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Santa Rosa: Tasers used 6 times in fatal arrest
by repost Friday, Jul. 29, 2005 at 5:36 PM


A 31-year-old man who died after a lengthy struggle with police was zapped six times with Taser stun guns and briefly knocked unconscious with a neck restraint, Santa Rosa police said Monday.

Police say Carlos Casillas Fernandez was probably under the influence of drugs and that it took five officers to restrain him.

One of those officers, Matt Sanchez, is named in a lawsuit alleging excessive use of force on a retired Santa Rosa Junior College employee in a case that also involved Tasers.

On Monday, police released more details about the events prior to Fernandez's death.

Officers responded to a 911 call placed from Fernandez's home on Blue Sky Lane at about 1 a.m. Saturday. Police said they believe Fernandez made the call but he wouldn't talk to the dispatcher.

His wife, Karla Fernandez, ultimately spoke to dispatchers and "reported that she believed her husband was under the influence of drugs and that he had been acting paranoid and delusional during the past several days," according to a statement released by police.

Family members say Fernandez called police because he heard noises and believed a thief was trying to enter the house. Police said they would release the 911 transcript in the coming days.

When the first officer arrived, the police statement said, Fernandez refused to speak to him and entered his house.

The officer, Brian Sinigiani, spoke to Karla Fernandez outside while Sanchez, the second officer to arrive, went inside to check on her husband.

Inside the house, police said Sanchez saw "obvious signs" that Fernandez was under the influence of drugs, including profuse sweating, tight clenching of fists and jaw.

Sanchez was able to take Fernandez's pulse before the drywall worker became agitated and uncooperative and resisted being cuffed, police said.

"They were having a very difficult time trying to control him," Lt. Ernest Olivares said Monday.

While trying to subdue Fernandez, Olivares said one of the two officers initially at the scene applied a direct Taser jolt to Fernandez's shoulder. Also, one of the officers used a carotid restraint on Fernandez, a maneuver that causes unconsciousness by blocking the flow of blood to the brain through the carotid arteries.

Olivares didn't reveal who used the carotid restraint. He said investigators are still trying to determine which officers used their Tasers.

Police said Fernandez briefly lost consciousness but soon continued to resist. After more police arrived, one of them used his Taser on Fernandez, with both probes shooting out and striking him on his left side. Olivares said Fernandez was shocked about four times by the second officer.

Pepper spray also was used on Fernandez, who was finally restrained and handcuffed with the help of five officers.

Olivares said Fernandez was probably lying face down with his hands cuffed behind his back when he started having difficulty breathing. Police removed the handcuffs and began CPR. Fernandez was taken to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.

On Monday, family members said Karla Fernandez was too distraught to answer questions. They blamed excessive force for Fernandez's death.

One relative said she was aware that Officer Sanchez had recently been sued over the use of excessive force.

In the lawsuit, which was filed April 27 in Superior Court, William Lambert, a media lab specialist for Santa Rosa Junior College, says Sanchez broke his right leg and applied a Taser jolt to the same leg during a domestic dispute at Lambert's home on March 22, 2004.

"We had warned the city last year that they had a problem officer," said Lambert's attorney, Sam Libicki.

City Attorney Brien Farrell rejected the claim against Sanchez.

"Mr. Lambert was properly arrested for striking his wife," Farrell said. "We will be making a motion to dismiss and should the case ultimately go to trial we look forward to the community hearing all of the evidence regarding the incident itself and the officers' training, and we are confident the officer will be vindicated."

Sanchez, Sinigiani and four other officers have been placed on paid administrative leave pending the investigation, which is being conducted by the Sheriff's Department.

An autopsy on Fernandez identified underlying heart disease, according to the Sheriff's Department. The cause of death has not been determined, pending toxicology analysis, which will not be available for about two weeks.

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