Death by Electrocutioner
Second of two parts
Just before midnight on May 3, 2005, the life of 24-year-old Keith Graff was about to come to a violent end on the third-floor landing of his north Phoenix apartment.
During his Army days a few years earlier, the spirited Graff had been known to pals as "The Terminator."
Now, Graff was about to be terminated by Phoenix police officer Charles Anderson III.
For reasons that go to the heart of this story, Anderson fired his Taser stun gun into Graff's bare chest from close range and held the trigger for 84 uninterrupted seconds as it discharged 50,000 volts of electricity into the man.
That's about 79 seconds longer than it normally takes police to subdue someone shocked by the device (see last week's "Aftershock!," part one of this series).
For all intents and purposes, Graff was dead when Anderson finally released the trigger. Doctors at Paradise Valley Hospital made the official pronouncement at 12:57 a.m. on May 4, 2005.
Investigators soon learned that Graff was trying to flee from Anderson and Officer Carla Williams after they'd surprised him at the apartment. He'd been unarmed when Anderson used his Taser on him.
Graff had at least two good reasons for splitting:
Though the Phoenix officers didn't yet know it, Graff had a warrant pending for his arrest for violating probation on a methamphetamine-related conviction. On top of that, he knew the cops were looking for him after an incident a few weeks earlier when he'd pushed Officer Williams aside and fled on foot after she'd asked to see his identification.
The law calls that assault of a police officer.
Losing Graff and another suspect during the earlier incident had been troublesome for Officer Williams, especially in light of a similar negative mark already in her personnel file. A 40-year-old with just a few years on the force, Williams had been reprimanded a year earlier for allowing a handcuffed shoplifting suspect to escape from custody.
Graff was well-aware that the police were after him, even though they didn't yet know his real name. Reports indicate that Officer Anderson was trying hard to find the punk who had jostled Williams in the April 17 incident. Armed only with a nickname, "K.G." or "Cage," he worked sources for any information on the guy's whereabouts.
Chuck Anderson's concern about Carla Williams was more than professional:
County property records show that the squad mates had bought a home in Surprise in the summer of 2004, shortly after Williams filed for divorce from her husband of 14 years.
Anderson finally struck pay dirt on the evening of May 3, when a source told him that Cage was staying at the Bellridge Apartments at 844 East Bell Road. Anderson contacted his girlfriend, Officer Williams, who soon met him and two other cops at the large complex.
Within minutes, Keith Graff would be stretched out and not breathing on the third-floor landing.
His death made news for a day or so, but it soon was overshadowed by the May 10 meth-fueled murder of veteran Phoenix cop David Uribe on Cactus Road ("The Case of The Grim Tweaker," February 2, 2006).
The county's Office of the Medical Examiner said Graff's death was an accident caused by "excited delirium due to methamphetamine intoxication." The autopsy report listed Graff's "history of a fight with police officers [and] history of Taser deployment" as contributing factors.
The amount of meth in Keith Graff's blood was minimal, and his behavior before being Tased didn't fit the classic criteria of someone about to succumb to "excited delirium."
But to most people who heard about the case including cops those details were secondary to the startling, 84-second Tasing.
It takes an awfully long time to count to 84, a Phoenix police officer said shortly after Keith Graff died. Then the officer did just that: "One-thousand-one, one-thousand-two . . ." until he got to 10.
What's most chilling about this under-the-radar case is why it happened: The evidence strongly suggests that the fatal shocking was more about vengeance than police work.
That evidence includes police interviews with officers Anderson and Williams, whose varying accounts are consistent on one crucial point: Keith Graff didn't resist for the entire 84 seconds, or anything close to it.
But Anderson never released the trigger, which would've cut off the electricity pouring into Graff, to see if the suspect would comply, until the two other officers who had been in another part of the complex came up the stairs.
Under Phoenix police policy, officers are supposed to use their stun guns to subdue suspects, not to force compliance through the infliction of pain. Certainly, an officer isn't supposed to hurt someone who had the audacity to "assault" a fellow cop (the inflicting officer's paramour in this instance).
"In my opinion," retired Los Angeles Police Department SWAT commander Ron McCarthy wrote earlier this year, "the 84-second, nonstop application of the Taser by Officer Anderson was a criminal act, beyond the category of excessive force, and appears to have been done to punish Graff."
