OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma police officer who fired a Taser at a man who then caught fire and was burned beyond recognition inside a gasoline-soaked van took a “calculated risk” of igniting a fire, according to the city manager.
“This was a calculated risk issue,” Lindsay City Manager Stephen Mills said Thursday. “The only chance of a good outcome was the use of a Taser, it was a slim chance, but it was the only chance,” of taking the man into custody alive
“The calculated risk is this gas likely will ignite,” Mills said.
The man, who McClain County authorities initially said had doused himself with gasoline, burned to death Tuesday when he caught fire inside his van after being shot with the Taser by a Lindsay police officer near the town of about 2,800 residents, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) south of Oklahoma City.
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Whether the man had poured gas on himself and what ignited the gas was still under investigation, McClain County Det. David Tompkins said Thursday.
“We don’t know that yet, the investigation is still under way,” Tompkins said.
Mills said the officer was trained by Axon, the company that sells the Taser, a conducted electrical weapon, or CEW.
An Axon spokesman did not immediately return messages seeking comment, but the company notes on its website that a Taser can cause flammable materials, including gasoline, to catch fire.
“Do not knowingly use a CEW in the presence of any explosive or flammable substance unless the situation justifies the increased risk,” the website states.
The man’s body, sent to the state medical examiner’s office, had not been positively identified, spokeswoman Amy Elliott said Thursday.
The name of the officer has not been released.
Mills said officers investigating a report of “an erratic individual with a gun” stopped the man who was driving a van, saw the gasoline and that the man was holding a cigarette lighter when he exited the van, but did not smell of gas. Mills said one officer fired the Taser after the man refused to obey orders to get on the ground, then fought off two officers.
“He (then) got back into the vehicle, and that’s when the vapors from the gas ignited,” Mills said.
Whether the electrical current from the Taser ignited the flames or the man used the lighter to ignite fire, has not been determined, according to Tompkins.
The officer’s training in the use of a Taser is also being examined, according to Jessica Brown, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, which is also investigating the death.
“That’s something that absolutely will be looked at,” Brown said.
The officer likely received state law enforcement training at the Oklahoma Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training, said CLEET director Steve Emmons, but that training does not include the use of Tasers.
“We don’t do any Taser training, we don’t do any gas training,” Emmons said.
“Historically, the training has come from the companies that sell the (Tasers),” Emmons said.