October 8, 2009

Taser Death: Alton Ham (Modesto, CA)

It happened again! 45-year old Alton Ham, an inmate at the Stanislaus County Jail in downtown Modesto died after unidentified jailers killed him with a taser gun meant to subdue him as he was being moved to another cell on September 16. Soulclap to Rosalio Ahumada (Modesto Bee) for her excellent reporting on recent taser-related deaths in the Stanislaus County Jail.

This is the third time in five months an inmate has died while in custody after law enforcement officials used tasers to subdue the men. All three were being held at the sheriff's downtown Modesto jail when they died.

Ham was arrested by Sheriff's deputies on September 15 on suspicion of home invasion robbery. The deputies were trying to move Ham to a cell for his safety because he had "exhibited irrational behavior and was combative." Ham stood 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighed 200 pounds.

"Some of the details we don't have because this is still under investigation," Sheriff's Capt. Tim Beck said. "I don't know how many people (the detectives) still have to interview."
Beck said he did not know where in the jail Ham was being held when the jail staff noticed he was acting strangely. But about 2 p.m., the deputies decided to move Ham to the safety cell, also known as a "sobering cell." Less than 40 minutes later Mr. Ham was dead.

Inmates are placed alone in the safety cell so they can't harm themselves or other inmates. No indication of where Modesto prisoners are sent to be safe from the taser-wielding jailers. As the deputies were moving Ham, "he started fighting," according to the news release. When asked if Ham was punching or kicking the deputies, Beck said he could not release those details.

It was unclear how long the struggle with the jailers lasted. Beck, who is a sheriff's spokesman, said he didn't have information about how many deputies were involved in the struggle, how many deputies used a Taser on Ham or how many times Ham was struck by Tasers.

Beck said the deputies and medical staff stayed with Ham in the cell until he became unresponsive. Medical staff tried to resuscitate him but were unsuccessful. Ham was pronounced dead at the jail at 2:38 p.m.

Sheriff's officials said an autopsy showed that Ham had an enlarged heart and coroner officials are awaiting toxicology results before they can determine a cause of death. Beck said it could be four to six weeks before the toxicology results are returned.

Two other inmates at the downtown Modesto jail have died while in custody after officials used a Taser to subdue them.

Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said these deaths involved pre-existing, contributing factors such as drug abuse, alcohol abuse and mental health illness. He said Tasers have proven to be nonlethal weapons used successfully by law enforcement agencies across the country.

"Tasers are used every day on the street and people don't die," Christianson said.
He said downtown jailers follow specific departmental guidelines in using Tasers, and the Sheriff's Department will conduct an investigation into Ham's death the same as for the other two inmate deaths.

Villager's Voice: It seems that Sheriff Christianson isn't aware that his so-called nonlethal tasers are killing people at the rate of once per week.. I imagine that I'm going to have to count up the number of these taser-related deaths in which the victim would have died of their own accord ... with the taser gun and it's 50,000 volts being merely a coincidence. In this case the police want us to think that Ham would have dropped dead from his "enlarged heart", not the multiple jolts from police taser guns.

Ain't it time for congressional hearings?

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