Local News

SBI Investigating Death Of Man Shocked With Taser Gun

Posted July 24, 2006 7:59 a.m. EDT

— The State Bureau of Investigation is investigating the death of a Siler City man who died early Sunday morning after being shocked with a Taser gun.

At about 5:10 a.m., Pittsboro police were dispatched to the Chatham County Courthouse in reference to an irrational person who was causing a disturbance.

When authorities arrived, a man, later identified as Shannon Johnson, 37, of Edwards Hill Church Road, jumped in his black Ford F-350 pickup truck and led police officers and sheriff's deputies on a 40-mile high-speed chase, in which speeds at times reached an excess of 90 mph.

Johnson wrecked his truck on U.S. Highway 64 just west of Asheboro, the Chatham County Sheriff's Office said, and was detained after he was shocked with the Taser gun.

"It's hard to explain, because it's certainly something that we didn't want to happen," said Maj. Gary Blankenship of the Chatham County Sheriff's Office. "If we could have done anything in retrospect to prevent it, I'm sure we would have."

Authorities said that Johnson then began having trouble breathing and went unconscious. He was taken to Randolph County Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at about 6:30 a.m.

"From what I can gather from the officer's statements to us, their actions were appropriate with the situation that they were dealing with," Blankenship said.

Investigators would not say on Monday whether Johnson had been under the influence of alcohol or drugs or whether he had a medical condition. His body was sent on Sunday to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Chapel Hill on Sunday for an autopsy.

Chatham County deputies are trained to use Taser guns, which can help subdue someone without using deadly force, and have done so about 30 times over the past 2½ years.

As part of the training, deputies themselves must also be shocked with the device, which delivers a 50,000-volt shock and disables the neuromuscular system for up to 60 seconds, to know what it feels like.

"Any situation where an officer had to use a Taser, the officer has not been injured and neither has the suspect," Blankenship said. "It's been a useful tool for us in certain situations."

An estimated 7,000 law-enforcement agencies in the United States use Taser guns. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, however, the devices have been linked to about 150 deaths in the U.S. and in Canada over the past seven years.

The U.S. Department of Justice is currently investigating 30 Taser gun-related deaths.