Man dies; Taser used
Third incident since 2003

NORCROSS - A 27-year-old man died Wednesday after Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department deputies used a Taser to subdue him at a Norcross apartment complex.

Carlos Rodriguez of Norcross died Wednesday afternoon at Gwinnett Medical Center-Duluth from injuries suffered during his altercation.

Authorities say Rodriguez assaulted two sheriff's deputies at a Lia Hills Drive apartment complex about 3 p.m., which prompted deputies to deploy the Taser, a gun-like device that fires electronic darts to temporarily incapacitate a person.

Deputies initially responded to the apartment complex to serve an eviction to an unrelated person when they discovered Rodriguez, who appeared heavily intoxicated, said department spokeswoman Stacey Bourbonnais.

"The preliminary indication is that deputies noticed (Rodriguez) because of his level of intoxication," Bourbonnais said.

When deputies approached Rodriguez, "he became combative and got into a physical confrontation with them" despite the actions of another man who attempted to subdue Rodriguez in a chokehold, according to a Sheriff's Department release.

Bourbonnais said Rodriguez died a short time after he arrived at the hospital, and an autopsy is pending.

Both deputies involved in the altercation, John Irvine and Nicholas Higgins, will be placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation, which is standard procedure, the Sheriff's Department said. Gwinnett sheriff's investigators and the Sheriff's Professional Standards Unit are investigating the incident.

Bourbonnais said department Tasers are programmed to stun uncooperative people with a standard amount of voltage that cannot be changed.

"(Tasers) are set up to do a certain amount, and that's what they do," Bourbonnais said. "You can't change the setting."

Rodriguez's death is not the first time incidents involving Tasers have turned deadly in Gwinnett County.

Beginning in September 2003, Ray Charles Austin, 25, and Frederick Jerome Williams, 31, died within eight months of each other after being shocked with Tasers while combating deputies at the Gwinnett County Jail.

Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway maintained at the time his deputies didn't violate any policies or procedures and there was no criminal wrongdoing.

In Austin's case, a Gwinnett District Attorney's Office investigation concluded in 2004 there was no basis for criminal charges against deputies involved in his death.

The following year, a grand jury decided against forming an inquiry into Williams' death after the man's family pushed for a further investigation.

Both deaths were spurred by chaotic situations when deputies resorted to Tasers, but autopsy results later revealed both men died of heart attacks, not high-voltage shocks.

Austin bit off a portion of a deputy's ear during a Sept. 24, 2003, struggle in the maximum security area of the jail, authorities said. Jail medical staff administered Austin a shot containing a psychotropic drug after Tasers had little effect, and he stopped breathing moments later. Austin died two days later at Gwinnett Medical Center.

Williams, who had epilepsy, struggled with deputies after an incident at his home May 26, 2004. Williams was shocked with a Taser and placed in a restraint chair in an attempt to subdue him. He stopped breathing and later died at the hospital.

Williams' family contended his actions were spurred by an epileptic condition and the force used against him was an injustice.