State and NYPD officials have opened separate investigations into the death Wednesday night of an apparently emotionally disturbed Bronx man who police twice hit with a stun gun, officials said Thursday.
The NYPD Force Investigation Division is reviewing the case and New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has opened a preliminary inquiry because a person died at the hands of police.
According to police, Ariel Galarza, 49, died at Albert Einstein Hospital about two hours after Sgt. William Melrose of the 45th Precinct twice fired at Galarza with a “conductive energy device,” commonly known as a Taser.
Melrose and other officers responded about 5:35 p.m. to a report of an emotionally disturbed man armed with a knife and acting violently at 1840 Mayflower Ave. in the Morrisania section.
When police arrived, Galarza confronted officers, threatening them with a bottle, police said. Melrose fired the stun gun once but, when that failed to subdue Galarza, Melrose jolted him again by pressing the device directly against his body, a tactic known as a “dry stun,” a police spokesman said.
Galarza then appeared to go into cardiac arrest and the officers tried to resuscitate him, police said. Galarza was taken to the hospital by ambulance where he was pronounced dead at 7:22 p.m.
The death of Galarza, who reportedly had learning disabilities and cardiovascular problems, is the second fatality in police custody in the Bronx in the past three weeks. On Oct. 19, Sgt. Hugh Barry shot and killed Deborah Danner, 66, after she attacked him with a baseball bat, police said.
Amy Spitalnick, Schneiderman’s spokeswoman, said members of the Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit were sent to the scene of the Galarza incident to determine if the office has jurisdiction.
Schneiderman’s office has the authority to probe only cases involving the death of a unarmed civilian. In the Danner case, the attorney general declined to investigate because the woman had a bat when she was shot.
Bronx prosecutors are looking into Danner’s death.
While Melrose remained on active duty Thursday, Barry remained on modified duty without his gun and shield after the Danner shooting, police said. Ed Mullins, head of the Sergeant’s Benevolent Association, continued to maintain Thursday that Barry shouldn’t have been placed on modified duty.
“What is clear in these two cases is that they are judgment calls that can only be made by the person in the situation,” Mullins said.
Use of the Taser is addressed in the Patrol Guide, which states that officers can discharge the device against a person no more than three times. The NYPD has about 1,700 of the devices and more than 9,900 officers have been trained in Taser use, according to the department.