Man Held for Joy Riding Dies After Officer Uses Device to Subdue Him

Times Staff Writer

A man arrested for joy riding died after a custodial officer attempted to subdue him with a small plastic "pain compliance instrument" called a Kubotan, Los Angeles police said Friday.

Edwin Rugley, 20, died at the Southeast Division station early Wednesday, about an hour after he was taken into custody in a stolen car parked on West 97th Street in South-Central Los Angeles, according to investigators.

Cmdr. William Booth, an LAPD spokesman, said Rugley became combative while in a holding cell, and one of the civilian custodial officers attempting to control him reached around Rugley from behind and attempted to press the Kubotan against the inmate's collarbone.

The Kubotan--a plastic cylinder about five-eighths of an inch in diameter and five inches long--is a department-authorized device that the officers are trained to use in subduing prisoners, Booth said. The devices are commonly sold to the public as key-chain defensive weapons.

Prompts Compliance

Booth said that when an officer presses the device firmly against some "sensitive portion of the body"--for example, a wrist, collarbone or any other area in which bony structures are close to the surface of the skin--the resulting pain usually prompts the resisting prisoner to comply with that officer's demands.

"In the struggle with Rugley, the thing apparently slipped and the pressure was applied to his neck," Booth said.

Rugley reportedly collapsed shortly after being subdued. An ambulance crew pronounced him dead a few minutes later.

Bill Gold, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County coroner's office, said a preliminary autopsy indicated that Rugley died of "asphyxiation due to blunt force trauma to the neck."

Police said that when Rugley was first brought to the station--shortly before midnight on Tuesday--he was placed in a holding cell with another inmate, Billie Johnson, 25, who was asleep on a bench. For reasons as yet undetermined, police said, Rugley kicked his sleeping cellmate.

Johnson reportedly retaliated by grabbing Rugley's clothing, pinning him against a viewing window, and three civilian custodial officers who saw the altercation--Rossano Gramjo, 25, Ernest Truesdale, 35, and Angelica Roberts, 26--entered the cell to break up the fight.

When Rugley continued to resist efforts to subdue him, Gramjo used the Kubotan to force him to his knees, said Officer Sergio Diaz of the LAPD's press relations office. Diaz said Rugley was then transferred to a padded cell and the watch commander was summoned.

Perspiring Profusely

"The watch commander observed Rugley standing, his hands on the cell door, and noted that he was perspiring profusely," according to Lt. Charles Higbie, commander of the LAPD unit that investigates department-related deaths. "Based on the arrestee's unstable condition and his unusual behavior, it was suspected that he might be under the influence of drugs or experiencing a seizure."

Booth said an ambulance was summoned, but before it arrived--about 10 minutes later--Rugley had collapsed.

Gold said the injuries Rugley sustained were "indicative of compression that cut off the air supply." Asked about reports that Rugley rose to his feet after sustaining the injury, Gold said the effects of such traumas "are not always that immediate."

Toxicological tests will be performed to determine whether Rugley was under the influence of drugs and to make a final determination as to the cause of death, Gold said.

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