Police Stun Gun Used on Epileptic Driver : Ventura: Officials confirm that the officer fired the high-voltage device nine times after the man, still groggy from a seizure, did not get out of his car.
A 26-year-old Ventura man, disoriented after an epileptic seizure that caused him to pass out while driving Saturday evening, was shocked repeatedly with a stun gun by a Ventura police officer when the man refused to get out of his truck, police have confirmed.
Donn Christensen Jr., a former Ventura disc jockey and an automobile salesman, was jolted up to nine times with a 50,000-volt Nova stun gun by motorcycle Officer Steven Mosconi, the officer said in a report released Wednesday.
Christensen and two witnesses to the incident said in interviews Wednesday that Mosconi not only used the stun gun to force the groggy driver out of his truck but shocked him at least twice after the man was standing passively beside the vehicle.
One witness said the officer was berserk. Another witness said Mosconi cursed and threatened him. A third said the officer called him a liar.
“What I needed was medical attention and I got anything but,” said Christensen, who was not ticketed for his driving or charged with a crime. “Once you have a seizure it’s like you’ve been hit by Mike Tyson. I didn’t know where I was.
“The first thing I was aware of,” he said, was that Mosconi “was pulling on my arm and yelling at me. Then he grabs my arm again and lifts it up and starts shooting me in the chest and abdomen and ribs, over and over again. It shocked so hard it knocked the wind out of me. I was in so much pain I could barely talk.”
Mosconi was off duty Wednesday and unavailable for comment, said Lt. Pat Rooney, Police Department spokesman.
The department is conducting a preliminary inquiry into the incident “to see if there are any improprieties,” Rooney said. The district attorney’s office has also apparently begun its own probe. Christensen said an investigator from that office called Wednesday to set up an interview.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Peter D. Kossoris would not confirm the investigation, saying only that “we’re certainly interested in what happened” to Christensen.
Kossoris is conducting a separate criminal inquiry into the death of psychiatric patient Duane Johnson, an Oxnard man with heart disease who died in February after Ventura police shocked him repeatedly with stun guns while he was tethered to a bed. The county coroner found the stun gun--a Taser weapon in that case--to be one of three primary causes of the death.
Both Nova and Taser stun guns discharge about 50,000 volts of electricity, which police say is similar to a jolt received when one touches a spark plug wire in an automobile that is running.
Ventura police policy allows officers to use stun guns--which are considered a non-lethal alternative to nightsticks and firearms--to control people who pose a threat to officers or the public.
They can also be used to force crime suspects to comply with officers’ orders, as police say was the case with Johnson, the Oxnard man who died.
Officers involved in the Johnson death were found to have acted within department policy. And Rooney said that if Mosconi used his stun gun only to get Christensen out of his truck, as the officer reports, then that also would probably be within policy.
County Coroner F. Warren Lovell has called on the department to change its policy so the weapon can be used only when officers or the public are in danger.
Mosconi responded Saturday evening to a three-car automobile accident that occurred when Christensen swerved in front of oncoming traffic near Thompson Boulevard and Howard Street at 6:12 p.m., according to police reports.
Two cars braked to avoid him, and a third car, whose unidentified driver later fled, rammed one of the vehicles from behind, slightly injuring two people.
When Mosconi arrived, he reported, a paramedic told him that Christensen had suffered a seizure. Mosconi noticed that the driver’s eyes were “red and glassy and he appeared to be very much disoriented.”
Mosconi said he ordered Christensen out of his truck because the man still had his keys and could have driven away. Christensen, whom Mosconi described as very strong, refused to allow himself to be pulled from the vehicle and refused to hand over his keys, the report said.
As a warning, Mosconi said he showed Christensen the arch of electricity that flowed from one prong of the small, hand-held stun gun to the other. But the driver still refused to turn over his keys and get out.
The officer said he applied a short electrical burst to the torso of the driver, who again refused to comply with orders.
“We repeated this approximately six to eight more times at which point Christensen finally yielded,” Mosconi reported. He mentioned no further use of the stun gun.
But two witnesses, both employees of a nearby auto dealership, told The Times that they saw the officer continue to use the gun on Christensen.
Witness Dawn LaRose, finance officer at Weber Motors, said Mosconi “went berserk. It seemed like he freaked out.”
Once Christensen was outside his truck, Mosconi “hit him again with the stun gun and the guy shook and backed up. The officer did it again. The kid was just standing there in amazement, not saying anything. He was no threat to anybody.”
Auto salesman Andy Chavez said he saw Mosconi walk up to Christensen and “start screaming at him, straight-arm him, and then he zapped him about three times. The guy wasn’t fighting the officer at all.”
John Macik, general manager at Harbor Chrysler Used Cars, said that there was no problem until Mosconi arrived. A doctor, who had been shopping for a car, had quickly examined Christensen after the accident, diagnosing him as being in a seizure. A paramedic agreed, Macik said.
“Everything seemed to be under control,” he said. But Macik said he then heard Mosconi screaming at Christensen, and he and three salesmen who saw all or part of the confrontation complained to Mosconi.
“He said, ‘Get . . . out of my face or I’ll arrest you.’ He put his hand on his billy club and lunged his upper body within a few inches of my nose.’ ”
Macik said he called the police station to complain and a corporal later talked with him and his salesman for about an hour. But, according to Rooney, no formal complaint was filed by them.
Another auto salesman, who requested anonymity, said he asked Mosconi to loosen the handcuffs on Christensen, who had been placed by officers next to a fence while they investigated the auto accidents.
The salesman said Mosconi recognized him as a witness to a 1982 chase by Mosconi of a speeding motorcyclist. The salesman said Mosconi accused him Saturday of lying in the 1982 case.
According to court records, the 1982 chase ended when the motorcyclist crashed into an automobile and died. A 13-year-old boy in the car lost an eye, according to his attorney, Richard A. Regnier, who said the boy received “several hundred thousand dollars” from the city to settle the lawsuit in 1985. City attorneys could not immediately confirm the settlement until they reviewed their files.
Christensen said that after Mosconi pulled him from his truck, he was handcuffed and waited for almost an hour before police took him to Ventura County Medical Center for an examination.
According to Mosconi’s report, a doctor confirmed Christensen’s seizure. The doctor said that “oftentimes people in this state are agitated and hostile and that would explain Christensen’s agitated attitude and his refusal to cooperate with me,” the officer reported.
Christensen said he was passive.
“I could barely walk,” he said. “And the last thing I wanted was a run-in with the Police Department.”
Christensen said he has had only four or five seizures since they first began to occur 11 years ago, when he was 15.
He received a driver’s license in 1983 after a doctor verified that he had been free of seizures for two years, Christensen said.