That alleged criminal act could be as serious as second-degree murder, which is defined in Arizona as an act, while not premeditated, that is committed "knowing that the person's conduct will cause death or serious physical injury."
The definition also says that "under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to human life, the person recklessly engages in conduct that creates a grave risk or death and thereby causes the death of another person."
McCarthy was hired as an expert witness by Keith Graff's father, Terry, in a lawsuit filed in 2006 against the Phoenix Police Department, Taser International (which manufactured the stun gun that killed Keith Graff) and the two officers. A former tough-guy cop who has trained thousands of police officers in tactics and weapons use, McCarthy hardly could be called a bleeding heart.
He works almost exclusively on behalf of agencies, not plaintiffs in police shooting and in-custody death lawsuits around the nation. But not this time.
McCarthy has great contempt both for the officers involved in Keith Graff's death-by-Taser and for the Phoenix Police Department's after-the-fact investigation by its internal affairs unit.
"The fact that someone in investigative or management oversight failed to recognize this act of abuse is shocking," he wrote in his report about Graff's death and subsequent internal affairs investigation.
The Phoenix department's six-person Use of Force Review Board concluded in March 2006 that Anderson or Williams had acted "in accordance with policy" during the clash with Keith Graff, and imposed no discipline.
Phoenix Lieutenant Dave Kelly explains that "none of us were out there that night, and each situation is different. Our use-of-force people concluded that the officers were within the policies we had in place, and that's just the way it is."
Privately, however, one officer after another has expressed incredulity at what happened on East Bell. It's not that Keith Graff was a sympathetic character. His drug abuse and trouble with the law were well-documented. But Tasing someone for 84 seconds straight, they say, defies common sense.
"Anderson was punishing Graff with the Taser," Ron McCarthy wrote in his report. "The fact that he held down the trigger for 84 seconds and at no time lifted the pressure of his finger to allow Graff to comply, when he obviously could have done so, is brutality."
Both Charles Anderson III and Carla Williams declined to comment for this story.
A New Times investigation of Taser deaths and injuries published last week concluded that officers in Phoenix usually deploy their stun guns with discretion. But it also goes almost without saying that cops at one time or another misuse every weapon in their arsenal, including fists, guns, and Tasers.
For someone of McCarthy's law enforcement pedigree to come to his conclusions may have led lawyers for the city of Phoenix to recently settle their part of the lawsuit with Terry Graff for $2 million. But the civil case against Taser International still is pending. It claims, in part, that the company "has failed to warn police agencies of the likely lethal dangers of its products."
As a result, the lawsuit says, police officers have been lulled into "a false sense of security" about the safety of the company's product.
That could prove a tough sell in court. As last week's story on stun guns noted, Taser International has been overwhelmingly successful in defending itself against similar product-liability torts.
And, in this case, the extended Tasing of Keith Graff appears to have had little to do with a cop's "false sense of security" or a firm's allegedly inadequate training manual.
This one appears to have been personal.
Glendale resident Terry Graff remembers his firstborn as the fun-loving boy with whom he fished just about every lake in Arizona. He still speaks proudly of how 10-year-old Keith saved the day after a car accident on a busy Phoenix street had left dad Terry unconscious behind the wheel.
"He didn't panic, just steered us to safety," Graff says. The boy later was honored by the Phoenix Fire Department for his "heroic acts and fast thinking."
But Graff, a Wisconsin native and former rock 'n' roll singer who now runs his own small business, is painfully aware that Keith had a load of personal problems at the time of his death.
"Keith did a lot of stupid 24-year-old things," his father says. "Like when he told me that he only did meth on a social basis, and I told him that was a crock. He made a lot of mistakes, but he didn't do anything that night to deserve what those cops did to him. He wasn't a violent guy."
Keith Graff attended Greenway High School but was expelled and later enrolled in Arizona Project Challenge, a boot-camp-style program sponsored by the Arizona National Guard and the state.
The program seemed to help for a while, and when Graff was 18, he enlisted in the Army, volunteering as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne. His father was thrilled that Keith was following in the military footsteps of his maternal grandfather, who served 30 years in the Air Force.
"He wanted to be a success in life, but he didn't know what direction to take," Terry Graff says. "We truly thought the military would be the best thing for him."
