San Jose Acknowledges: "Heart Failure" Death of Suspect Helped Along by Pepper Spray, Taser, Repeated Beating

The city of San Jose has agreed to pay $70,000 to the family of a Fresno man whose death in a 2005 confrontation with police was partly attributed to officers' use of pepper spray and stun guns.

The death of Jose Angel Rios, 38, marked the first time the Santa Clara County coroner listed the police weapons as contributing factors in an in-custody death.

Rios died after officers used batons, pepper spray and Tasers to subdue him in an incident that began when off-duty Officer Ian Cooley saw him arguing with his wife, Christine, at an apartment complex on Stokes Street on Nov. 18, 2005.

Rios was reaching into the passenger side of a sport utility vehicle and appeared to have his arm around his wife's neck as she screamed for help, authorities said.

Cooley drew his gun and began arguing with Rios before pepper-spraying him, according to a suit filed by Christine Rios and her son, Jose Angel Rios Jr. The officer called for backup, and Officer Steve Guggiana arrived and fired his Taser numerous times at Rios, court records said.

While he was on the ground, the officers shot Rios again with stun guns and beat him with batons, fists, knees and elbows, the family's suit said. City officials have said police used the force that was necessary to subdue Rios, who they said had been struggling and resisting arrest.

Rios was pronounced dead shortly thereafter at Valley Medical Center in San Jose.

The coroner found that the 6-foot-1, 330-pound Rios was obese and had been high on cocaine during the struggle. The coroner attributed his death to heart failure but, in a first for the county, also listed stun guns and pepper spray as contributing factors.

At least six people have died after the use of Tasers by San Jose police since 2004, when all officers in the city were given the stun guns for use on patrol, according to police watchdog groups. Lawsuits are pending in at least two of those cases.

The City Council approved the settlement with Rios' family Tuesday.

E-mail Henry K. Lee at hlee@sfchronicle.com.

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