MERIDEN – State police on Tuesday identified the man who died after a confrontation with Meriden police, during which a Taser was used on him.
Noel Mendoza, 43, of Meriden, told police he’d smoked and swallowed cocaine Sunday before the confrontation about 9 p.m. Sunday. Police said he appeared intoxicated and violently fought with officers who tried to gain control of him after he drove his car into a gated parking lot behind the Meriden police station.
Mendoza has an extensive criminal history, including a 14-year prison sentence for sale of narcotics. His most recent arrest was May 2 by Meriden police on a charge of possession of narcotics.
His criminal record also includes prison terms for crimes such as burglary, larceny and threatening, according to state records.
An autopsy of Mendoza has not yet been completed, according to the state medical examiner’s office.
Mendoza told police he was being chased by people he said were trying to take his car. Police said he was combative, out-of-control and spitting at and trying to bite officers.
The man “was bleeding from his hands and was acting very irrational and combative,” state police Lt. J. Paul Vance said. Meriden Police Chief Jeffry Cossette and New Haven State’s Attorney Michael Dearington called in the state police to investigate the death, Vance said.
The man “was progressively getting combative with officers and stated that he was eating drugs,” Vance said. “The officers observed him chewing something.”
As they tried to gain control of the man, an officer used a Taser, which uses an electric shock to compel someone to comply. The man grabbed onto the stun gun, Meriden police said, and did not let go for several seconds.
The officer who used the stun gun, Jeff Witkin, has been placed on administrative leave, said Meriden City Manager Lawrence Kendzior. The move is routine and not a suggestion that Witkin did anything wrong, Kendzior said.
After gaining control of the man behind the police station, he was taken by ambulance to MidState Medical Center.
“As the officers assisted EMTs to get the male into the ambulance, the subject began to flail about and scream, yelling about forgiveness and how people were watching him,” Meriden police Det. Lt. Mark Walerysiak said. The man fought officers and EMTs all the way to the hospital, then fought hospital staff at the emergency department, Walerysiak said.
At the hospital, doctors tried to medicate him. He died at the hospital.
“He went into arrest after admission to the hospital,” Vance said. The body was taken to the state medical examiner’s office in Farmington for an autopsy.
Since 2005, more than a dozen men in Connecticut have died after being shocked by Tasers, but in most cases, the medical examiner said he could not attribute the death to the Taser, or said it was only one contributing factor.
The man who died Sunday is the third person to die after having a Taser used on him by Meriden police.
In the first death, in 2008, the medical examiner ruled that Donovan Graham died of cardiac arrest from “excited delirium” and that the cause was natural. The stun gun was found not to be the cause of death.
Angel Hiraldo died in 2012 after being shocked with a Taser by Meriden police after he advanced on officers with a hammer. The medical examiner ruled that Hiraldo died of a cocaine overdose and ruled his death was an accident. The Taser was found not to be the cause of death.
In 2011, federal investigators ordered the Meriden Police Department to turn over data from May 2007 to mid-2011 on each time the department’s Tasers were used, and who fired them.
Officer Evan Cossette, the chief’s son, was investigated for excessive force after using a Taser on a man who had left MidState Medical Center’s emergency room, angry that he wasn’t being seen faster.
Cossette was cleared of the charge by internal affairs. A federal jury found him guilty this month of using unreasonable force on a prisoner and then obstructing justice in an effort to cover up his actions.
Although the cause of death in Sunday night’s encounter has not been established, critics of stun guns say the devices are linked to deaths across the country.
According to a report on the Amnesty International website, at least 540 people in the United States died since 2001 after being shocked with stun guns either during their arrest or while in jail.
By David Owens and Hilda Munoz, Hartford Courant