Keith won a pair of commendations during his two-year stint but received a general discharge in 2001 after driving a vehicle into a restricted area. It wasn't his first brush with military police.
Back in Arizona, Graff found work here and there, including a gig at a computer store.
But his attraction to methamphetamine had become the dominating force in his life.
In September 2002, Graff spent time in jail after Glendale police found meth-making materials in his apartment. Court records show that, after his release, he neither reported to the probation office as ordered nor completed any of his mandated community-service work.
Terry Graff says he told his son that a sad fate awaited him if he didn't pull it together.
"He was not this bad kid who went around sticking people up so he could get his drugs," his dad says. "But he did have problems with that stuff, and it really affected his life."
Keith was in and out of jail for the rest of his life, including a months-long stretch in late 2004 and early 2005 on charges of carrying a concealed knife, possessing meth, and violating his probation.
Shortly before his release in February 2005, Keith wrote to his father from the Maricopa County Jail. The letter said, in part, "I am at a fork in my life right now, and I know whatever I decide, I'll be good at it. I don't like jail . . . Now I know how I want to live and how I want to be."
Those sentiments turned out to be so much talk.
Keith again failed all his legal obligations, and a judge issued a bench warrant for his arrest in early March. He split from his grandmother's house, where he'd been staying, and for the last two months of his life, he stayed wherever he could find a place to crash.
On April 17, 2005, Graff was hanging out at an apartment on 11th Avenue and Bell Road when he had his first interaction it turned out to be a momentous one with Officer Carla Williams.
Officer Williams wouldn't speak with New Times for this story, so it's uncertain why she decided to become a cop in 2002 at age 38. Court records indicate that the mother of two was married at the time to an Air Force officer.
During Williams' first year-and-a-half on the Phoenix force, she earned good ratings from superiors and seemed to be adapting well to the rigors of her new job.
Then a problem arose. Late one night in February 2004, she arrested a shoplifting suspect at a Circle K on West Hatcher Road. She handcuffed the man and put him in the back seat of her patrol car.
The suspect complained of having sore ribs, and Williams let him get out of the car to stretch. Still cuffed, he split on foot, evading capture for several hours until a K-9 unit tracked him down.
Williams received a written reprimand.
"This escape is clearly the result of poor tactics on her part rather than a training issue," a police sergeant wrote. "Prisoner control is a critical aspect of a police officer's responsibility, and Officer Williams could have done a better job even without the assistance of a backup."
The similarities between that incident and Williams' first run-in with Keith Graff are obvious. After the 84-second Tasing, she told a sergeant from the agency's Professional Standards Bureau (a fancy title for internal affairs) about that first clash.
Williams said a neighbor called in about possible trespassers inside one of the apartments, and she'd gone there by herself to see what was up. Three people were in that apartment, but the man who opened the door insisted they had permission to be there. Williams said she returned to her police car to check out his identification and to wait for backup.
She soon learned that the man who had answered the door was wanted on a felony arrest warrant. She didn't know Graff's name then, so she couldn't run him on her police computer.
Though no other officers were immediately available to assist her, Williams returned to the apartment anyway. But the man with the warrant already had sneaked out.
Standing in a doorway, Officer Williams asked the two people remaining in the apartment for their IDs. The man, whose nickname was "K.G." or "Cage," bolted for the door.
"Pushes me into the door and out and takes off," she later told an investigator. "By the time I get down the stairs, he's gone."
Williams gave chase, but Keith Graff would be on the loose until he died just three weeks later.
This time, Williams had lost two more potential prisoners.
During the next few weeks, Officers Anderson and another squad mate, Matt Makinster, scoured their beat in north Phoenix for the men.
Police tactical expert Ron McCarthy later concluded that Graff's run-in with Williams "had taken on a level of significance with Officers Anderson and Williams that is inconsistent with the incident itself. Suspects routinely run from the police. The shoving of Officer Williams that caused no injury was obviously an effort to flee, not an attack on the officer."
McCarthy wrote that months before New Times learned through public records that Chuck Anderson and Carla Williams were a couple. This may go far in explaining the "level of significance" of the shove that McCarthy referred to.
In August 2004, Anderson and Williams bought a house together, just before Williams' divorce from her husband became final. The couple later changed the paperwork to reflect her new single status.
