Police taser cam:June 14/08,released
A video and audio recording made by a Fitchburg police officer's Taser weapon helped confirm the officer's account of a struggle with a man that led to his shooting death by the officer, District Attorney Brian Blanchard said Friday.
The recording, along with other reports from witnesses that included the man's relatives and neighbors, led Blanchard to conclude that Officer Eric Disch acted lawfully, matching "the direct threat of lethal force with lethal force" when he shot Juan Manuel Avalos-Cisneros on June 14.
The video technology incorporated into the Taser that Disch was using is relatively new and is uncommon among local police agencies.
Disch, 26, has been a police officer for five years and at Fitchburg since November. Fitchburg Police Chief Tom Blatter said Disch is currently on administrative leave pending the outcome of the department's own review. He said he believes this is the first officer-involved fatal shooting in the department's history.
Blanchard said his review found that cocaine use by Avalos-Cisneros is a possible factor in the incident, based on police contacts with him earlier this year.
Disch is the son of Dane County Sheriff's Sgt. Gordon Disch. Sheriff David Mahoney said there was no conflict of interest in his department investigating the shooting because Gordon Disch was not involved in the investigation and because there were parallel investigations by the district attorney and the coroner.
Blatter said his department's policy is to call in the Sheriff's Office for police-involved shootings.
Blanchard said he knew the officer was Disch's son the night of the incident, but noted that Madison police conduct their own investigations into police officer shootings.
"People can draw lines different places, but I don't see any reasonable possibility of conflict," Blanchard said.
Michael Scott, a UW-Madison law professor and former police chief, said "ideally" an investigation into a police shooting would be done "by an agency and detectives who had no conflict or potential conflict of interest."
Dane County and Madison, however, are considered the only two local agencies large enough to investigate a police shooting, he said.
Blatter said Disch responded to a call at 1:07 a.m. Saturday of a fight between a sister and brother-in-law. He arrived moments later to find a crowd outside a townhouse-style apartment building at 2286 High Ridge Trail.
Mahoney said Avalos-Cisneros' wife directed Disch inside, and he went upstairs where Avalos-Cisneros emerged from a second-floor bedroom. Initially, Blanchard said, Avalos-Cisneros was holding a length of coaxial cable. Disch ordered him to place his hands on his head, Mahoney said, which he did momentarily, and then lie down on the floor, resting on one elbow.
Avalos-Cisneros then started to move toward the bedroom, where he appeared to be reaching around the open door for something. Blanchard said it wasn't known what Avalos-Cisneros was reaching for. Disch grabbed him and tried to pull him back into the hallway. When Disch ordered him back onto the floor, he ignored the commands and moved aggressively toward Disch.
Blanchard said Avalos-Cisneros spoke English well enough to understand the commands, but said Disch also issued commands in Spanish.
Disch pulled out his Taser. He fired it but missed Avalos-Cisneros, and it fell to the floor as they grappled with one another. As they continued to struggle, Avalos-Cisneros began to reach for Disch's gun.
Blanchard said that Disch, fearing he might lose a fight with a man 8 inches taller and 60 pounds heavier than he is, managed to shove Avalos-Cisneros away and at the same time fire his gun.
"He used lethal force in response to a reasonable belief of lethal danger," Blanchard said. "Under Wisconsin law, any person, any citizen, including law enforcement, has the privilege to defend himself or others from death or great bodily harm with death or great bodily harm."
Then another officer arrived and the two officers gave CPR to Avalos-Cisneros until medical personnel arrived.
Coroner John Stanley pronounced Avalos-Cisneros dead at the scene.
Blanchard said there are indications that Avalos-Cisneros had used cocaine in the past and that his demeanor changes when he does. One relative said he acts "freaked out."
Before police arrived the night of the shooting, Avalos-Cisneros was acting nervous and afraid and said that someone was out to get him, Blanchard said.
Police also said they had contacts with him earlier this year, both involving cocaine use. According to a Mount Horeb police report, officers responded on March 5 to a disturbance in which Avalos-Cisneros was found to be suffering from acute cocaine intoxication. He had smashed belongings in his bedroom, the report states, where police found him. He was taken to a hospital.
Fitchburg police also responded on May 26 to a disturbance in which Avalos-Cisneros, who was naked, sweating and mumbling, admitted using cocaine, according to a police report. Again, he was taken to a hospital for treatment.
State Journal reporter Matthew DeFour contributed to this report.
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