Death by Electrocutioner

In a worst-case scenario for stun guns, a Phoenix cop kills a suspect with an 84-second tasing

The technique is supposed to be used to gain control through the infliction of pain, not by temporary incapacitation (the latter is what the electrified wire probes are designed to do).

In that first interview, Williams gave the impression that Graff somehow got off the ground and was upright when Anderson first deployed his Taser probes. That wasn't at all how Anderson recalled it.

Williams said Graff fought on for a time — she couldn't say for how long — but then "locked up" by pulling his arms into his chest, and quit flailing. She said she was ready to handcuff him, but that Anderson told her to wait until the other officers got there. Instead, Anderson kept deploying his Taser on the suspect.

Keith Graff died on May 5, 2005.
courtesy of Terry Graff
Keith Graff died on May 5, 2005.

Officer Matt Makinster told investigators that when he got up to the third floor, Graff was on his back staring upward and was unresponsive.

"It is significant to me," says former LAPD cop Ron McCarthy, "that . . . if Williams thought the subject could be handcuffed, that would indicate he had exhibited no resistance and could be handcuffed, but Anderson wanted to continue the Tase."

In her second interview, also conducted within the hours after the incident, Williams told an internal affairs sergeant — contrary to her first account — that she didn't know she'd even fired her Taser until the probes from the stun gun stuck in a door.

She repeated that she'd wanted to cuff Graff, but that Anderson had told her, "Just wait 'til somebody else gets here."

In her final interview about the case, with internal affairs Sergeant Zeiner two weeks after the incident, Williams said Keith Graff only had been "trying to get away. I can't say that he hauled off and punched me."

Sergeant Zeiner again tried to get Williams to put a more positive spin on the still-murky events.

"So let me see if I can get you to articulate it then," the internal affairs investigator said, formulating a narrative for the officer. "You were fearful that if [Anderson] had shut down the Taser, [Graff] was gonna fight again. By looking at him and coming out with the handcuffs, you didn't think, 'Okay, he's had enough. He's whipped. Shut off the Taser, and I can handcuff him.'"

Finally, Zeiner posed a question that demanded a response.

"Did you actually think that if you shut off the Taser that the fight would be back on?"

Officer Williams hadn't said or even implied anything of the sort. But she finally seemed to get that Zeiner wasn't her enemy just because he was in internal affairs.

"Nothing we had done up to that point had stopped him," Williams said. "And I don't think [Anderson] could fight or hold on anymore, and neither could I."

Williams was talking about what had happened before Anderson had been shocking Graff with his Taser, not after.

But that's where the interview ended.

Zeiner never asked Williams if she had told Chuck Anderson to keep on shocking Graff, as Stephanie Slaven suggested.

And the sergeant never asked either cop what they were thinking when they realized the guy who had escaped from Williams a few weeks earlier was trying to pull the same routine on them.

For several hours, no one knew the identity of the man whose body had been taken from Paradise Valley Hospital to the county morgue.

Finally, police identified him as Keith Edward Graff and notified his father, Terry.

"Doesn't get any worse than that," Terry Graff says.

Dr. Arch Mosley of the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office performed Graff's autopsy on the morning of May 5, 2005.

Mosley noted that the two probes from a Taser stun gun were still attached to Graff's chest, about three inches apart and about parallel to each other. Their side-by-side placement meant that Anderson had fired his gun sideways, most likely while standing over the prone Graff.

Firing that way is not how Anderson had been taught at the police academy or at Taser International, where he'd taken a class to become an instructor in the device just a few months earlier.

Mosley observed that "a yellow cardboard dot was in his navel."

That dot was one of dozens of pieces of confetti ejected from the Taser as it was being deployed. Printed on the confetti was the serial number of the deployed Taser, and its eerie presence in Graff's navel suggested he was on his back when Anderson zapped him.

Dr. Mosley later concluded that Graff died of "excited delirium due to methamphetamine abuse." As noted in last week's story, excited delirium is a controversial diagnosis often cited by coroners around the nation after suspects die in police custody.

The condition most simply has been described as an overdose of adrenaline. Doctors say it usually is spurred on by drugs (most often methamphetamine these days) that make a stressed heart work harder.

But the American Medical Association has yet to give its official sanction to excited delirium. Civil liberties groups consider it junk science and say it's used as a cover-up for police abuses.

Basic symptoms include bizarre and aggressive behavior, shouting, paranoia, panic, violence toward others, or unexpected physical strength. It's fair to say that many people arrested on a given day exhibit many such symptoms, yet aren't in immediate danger of dying. County medical examiners such as Mosley base their conclusions about excited delirium on what they learn about the circumstances of someone's death. That information almost always comes exclusively from cops.

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