OMAHA, Neb. - A Lincoln man who refused to drop his knife died after being hit with a Taser blast - a deadly incident captured in an audio recording by a TV crew, police said Friday.
The man was identified by police as 23-year-old Gabriel Bitterman.
The TV crew had been following the officer for the MTV reality show "Busted." The officer had been fitted with a microphone, so the dramatic showdown was recorded while the crew remained elsewhere with their camera and other gear.
Department spokeswoman Katie Flood said officers were dispatched at 2:55 a.m. Friday after a neighbor reported a loud argument.
Flood gave this account of what happened next: The first officer got to the apartment building three minutes later and heard someone screaming. He went into the apartment and found Bitterman holding his girlfriend at knifepoint in a bedroom. Bitterman ignored the officer's repeated orders to drop the knife. When Bitterman turned toward the officer, the officer fired his Taser, a battery-powered stun gun. Bitterman dropped the knife, and the woman ran from the room.
Following standard procedure, the officer called on his radio for emergency medical aid. As other officers arrived, they noticed Bitterman had stopped breathing. By the time the officers removed handcuffs from Bitterman, the medics had arrived. They begun treating him and soon took him to BryanLGH Medical Center West.
Doctors there continued efforts to revive him, but he was pronounced dead at 4:04 a.m. An autopsy was scheduled.
Flood would not release the officer's name, but she said he was a nine-year veteran of the force. He has been placed on administrative leave, pending internal investigation.
Because Bitterman died in police custody, the case will be reviewed by a grand jury, as required under Nebraska law.
The officer was not injured, Flood said. The woman held at knifepoint was not cut, Flood said, but she had been dragged and received minor injuries to an elbow, knee and her head.
The woman and Bitterman have a nearly 6-month-old daughter, but the infant was not at the apartment her parents share, Flood said. Neither the woman's nor the baby's names were released.
Police also released copies of Bitterman's criminal history. It includes pending child abuse and domestic assault cases, a drunken-driving conviction in 2007, an assault conviction in 2005 and convictions and fines for procuring alcohol for minors. There also were several arrests on other charges that had been dismissed.
According to Flood, the officer followed department policy for Tasers, which have become more popular with police departments as an alternative to deadly force when police are confronted with a dangerous situation, such as an armed suspect.
The Lincoln department has 15 Tasers and 80 officers certified to wield them, Flood said, including the officer who fired his on Friday.
But the devices have also come under scrutiny. Some studies have shown a number of deaths occurring shortly after the stun guns' use.
A federal report released in October 2007 said arrest-related deaths after the use of Tasers or similar stun guns were rising. According to the study, over 2003-2005, there were 36 such deaths. More than half were blamed on other causes, including intoxication, rather than Tasers.
A spokesman for Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Taser said the Model X26 used by the officer delivers a series of jolts over 5 seconds.
Taser's Steve Tuttle said 19 pulses of electricity are delivered each second. Each pulse is 100 milliseconds in duration and carries an average jolt of 400 volts, but can peak at 1,200 volts.
The Taser shot incapacitates suspects by preventing any coordinated movement, Tuttle said.
Officer Flood said the three MTV crew members did not see the confrontation because they had not followed the officer inside the apartment.
She said they were fully cooperating with police and have turned over the audio recording as evidence.