Officer kills himself over taser episode

October 3, 2008 7:33:16 AM PDT
Police say the New York police lieutenant who killed himself at Floyd Bennet Field on Thursday morning, apparently used another officer's gun to commit suicide. According to reports, Lieutenant Michael Pigott's suicide note indicated that he was afraid of being charged for the death of a man in Brooklyn who died after he authorized the fatal use of a Taser stun gun on the naked psychiatric patient.

The officer was remorseful and distraught. He apologized and sought the family's forgiveness. Then he married father of two sons and a daughter, went to his unit's headquarters Thursday morning and shot himself to death, just hours before the family laid the victim to rest.

The suicide marks another tragic turn in a case that has raised questions about the use of Tasers by the nation's largest police force.

Authorities say Pigott directed a fellow Emergency Services Unit officer to use his Taser on 35-year-old Iman Morales as he teetered on a Brooklyn building's ledge on September 24.

The 50,000-volt shock caused Morales, a troubled psychiatric patient, to topple 10 feet headfirst onto the sidewalk, killing him.

Officers had radioed for an inflatable bag as the incident unfolded, but it had not yet arrived when Morales fell.

After the episode, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly ordered refresher training for the NYPD's Emergency Services Unit on how to deal with the mentally ill, and appointed a new commander of the unit.

Pigott, a 21-year veteran who lives in Suffolk County, told a reporter earlier this week that he was "truly sorry for what happened."

Pigott was one of two officers disciplined by NYPD commanders for violating Taser-use guidelines.

"The lieutenant was deeply distraught and extremely remorseful over the death of Iman Morales in Brooklyn last week," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. "Sadly, his death just compounds the tragedy of the loss of Mr. Morales."

Pigottt was stripped of his gun and badge and assigned to a job with the department's motor vehicle fleet.

Police say the officer who used the taser, Nicholas Marchesona, was placed on desk duty.

The Brooklyn district attorney's office and the NYPD are investigating.

Pigott's suicide came on what was his 46th birthday. According to the Post, he placed photos of his wife and kids next to him before taking his own life.

"This is horrible," said Morales' aunt, Ann DeJesus Negron. "I mean, for me personally, I know it's horrible because I would have never wished this on anyone and we never wanted of course this for Iman and we would never wanted this to happen to the officer at all or anybody at all."

The episode also cast the spotlight on the NYPD's Emergency Services Unit, an elite team of officers who deal with dozens of hostile scenarios every day, such as hostage situations, suicidal suspects, building collapses and hazardous materials threats.

"These guys are the best of the best, they really are," said Eugene O'Donnell, a professor of police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. "When people need help, they call the police, and when police need help, the call the ESU."

O'Donnell said even though the mistake was caught on camera, it should not take away from the caliber of work the unit and the officers do on a daily basis.

"You have a guy who made a mistake where there's no allegation of malice or ill-will," he said. "And what happened after he made a mistake? He was named in the paper, shamed in the paper, suspended, and there was a strong storyline that he could be criminal suspect." NYPD officers are allowed to use Tasers if they believe emotionally disturbed people are a danger to themselves or to others.

The NYPD uses stun guns about 300 times on average. So far this year, stun guns have been used 180 times.

The department has used Tasers since 1984, but policy previously called for sergeants to store the stun guns in their trunks while patrolling.

Police said the use of the stun gun in the death of Morales appeared to violate department guidelines, which explicitly bar their use "in situations where the subject may fall from an elevated surface."

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WEB PRODUCED BY: Lakisha Bostick and Bob Monek

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