Under department policy, there's nothing wrong with patrol officers becoming romantically involved, though superiors are barred from engaging in intimate relationships with subordinates.
But supervisors at the Phoenix department usually frown upon romantically involved cops working on the same squads. It isn't known if any superiors knew of the close relationship between Anderson and Williams at the time of Graff's death.
When Chuck Anderson learned on the night of May 3, 2005, that "Cage" was in an apartment at 844 East Bell Road, the first person he contacted was Carla Williams.
Not long after, officers Anderson, Williams, Matt Makinster and, a bit later, Charlie Lambert, arrived at the apartment. At first, the four people inside said they didn't know anyone named K.G. or Cage, but then one of them stepped outside and told Anderson that the cops could find him in another apartment in the complex.
Makinster and Lambert stayed behind to keep on eye on the occupants there, as Anderson and Williams went to Apartment 3034, less than a minute's walk away.
Keith Graff's roommate later told police what happened inside the apartment moments before Anderson fired his Taser, and what she heard after the struggle between Graff and the two cops moved out onto the narrow third-floor landing.
Stephanie Slaven, 22, informed detectives that Graff had been living with her for a few weeks after the two had bumped into each other at the complex's hot tub. She said she hadn't seen Graff since junior high, but she'd needed help with her rent and he was seeking someplace to stay.
Graff had moved in with some clothes and his laptop computer.
Slaven said, earlier on the evening of May 3, she and Graff each consumed a can of Bud Light. She claimed not to have seen him using drugs that night.
She said she was watching television shortly before midnight. Graff was playing a game on his laptop. Without announcing himself, a male cop Chuck Anderson stuck his head in through an open door inside a small patio that leads into the living room, where the roommates were sitting.
Slaven said a female officer Carla Williams stood a few feet behind Anderson inside the patio area.
Anderson asked Keith Graff if he went by the nickname of Cage. Graff said no, that his name was Keith, and that Cage was in a different part of the complex.
The officer then allowed Graff to go by himself to his bedroom to get identification. Slaven said the cop unholstered his service weapon as Graff left the room, and he told her to stay put in her chair.
Graff soon returned, and sat back down in his own chair.
He handed Anderson a driver's license, but it immediately became obvious to the officer that it depicted a different person and had a different first name than Keith printed on it.
Anderson ordered Graff, a wiry 5-feet-11 and 171 pounds, to stand up.
It was probably at this point, Slaven recalled, that Anderson took a closed, folding knife from the right front pocket of Graff's shorts and tossed it into a corner.
Graff asked the cop, "What are you doing with my knife?" It was the last thing anyone recalls him saying.
Anderson grabbed for Graff, according to Slaven, but the suspect slipped from his grasp and started to "fast walk" out of the apartment through the patio door past the two cops.
She said she didn't see either of the officers deploy a Taser but did hear the electric buzz of the device for "about a minute."
Slaven said she'd stayed seated as Anderson had ordered and couldn't see much as the scuffle quickly moved from the patio out onto the landing. She said she did see that the officers had gotten Graff down to the ground.
Slaven later told a patrol officer and then a detective that she heard Williams tell Anderson to keep "it" on Keith Graff. The young woman had taken that to mean the Taser.
Slaven also said she heard Graff making "weird noises" as he was being Tased and heard Williams tell Anderson afterward that their suspect wasn't breathing.
Officer Chuck Anderson would give three official accounts of what happened at 844 East Bell. The first was to a Phoenix homicide detective about four hours after the incident. The second was a few hours after that to an internal affairs sergeant. Two weeks later, on May 17, he spoke on tape to a second internal affairs investigator.
Anderson first told Detective Carl Caruso that he saw Graff's nickname of Cage scrolling across the laptop when the suspect had gone to the bedroom to fetch his phony ID. He said Williams "at some point" had nodded affirmatively to him from the patio that Graff was the person who had shoved her two weeks earlier.
Anderson said he tried to grab the shirtless Graff inside the apartment, but the guy darted for the patio door where Williams was waiting with her Taser in hand. He said Williams fired her Taser at Graff, but missed.
Somehow, all three the two cops and Graff fell to the patio floor. Williams was bleeding from her lip, as Graff flailed and tried to get away from them.
