Philly police investigate SEPTA officer’s use of stun gun, suspect’s death

 Chief of SEPTA Police Thomas Nestel holds a Taser like the one used on a combative suspect who later died in custody. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Chief of SEPTA Police Thomas Nestel holds a Taser like the one used on a combative suspect who later died in custody. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia police are investigating whether a SEPTA officer acted properly when he used his stun gun on a suspect who later died.

Transit officials say the SEPTA officer was attacked while trying to break up a scuffle between two individuals outside the Market-Frankford El station in Kensington.

The transit officer, who has not yet been identified, was closing down the station around 2 a.m. on Sunday when he attempted to de-escalate an argument. One of the men then turned his anger on the officer.

Video footage depicts the officer wrestling on the ground with the man, who outmatched the officer by 4 inches and 30 pounds,  SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel said at a Monday news briefing.

video stillIn surveillance video provided by SEPTA, a man who later died in custody is escorted from Huntingdon station by a SEPTA police officer. Neither has been identified.

The officer called for back up, but in the heat of the moment, forgot to give his location. Eight minutes later, additional officers to arrived.

“It is the worst sound that any of us who were put on patrol can hear,” Nestel said. “An officer calling for help and not knowing where that officer is. Eight minutes is a very long time.”

Nestel said the man was handcuffed at 2:05 and was conscious when he was put in the patrol car and taken to a hospital. But at 2:54, he was pronounced dead.

It’s not clear whether the Taser was the cause of death. The Philadelphia Police Department’s Homicide Unit and medical examiners are working to determine that cause.

“Our information is that he was conscious as he was put into the police car,” Nestel said. “Somewhere between the time that he was put into the police car and the time that he arrives at the hospital, he becomes unresponsive.”

SEPTA police have drawn their Tasers more than a 100 times, but have only deployed them 55 times, Nestel said.

The transit officers undergo Taser training once a year.

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