The Randolph County coroner has ruled that the August death of a man whom Moberly police shocked twice with a Taser during a traffic stop was a homicide.
Gerald Luntsford said he would wait until receiving the results from a Missouri State Highway Patrol investigation before releasing the exact cause of death for Stanley Harlan, 23, of Moberly. Luntsford said he expects that investigation to be complete soon.
"A homicide only means that a person came to their death by the hands of another," Luntsford said today.
In a separate investigation, the highway patrol is trying to determine whether officers acted appropriately.
Luntsford said he could not disclose whether the use of the Taser killed Harlan. "There’s no doubt it contributed to it," the coroner said. "In a few days, we will have exactly what killed him."
Moberly police pulled Harlan over early Aug. 28 for driving his vehicle erratically and tried to arrest him on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. Harlan resisted, and the arresting officer was able to get only one handcuff on him, police said.
An officer, whom police have not identified, deployed the Taser and forced Harlan to the ground. Police said that when Harlan refused orders to remove his arms from under his body, the officer deployed the Taser again, and Harlan complied.
A short time later, Harlan became unresponsive and the four officers on the scene requested an ambulance. Harlan stopped breathing before paramedics arrived, and he was pronounced dead at Moberly Regional Medical Center. Boone County Medical Examiner Chris Stacy conducted the autopsy.
Luntsford said the next step in the case will be to discuss it with Randolph County Prosecuting Attorney Mike Fusselman, who could decide to investigate or ask that a special prosecutor be appointed because of the connection with local police. Luntsford also said he could hold a coroner’s inquest in front of a jury.
A woman who answered the phone at Fusselman’s office today said the office was not involved in the case before hanging up. Moberly police forwarded requests for comment to the highway patrol.
The highway patrol’s Division of Drug and Crime Control is close to completing its investigation, Sgt. Jason Clark said. Clark did not provide a timetable for when information might be released.
"We’re investigating every aspect of this incident," Clark said, including whether the officers acted appropriately.
Commander Kevin Palmatory of the Moberly Police Department defended the officer’s action after the incident, saying the officer followed procedure and that he was unaware of any death directly attributed to Taser use, a defense often used by police departments.
Tasers emit a burst of 50,000 volts that temporarily immobilizes the target. The Columbia Police Department and Boone County Sheriff’s Department have used Tasers for years. Columbia police used federal grant money to nearly double the number of weapons for its officers, a decision that has been criticized by local citizen groups.