HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — Police in Maryland promised a thorough investigation Friday into the death of a man in custody after police shocked him with a stun gun outside a home he had allegedly broken into.
Darrell Lawrence Brown, 31, died early Friday morning after at least one officer shocked him. Brown had ignored police commands to get down on the ground and instead became aggressive, according to police and eyewitnesses.
Several people who watched the encounter late Thursday night said officers didn't punch or kick Brown before or after he was shocked and handcuffed.
"They were pretty much doing their job," said neighbor Robert Holmes, who added that from what he saw, the police did not get physical with Brown.
The situation happened in a neighborhood of modest, single-family homes and row houses near a scrap-metal business and an old pipe-organ factory in Hagerstown, a city of 40,000 about 70 miles west of Baltimore and Washington.
Holmes said an officer fired his stun gun from 6 to 8 feet away after Brown, who was yelling and cursing, moved toward him in an aggressive manner.
Brown was from Upper Marlboro, a Maryland suburb of the District of Columbia, according to the Washington County, Maryland, Sheriff's Office, which is investigating the death. Relatives in Temple Hills, another Washington suburb, declined to comment when reached by telephone Friday.
None of the six eyewitnesses interviewed by The Associated Press, including members of the family who said their home was broken into, recognized Brown. None of them said he was armed.
Brown died either inside an ambulance, accompanied by two officers, or at the local hospital where he was pronounced dead shortly after midnight Friday, Hagerstown Police Chief Mark Holtzman said at a news conference.
"He was conscious and he was still argumentative with the police even when he was being loaded in the ambulance to be transported to the hospital," Holtzman said.
The police department said the officers believed Brown was under the influence of drugs.
Washington County Sheriff Douglas Mullendore said the investigation will include a review of any video captured by police surveillance cameras. He said investigators also will study data from the officers' TASER-brand stun guns to determine how many times Brown was shocked and for how long.
Mullendore promised "an independent investigation that is accurate, thorough and complete."
He said the state medical examiner's office will conduct an autopsy to determine the cause of death.
All five officers have been reassigned to desk jobs pending the outcome of an internal investigation, Holtzman said.
Police said 911 dispatchers got a call regarding a disturbance about 10:30 p.m. On the call, a female was screaming in the background. A second caller reported a break-in and said the suspect was in front of her home, stumbling around.
Two officers responded initially, followed by two more and a sergeant, police said.
Nine-year-old Tera Gibbs told The Associated Press the man kicked in the locked front door of her family's row house and came upstairs, where she and her sisters sleep. Their mother, Laura Mirfin, said she was out, taking home a friend of one of her children. That left Tera, her little brother and three sisters, ages 13 to 16, in the house.
"The door just flew open," Tera said. She said she tried calling 911 without success, then roused her sisters. She said 14-year-old Daisy pushed the man outside and 16-year-old Barbara grabbed a knife and called 911, summoning police.
Mirfin said she was proud of her children. "They were awesome," she said.
Brown had convictions for drug possession, disorderly conduct, escape, and property destruction in Prince George's and Washington Counties. He was scheduled for a hearing May 26 in Hagerstown for allegedly violating terms of a 2013 plea deal on a second-degree assault charge.
The U.S. Justice Department advised police officers in 2011 to avoid shocking suspects multiple times or for prolonged periods to reduce the risk of injury or death. The report followed a study of nearly 300 cases in which people died from 1999 to 2005 after police shocked them. It found that most of the deaths were caused by underlying health problems and other issues.
Steve Tuttle, a spokesman for Scottsdale, Arizona-based TASER International Inc., told the AP for a story earlier this week that the weapons are safe, effective and accountable, but "there is no magic bullet."
Brown was black and all the officers involved were white, police said. Race has not been raised as a factor in the death, but it comes amid a national debate about the deaths of black men at the hands of police.
Associated Press Writer Jennifer Peltz in New York contributed to this report.