Sixty Year-Old Mentally Ill Man Dies in Isolation Cell Hours After Police Tasing

A 60-year-old man who had long suffered from bipolar disorder died in a jail cell Friday evening, hours after police tased him and placed him in isolation. Bill Williams was arrested for shoplifting at a gas station in Snohomish County, Washington. He had recently stopped taking his medication, and his family said they called the police and his case manager the previous week saying he needed to be hospitalized, but were ignored. KIRO 7 Eyewitness News reports:

“His life was so difficult. Anyway for it to end like this, and die alone in his cell, is just incomprehensible,” said Williams’ daughter, Trina Blau. “There’s a hospital right there where they could have shot him up with a sedative to figure it out. Instead, they shot him with a Taser and he’s dead.”

Surveillance video from the convenience store showed Williams jumping over the counter to grab cigarettes, and then come back for a six-pack of beer. . . .

Williams’ family said he was off his medication, and Blau called 911 Thursday trying to get him taken to the mental hospital.

“They talked to him for 15 seconds. If they would have talked to him 10 seconds longer, they would have seen he wasn’t lucid,” said Blau. “I firmly believe my dad would be alive if they would have just taken the time to listen.”

If the county medical examiner’s office determines that the Taser was the cause of death, it will add to the list of recent deaths linked to Tasers and police violence in the Puget Sound region of Washington state. In July, another mentally ill man who suffered from bipolar and post-traumatic stress disorders was tased to death. And in 2010, a spate of five deaths resulting from police violence were reported in one week, including two from Tasers. KIRO also reported that just last month, a deaf woman who called 911 for help was tased in her ribs and stomach.

This past week, a Department of Justice report found a pattern of abuse against the mentally ill in Portland that included the frequent, unnecessary use of Tasers. And a 2007 study in Houston found that police unnecessarily used Tasers on the mentally ill, even when they were warned about the person’s mental health condition.