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Man dies 2 days after Metro police use Tasers on him

JEANNINE F. HUNTER / | Sept 25 2005

A young Nashville man whom police tried to subdue with Tasers died yesterday, prompting Metro police to launch two investigations into the circumstances surrounding his death.

Patrick Aaron Lee, 21, died yesterday afternoon at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He was taken to the hospital after a confrontation with officers outside Mercy Lounge, a live music venue off Eighth Avenue South, shortly after 11:30 p.m. Thursday.

The cause of death has not yet been determined, and an autopsy is planned. The use of Taser stun guns has become controversial nationwide as citizens question whether police are using the weapons irresponsibly. Metro police used Tasers 82 times from November to May, said Don Aaron, police spokesman, and "no suspect or officer has required treatment away from the scene."

Lee's death yesterday shocked and outraged his friends and family, who believe Lee was struck with Tasers multiple times by as many as 11 police officers and that he was also beaten.

Lee's older brother, Christopher Lee, 23, doesn't understand why his brother died. He was not with his brother at the club that night.

"On Oct. 28 he was going to school to be an audio engineer. He was a very talented woodworker and was looking forward to reaching his goals. He was very thoughtful and he just didn't deserve what happened."

Metro police say that while there were more than three officers at the scene that night, Lee's family is mistaken about the chain of events. Here's the police account of what happened:

Lee had been kicked out of Mercy Lounge twice Thursday night before police were called. Mercy Lounge employees told police Lee was "acting strangely inside and kept on trying to get onto the stage of the lounge," Aaron said last night in a press conference.

Officer Christopher Brooks said when he arrived, Lee told him his name was "Blue" and approached the officer. Brooks told the young man to "keep his distance," according to a press release. Brooks said Lee was acting aggressively, removed his shirt and ran 40-50 yards. Brooks used pepper spray and ordered him to the ground. He said Lee then disrobed and ran naked through the parking lot.

Brooks called for backup and the first officer to respond was Officer Jonathan Mays, who is Taser-certified. Mays ordered Lee to the ground, but he refused. Officer Jamie Scruggs, another Taser-certified officer, also responded to the scene and used his Taser on Lee.

"He was sweaty at this time and that made it difficult for the officers to control him," Aaron said. "Lee was hit by Taser probes four times and he was Tased multiple times." The total number of Taser shocks was eight, Aaron said.

The homicide unit is investigating the circumstances surrounding Lee's death and will report its findings to Davidson County District Attorney General Torry Johnson. The Police Department's Office of Professional Accountability will determine whether the officers involved followed protocol.

Aaron said it is customary to launch two investigations when someone dies after a police incident.

"Once he was in custody, an ambulance was immediately called because of his bizarre behavior, his nudity and his sweating."

Aaron said he did not know if Lee was unconscious before the ambulance arrived; today, the department will interview the ambulance crew, he said.

An autopsy will be conducted, Aaron said, adding that it is unclear what role the Tasers played in Lee's death.

"Any death is tragic, and our condolences are extended to Mr. Lee and his family."

Tasers are considered a nonlethal use of force. In Metro, about 45 Tasers are used by patrol officers; SWAT members also use the devices, which issue a brief, immobilizing electric shock.

"He was Tased multiple times. Understand that when the probes go out and attach to the body, you can pull the trigger more than once, resulting in more than one Tase per probe discharge," Aaron said.

Police said Lee told them he was acting that way because he had taken LSD or PCP. Although they knew he had "experimented" with drugs, Lee's family disputes the initial police findings.

"I just got the report back from the hospital and they told me all they found was a small amount of Valium and cannabis, or marijuana," Lee's father, Earl Bud Lee, said an hour after his son's death. Earl Bud Lee is a local songwriter who co-wrote Garth Brooks' 1991 megahit Friends in Low Places.

"All I remember is Patrick hugging me and telling me he loved me," Lee said. "Next thing I know … police officers showed up at my door and let me know he was in the hospital."

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