Connecticut's medical examiner has ruled the March death of a mentally ill Branford man who was shocked with a police a stun gun a homicide.
David Werblow, who had schizophrenia, suffered a sudden death after an altercation with police March 15 that included electronic shock and a restraint during a psychotic episode, the medical examiner's office said Thursday.
Police used the stun gun to "gain control" of Werblow after being called to reported disturbance outside his home, state police said at the time. Witnesses reported he was shocked three times.
David McGuire, the legislative and policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, said there have been 16 police-related stun gun deaths in Connecticut since 2005. He said the medical examiner's report in the Werblow case is significant because highlights a shift in the treatment of such incidents.
"Medical examiners are starting to recognize that Tasers are not non-lethal devices," he said. "They are recognizing that Tasers, when used inappropriately or on certain vulnerable populations, can result in someone's death."
In the cases of the first 13 people who died after being shocked by police, the cause of death was listed as something else, usually undetermined or 'excited delirium,'" he said.
Excited delirium is a term that has been used to describe the deaths of people with mental illness or who are under the influence of stimulants when they become involved in altercations with police. It involves increased heart rate, combative behavior, extraordinary strength, confusion and sudden collapse after restraint. Several medical groups have questioned its legitimacy.
Dr. James R. Gill, Connecticut's medical examiner, did not return a call and email seeking comment on that issue Friday.
Branford Police have declined to comment on the case while it remains under investigation.
Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane said the determination that Werblow's death was a homicide does not necessarily mean police used excessive force.
Kane has assigned prosecutor from outside the area, Waterbury State's Attorney Maureen Platt, to determine whether the use of force was justified. A report is not expected for several months.
"The difference here is we have never considered the use of a stun gun to be deadly force under the law," Kane said.
Kane said Platt was appointed to investigate under his new policy to use outside prosecutors to look into any allegation of excessive police force. A bill requiring that is expected to be acted on during this summer's special legislative session.
A law passed last year made Connecticut the first state to require that police track and give a detailed report on every instance in which an officer discharges a stun gun. Those tracking requirements go into effect next January.
"That will allow law enforcement administrators, legislators and the public to truly get their arms around this issue," said McGuire.