Anderson said he "stepped away from the fight" and fired his Taser at Graff from very close range. Both fish-hook-like probes from the stun gun hit Graff in his bare chest and stuck.
Anderson said he called for backup on his portable radio as he continued to zap the suspect.
According to Caruso's police report, Anderson told him "the Taser did not have an immediate effect, but after five to 10 seconds, the suspect stopped resisting."
That statement was critical. If "the suspect stopped resisting" after that short a stretch, then one of the officers should have put handcuffs on Graff and ended things.
But the 26-year-old Anderson said he held down the trigger on the Taser for what he first estimated was 30 seconds because he was spent after the short tussle. He said he stopped only after he saw Officers Mankinster and Lambert rushing up the steps as backup.
Someone handcuffed the suspect, but Anderson noticed that Graff "did not appear to be breathing." He and Williams then performed CPR on Graff until fire paramedics arrived a few minutes later.
Anderson's interview with an internal affairs investigator a few hours after his interview with Detective Caruso added more details. He repeated that the fight started after he tossed Graff's knife aside inside the apartment and tried to grab him.
"Was he actively trying to throw blows, or was he trying to pull away from you?" the sergeant asked.
"He was looking like he was trying to get out of there," Anderson replied.
Anderson said he and Williams brawled with Graff on the concrete landing.
"And I was telling him, 'Stop fighting, stop fighting, stop fighting.' And he wasn't listening."
Anderson said he rose during the melee and fired his Taser into Graff's chest from two to three feet away. In this account, Anderson described Graff as having his fists clenched and fighting for "between 30 and 40 seconds," despite being Tased.
That was a huge difference from what Anderson said in his first interview, when he'd told the detective that Graff stopped resisting after "five or 10 seconds."
Anderson's third and final interview provided new information, though it also would prove to be a frustrating exercise.
The officer told Sergeant Clint Zeiner that Graff's arms "were just kind of in a ready fighting position" as he was being Tased.
Zeiner, the lead investigator on the internal affairs probe of the case, asked Anderson if Keith Graff was "actively fighting" him during the clash.
"He wasn't with his arms fighting me," Anderson replied. "What he was doing with Carla, I don't know."
Anderson said he couldn't recall standing up and taking his Taser out, though he did remember firing it.
"You got an 84-second deployment here, so what happens in that time?" Zeiner asked.
Anderson never answered, and the internal affairs investigator didn't press him. Instead, Zeiner seemed eager to help out the young officer.
"Was it your belief," the sergeant asked, "that if you turned off your Taser at any time during those 84 seconds, the fight was gonna be back on? Or did you look at him after a while and say, 'Okay. This guy's spent, but I'm gonna keep [the Taser] on until the cavalry gets here?"
Anderson replied that "it was more toward [the latter]. You know, I heard the Taser thing was on for 84 seconds. To me, it felt like 30. I didn't think it was that long."
Then, the officer said Graff kept resisted for "half to two-thirds of the way [through the Tasing].
"He looked like he was spent," Anderson offered, "but I still was, too."
Anderson said he decided to keep shocking Graff until the other two officers arrived. Under that theory, Graff was continuing to resist as he was getting shocked for between 42 and 56 seconds, a highly unlikely possibility, according to literature about stun guns.
Sergeant Zeiner continued to lob softballs.
"Could it be characterized as more of a struggle between the two of you than a fight?" he asked Anderson. "When you say fight, I'm looking for an act of aggression."
"It wasn't a fistfight," the officer replied, not going where the interrogator seemed to be trying to lead him. "He was actively trying to get away."
"But he wasn't actively trying to assault you guys to get away? He was just doing whatever he could to get away?"
Officer Carla Williams also spoke with investigators three times after Keith Graff's death.
In her first interview, also with homicide detective Caruso a few hours after the incident, she described how Chuck Anderson had taken Graff to the ground just outside the apartment. She said she became entangled in and shocked by the wires that shot out of her Taser when she fired it at Graff but missed.
Williams said she and Graff tumbled to the ground and that she tried to corral the suspect by using her Taser as a kind of cattle prod. Called the "drive stun" technique or a "touch Tase," officers can use the Taser to shock subjects by sticking it against their bodies and pulling the trigger.
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.
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.
