0

Sheriff: Deputies in clear
Autopsy results pending in Taser death

NORCROSS - Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway said Thursday that two deputies were in the right when using a Taser on a Norcross man who allegedly attacked them and later died.

Deputies John Irvine and Nicholas Higgins will remain on paid administrative leave during an investigation into the death of Carlos Rodriguez, 27, who died at Gwinnett Medical Center on Wednesday after an altercation with police.

The action against the deputies is standard procedure, the Sheriff's Department said.

"From the information I have at this point, (the deputies) appeared to be doing their duties within (Sheriff's Department) policy," Conway said. "We're looking at this as a death case - not a Taser case."

The sheriff would not give details surrounding the incident - such as how many times Rodriguez was shocked - because the investigation is ongoing, he said.

Conway expects preliminary autopsy results will be available next week that might indicate Rodriguez's cause of death. A "use of force report" is completed each time a Taser is deployed or shown to an individual by deputies, and each report is then scrutinized by Sheriff's Department supervisors, Conway said.

The sheriff is compiling data to indicate how often the high-voltage equipment is used.

"I'd say it's rare," Conway said.

The department says Rodriguez assaulted the deputies at a Lia Hills Drive apartment complex in Norcross about 3 p.m. Wednesday, which prompted deputies to deploy the Taser.

Deputies initially responded to the apartment complex to serve an eviction to an unrelated person when they discovered Rodriguez, who appeared heavily intoxicated, according to the Sheriff's Department. Rodriguez was pronounced dead shortly after his arrival at the hospital.

Gwinnett County chief forensics investigator Ted Bailey said it could take up to three months for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to return Rodriguez's toxicology results.

"We won't know anything until then," Bailey said.

Gwinnett sheriff's investigators and the Sheriff's Professional Standards Unit are investigating the incident, which marks the third time since 2003 a man has died in Gwinnett County after being shocked with Tasers.

Ray Charles Austin, 25, and Frederick Jerome Williams, 31, died within eight months of each other after the men were shocked with Tasers by deputies.

Autopsy results later said both men died of heart attacks, not high-voltage shocks.

Conway said in order to carry a Taser, deputies must pass special training that includes getting shocked. He stands behind the equipment as a device that bolsters the safety level of his deputies.

"I still firmly believe that the Taser is a good tool for law enforcement," Conway said. "They save lives and prevent injuries."