The family of a Charles County man who died after being Tasered by police has asked the Justice Department to investigate.
DeOntre L. Dorsey, 32, died Sunday, nearly nine months after he was left in a semi-vegetative state after being hit by a stun gun by a corporal with the Charles County sheriff’s office, his family said.
They say the encounter began after Dorsey suffered a seizure while driving and ran his car off the road.
Dorsey’s parents filed a formal complaint Tuesday with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “What happened here was terribly wrong — and it could happen to anyone experiencing a seizure like DeOntre,” his family said in the complaint.
Diane Richardson, a spokeswoman for the Charles County sheriff’s office, said Tuesday that she was not aware Dorsey had died. She said she was unable to provide further information about the matter.
Dorsey’s death comes on the heels of a Washington Post investigation that found at least 48 people have died in the United States since January in incidents in which police used stun guns. Nearly 55 percent of the victims were minorities. Dorsey was black.
The complaint to the Justice Department and sheriff reports, copies of which were obtained by The Washington Post, said Dorsey was driving alone on St. Charles Parkway in White Plains at about 4:30 p.m. March 1 when he lost control of the car. It came to rest against a tree in a median. Witnesses who called 911 said Dorsey was “flopping like a fish.”
The Charles County Mobile Intensive Care Unit responded to the scene “for the motor vehicle accident with a person having seizures,” according to sheriff’s records.
“He had just gotten off the phone with his girlfriend,” said attorney Timothy F. Maloney, who is representing the family in the Justice Department matter. Maloney said it was Dorsey’s second seizure in two months. He had not been prescribed anti-seizure medication, Maloney said.
In a police report prepared days after the accident and Tasering, Dorsey’s girlfriend told investigators he had texted her and said, “I’m ready to pass out behind the wheel.”
Cpl. Michael Sokoloff, who responded to the scene, told an investigator that when he approached the vehicle, Dorsey was on his back kicking his legs like “a child having a temper tantrum,” according to police records. After Dorsey rolled on his stomach and reached for a firefighter’s leg, Sokoloff ordered him to put his hands behind his back. Dorsey failed to comply and tried to stand up, the officer said. Sokoloff Tasered him, hitting him in the back with probes.
Sokoloff told an investigator that he shocked Dorsey, a father of four, several times.
Dorsey was later handcuffed and placed in leg shackles at the scene and stopped moving, a sheriff’s report states. Dorsey stopped breathing, and paramedics administered CPR before he was taken to a hospital, the report states.
Police said they found a loaded handgun in the car and a plastic bag with “suspected crack cocaine,” sheriff’s records show.
Sokoloff declined to comment on the incident when reached at home Tuesday.
Tasers are known to incapacitate individuals when used in the “probe mode,” when they fire two barbs that deliver an electric current along wires, causing the muscles to lock up.
Tasers also can be used in the “drive-stun” mode to control dangerous individuals. That’s when the device is placed against the body and the trigger is pulled. Taser International, the company that manufactures the device, has issued product warnings to law enforcement about drive-stunning, noting the need for caution and restraint when using the technique on certain people, including those with mental illnesses.
Sokoloff told an investigator who reviewed the incident that he used the Taser in probe mode first.
Sokoloff said he then “attempted to deliver a shock but accidentally fired the second cartridge,” with one of the probes hitting Dorsey, according to police records.
Sokoloff then “switched the taser to the arc button and delivered three, maybe four shocks while giving commands to Dorsey.”
Sokoloff said Dorsey reacted to the Tasering but again failed to comply with orders. He remained combative after being handcuffed, Sokoloff said. After officers put Dorsey in leg shackles, they checked his respiration and found he was not breathing.
He was in a “semi-vegetative state” until his death, his family said.