an intensive psychiatric unit at a Broward County jail.
Chief medical examiner Dr. Joshua Perper said later that his autopsy determined Rigby had experienced a massive heart attack. Perper said he was waiting for other tests to determine why Rigby had the heart attack.
"The death is apparently due to natural causes," Perper said at the time, adding that he found no reason to rule the death a homicide.
While records reportedly show that jail deputies used pepper spray, electric shock, and restraints on Rigby before medical staff forcibly medicated him on January 25, Perper said he saw no signs of significant external trauma.
Rigby was being held on charges of battery, aggravated battery, trespassing, battery on a law enforcement officer, resisting arrest with violence and criminal mischief over a January 23 incident at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
He had boarded a Continental Airlines flight bound for New Jersey, where family members live and where he said he planned to get treatment for his mental illnesses.
Witnesses later told reporters that, as the plane was delayed near the runway for about 30 minutes, Rigby told fellow passengers he was claustrophobic. Then he suddenly got up and ran toward the front of the plane, yelling "Let me go. Let me go. Let me out of here."
Rigby opened a passenger door and dropped from the moving plane to the tarmac. As Rigby headed toward the terminal, sheriff's deputies approached and tried to arrest him. When he resisted, one deputy shot him at least four times with a Taser stun gun before they finally subdued him.
Family members later said he had stopped taking his medications.
Six weeks earlier, two federal air marshals shot and killed Rigoberto Alpizar, another Florida man who had not taken medication for his bipolar disorder, as he ran out of an American Airlines jet sitting at a terminal at Miami International Airport. Alpizar had run off the plane and into the jetway on December 7, but failed to follow the officers' instructions.
Air marshals later said they suspected Alpizar had explosives in his backpack, which they believed he was reaching for when they shot him. Last month, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle determined that the federal officers were justified in shooting the 44-year-old Orlando man.
"Almost 4 months after death, family awaits answers" (South Florida Sun-Sentinel)
"September 11, 2001 and Beyond: The Impact of the Terror Attacks on People With Disabilities" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)