Listing the cause of Keith Graff's death as excited delirium from meth intoxication seemed like a stretch to Phoenix attorneys Dave Derickson and John Foreman. Both are retired Maricopa County Superior Court judges who are representing Terry Graff in his lawsuit against the Phoenix Police Department and Taser International.
They note that Officer Anderson described Graff's behavior as "nonchalant" just before the suspect was making a calculated attempt to avoid being jailed by high-tailing it out the patio door. Even under the highly charged circumstances, Graff showed no particularly bizarre and aggressive behavior, paranoia, violence toward others, or unexpected physical strength.
Graff's roommate, Stephanie Slaven, told investigators she heard Graff moaning as he was getting shocked by the Taser, which couldn't count as "shouting" under the definition of excited delirium.
The "methamphetamine intoxication" part of Mosley's conclusion also raises questions. Although any amount of the drug is potentially hazardous to health, Graff had very little meth in his blood when he died, especially for someone who apparently tweaked on a regular basis.
Overnight, the fatal, 84-second shocking of Keith Graff became the main topic of head-scratching conversation inside the Phoenix Police Department.
Lieutenant Dave Kelly recalls that a tactical training sergeant came to speak with him as soon as he heard the number 84 in reference to the length of the Tasing.
At that point, Phoenix police policy didn't address how long officers could Tase a subject.
"The first thing I did, I mean really promptly, was to bring this issue up to command staff," Kelly says. "Then I called Taser and asked, 'Is there any way you can make our units shut off after five seconds before we re-deploy? They said there wasn't."
Before Keith Graff's death, the notion of long and repeated shocks as a potential danger hadn't been mentioned in Taser International's training manuals. But the urgency with which Phoenix police were addressing the issue resonated with the Scottsdale-based firm.
On May 9, 2005, less than week after Keith Graff's death, Phoenix Chief of Police Jack Harris sent a message to each of the city's precincts titled "X26 Extended Duration Employment."
Harris said the department had spoken to Taser International and stated: "All officers carrying Tasers should be aware that Taser applications directly across the chest may cause sufficient muscle contractions to impair normal breathing patterns."
The chief said that wasn't a big concern for a typical five-second Taser cycle, but "prolonged applications should be avoided, where practical."
Harris reminded patrol officers that the primary body target areas for the Taser are the back and side, though "the department acknowledges that this is not always the viable target. For this reason, when deploying the Taser, officers should use a maximum of a five-second burst."
The message was in direct response to the fatal, 84-second Tasing of Keith Graff.
Then, in a June 28, 2005, training bulletin, Taser International noted for the first time that "repeated, prolonged and/or continuous exposures to the Taser may impair breathing and respiration, particularly when the probes are placed across the chest or diaphragm."
That's precisely what had happened to Graff.
On July 20, 2005, Chief Harris reiterated his department's new position on the use of the Taser: "Effective immediately, when deploying the X26 Taser, officers will administer a five-second cycle, then assess the effectiveness of the deployment. Cycles may be repeated, if necessary, assessing between cycles."
Just two weeks after Keith Graff's death, Carla Williams' sergeant wrote in her annual job evaluation, "You are able to bear the injustices a patrol officer is subjected to on the street without wanting to get even."
That was unintentionally ironic, as the evidence suggests getting even with a guy who had shoved his girlfriend was exactly what Chuck Anderson was doing for much of the 84 fatal seconds.
Later, the Phoenix Police Department cleared officers Anderson and Williams of any wrongdoing in the Graff killing. But even before then, the pair had been reassigned to new duties as school resource officers Williams at an elementary school and Anderson at a high school.
Though the transfers were not demotions, they did have the effect of taking the officers off the streets of Phoenix. Their personnel evaluations since their transfers have been positive.
Terry Graff remains embittered after his son's death but says he resolved soon afterward to try not to hate all cops. Not long after Dave Uribe was murdered a week after Keith died, Graff says he donated a few bucks to a fund established in the late officer's name.
"I'm not a hateful person, and neither was my son," Terry Graff says. "I know in my heart that those officers murdered my son, but it wasn't the entire police department. I still think they should have prosecuted Officer Anderson on criminal charges. For the Phoenix Police Department not to have even given [Anderson and Williams] a slap on the wrist, well, that's hard to take."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.