lawsuit filed over Utah Taser death

Thursday , September 06, 2012 - 3:35 PM

Stun gun

Stun gun

Paul Foy

SALT LAKE CITY— A wrongful-death case was filed Thursday against Salt Lake City police for the reported Taser death of a 44-year-old man who was stopped while riding his bicycle months ago for reasons that aren’t clear.

Family members say police refuse to give them any information about the death of Allen Keith Nelson, who they say was one day of out jail on a shoplifting conviction when he was pulled over shortly after 3 a.m. on June 9.

Darlene Bessonette, a 78-year-old retired nurse, said she overhead the confrontation while walking a dog.

“I could hear Allen crying and saying, ‘Don’t hit me anymore. I didn’t do it,”’ Bessonette said Thursday at a news conference with family members.

She added, “I heard one officer say, ‘I Tased him,’ and another officer say, “You Tased him? Oh, my god. He’s not breathing.”’

Bessonette says two officers who haven’t been identified did nothing to resuscitate the man. She said she was too afraid to step forward and offer help, hiding behind a rose bush until paramedics arrived — “it was too late,” she said.

The man’s 23-year-old son, Tyson Powers, said the family has a right to a police report that authorities refuse to release. It’s unclear if an autopsy report has been completed. The family’s lawyer, Robert B. Sykes, said the federal lawsuit will provide him subpoena power to demand the documents.

“I wake up every morning wondering what happened to my father,” said Powers, a police cadet at the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and former Navy sailor. “I believe something happened that wasn’t supposed to happen, whether it was an accident or not.”

Bessonette said she knew Allen Nelson and members of his family, and heard him leaving her apartment building with his bicycle shortly before a police cruiser with lights flashing pulled him over on a city street. She said she has no idea why Nelson was detained.

A day later, Bessonette said she was invited to give her account at police headquarters — a conversation she says turned into a 90-minute interrogation with detectives challenging her account that a stun gun was used on Nelson.

“They said Tasers don’t kill,” Bessonette said. “I said, ‘Yes, they do.’ It was a nightmare to me. The whole thing.”

At another point, detectives suggested Nelson might have stolen the bicycle he was riding, she said. His family said he had his own bike.

The Salt Lake City police department refused comment when reached early Thursday by The Associated Press. An open-records request for police and autopsy reports brought no immediate response. After a police spokeswoman, Detective Carlie Wiechman, said the department had nothing to say, an executive assistant to Police Chief Chris Burbank said the chief had some comments for reporters outside the police station.

It wasn’t immediately clear what Burbank had to say. The chief didn’t return a phone message. Wiechman said Burbank’s remarks would be shown on YouTube later Thursday.

A check of Utah state court records shows Nelson has an extensive criminal record. He was sentenced to six months in jail in January for shoplifting and assaulting an officer.

Nelson planned to turn his life around “and was sincere about making changes” before his most recent brush with the law, said his pastor, Nurjhan B. Gowan of Trinity Community Church in Salt Lake City.