By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
CATSKILL — Catskill police officers have been cleared by the state attorney general in the death of Jason Jones, who died in December 2021, six weeks after being struck by a Taser by police and catching on fire.
New York Attorney General Letitia James’s Office of Special Investigation released a report Friday that concluded a prosecutor would not be able to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the officers had committed a crime, and criminal charges will not be pursued.
The report also concluded that officers should be sufficiently trained in the safe use of Tasers and similar weapons.
Jones died six weeks after he was Tasered in the Catskill Police Department on Main Street.
Police responded Oct. 29, 2021, to a 911 call reporting an unruly customer at a bar in Catskill, according to James’ report. Jones was escorted outside the bar and then fled from police, running towards the Catskill police station.
“When Mr. Jones entered the stationhouse, he pounded on the windows, overturned a table, and removed some of his clothes,” James said. “The officers spoke to Mr. Jones for 25 minutes in the lobby of the stationhouse, repeatedly asking him to calm down and suggesting that they take him home. Eventually, Mr. Jones picked up a bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer and rubbed it all over his head and bare upper body.”
The officers took Jones into custody under Mental Hygiene Law, determining that he was a danger to himself and others, according to James.
“When the officers told Mr. Jones that they would take him into custody, his actions indicated that he would not comply, so one officer deployed a Taser to temporarily disable him, with the objective of putting him in handcuffs,” James said. “The Taser ignited the hand sanitizer on Mr. Jones’ body, and the three officers ran out of the room to look for a fire extinguisher.”
The fire was put out and Jones was taken to a burn unit at a hospital. He died six weeks later on Dec. 15, 2021.
James said that under New York law, prosecuting a charge of reckless manslaughter “would require proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers were aware of and consciously disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk. Prosecuting criminally negligent homicide would require proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers failed to perceive that risk.”
James’ investigation concluded that could not be proven in a court of law.
“In this case, the CPD officers attempted to subdue Mr. Jones with a device that is not usually lethal to take him to a hospital, believing he was a danger to himself or others,” James said. “The video from the stationhouse lobby shows their shock when the hand sanitizer ignited, and the investigation showed that their training did not warn them against using a Taser around hand sanitizer.”
“Based on the investigation and the law, OSI (Office of Special Investigation) concluded it could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt at trial that the officers committed reckless manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide, and that criminal charges therefore could not be pursued in this matter,” James added.
The state recommended that officers undergo training in the safe use of Tasers and similar weapons in the basic training courses officers undergo, including a review of all flammable substances that could potentially ignite. Typically, officers only attend training in the use of Tasers provided by the weapon’s manufacturer.