Family: Man shot with Taser is likely to die

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 11, 2010 - 9:47 PM

David Smith's uncle is upset about how police handled the case.

A Minneapolis man shot by police with a Taser last week during an altercation at the downtown Minneapolis YMCA is on life support and is not expected to survive, a family member said Saturday.

David Cornelius Smith, 28, suffered from mental illness, said his uncle, Larry Smith, an attorney from Oak Park, Ill. He remained hospitalized Saturday at Hennepin County Medical Center. Family members believe that police mishandled Thursday's Tasering incident, Larry Smith said.

Smith's parents, an uncle and cousins, all from Peoria, Ill., were on their way to Minneapolis on Saturday to be with him, Larry Smith said. They have not talked to police about the details of what happened, but were told by hospital staff to arrive as quickly as possible, he said.

Smith said his nephew suffers from bipolar disorder, a condition that involves periods of excitability or mania alternating with periods of depression. "There are some serious mental health issues for him" that may have led to the behavior that prompted the police call to the YMCA, he said.

Larry Smith said the family is angry that a Taser was used to subdue a mentally ill person.

"I'm sure the police are trained to handle individuals with mental health issues," he said. "There are a lot of people with mental health issues in this country, and they don't get Tased by the police."

Police were called to the YMCA at 30 S. 9th St. at 3:45 p.m. Thursday on a report of a man who was disturbing patrons and were directed to the sixth-floor gym. When officers Timothy Gorman and Timothy Callahan tried to physically remove Smith from the Y, he fought with them for several minutes, injuring one of them slightly before he was shot with a Taser. After he was arrested, he experienced a medical emergency and was rushed by ambulance to the hospital, police say.

Larry Smith said the initial jolt from the Taser caused David Smith to go into cardiac arrest. "It didn't stop his heart; it killed him," he said. "Paramedics restarted his heart on scene."

Since he arrived at the hospital Thursday, Smith's heart has stopped again and once again he was revived, his uncle said.

He said David Smith did not have any underlying physical health issues. "To the best of my knowledge, he was a healthy young man who loved to play basketball," Larry Smith said.

He said he wasn't certain whether his nephew was a YMCA member or had entered the building without permission.

YMCA officials have not discussed details of the case. In a statement released Thursday, YMCA spokeswoman Bette Fenton said police were called "to keep YMCA members and staff safe, and we support the efforts of the officers."

Larry Smith said that he did not know when his nephew received the bipolar diagnosis and that in fact he had not learned of it until last week. He said he also didn't know whether David Smith was taking medication.

David Smith, a native of Peoria, moved to Minneapolis about eight years ago for a Job Corps position and decided to stay in the city, his uncle said. He lived on his own and was taking college courses, though Larry Smith wasn't sure where. When the two last spoke in June, Larry Smith said his nephew talked about getting into a finance job and taking classes to become an investment banker.

David Smith was a "charismatic young man" who was an accomplished cello player in high school, Larry Smith said.

Larry Smith said he has already reached out to two Minneapolis law firms and the NAACP for their help in addressing police actions in his nephew's case. His family is traumatized, he said, and want answers from police.

"He was in Minneapolis because he loved the city," he said. "It's a shame how his love for the city ended up resulting in his death. I'm sure the people of Minneapolis don't want their city to be known as, 'Come love this city, but be careful, the police might kill you.'"

Police are conducting both criminal and internal investigations into what happened. Gorman, a 13-year veteran of the department, and Callahan, a 17-year veteran, are both on standard administrative leave. Both are decorated officers who have received numerous commendations.

According to Minnesota court records, David Smith was recommended for a six-month civil commitment for chemical dependency in 2008. A stay of commitment was ordered, meaning that if Smith voluntarily complied with orders issued by a judge, he would not be committed. In 2000, he pleaded guilty to causing a public nuisance, and in 2009 pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. Both are misdemeanors.

Staff writer David Chanen contributed to this report. Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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