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No Charges in Death of Man Who Caught Fire After Officer Used Taser

New York’s attorney general said Friday that she would not bring charges against three Catskill police officers involved in the death of a 30-year-old man who caught fire after one of the officers shot him with a stun gun while he was covered with hand sanitizer.

The man, Jason Jones, died on Dec. 15, 2021, six weeks after suffering serious burns on his head and chest. He had doused himself with the hand sanitizer in the Catskill police station’s lobby when the police officer deployed a Taser on him.

Attorney General Letitia James said in news release that her Office of Special Investigation had concluded that a prosecutor would not be able to prove at trial that the officers involved had committed a crime. To charge the officers with reckless manslaughter, the release said, a prosecutor would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers were aware of a “substantial and unjustifiable risk” and chose to ignore it.

Kevin A. Luibrand, a lawyer for Mr. Jones’s family, said the family had been informed of the attorney general’s decision in a “lengthy debriefing” on Friday. Mr. Jones’s adoptive mother, Pamela Jones, 78, died on Tuesday, Mr. Luibrand said, adding that she had been “distraught” over the length of time it took to complete the investigation. (He declined to discuss Ms. Jones’s cause of death.)

Mr. Luibrand criticized the investigation for accepting the officers’ assertions that they were afraid of Mr. Jones, and he said Mr. Jones’s father, Jeff Jones, was upset by the findings.

“His father was grief stricken by how the account of the officers was accepted as undisputed,” Mr. Luibrand said.

Jason Jones was socializing at a Catskill bar on the night of Oct. 29, 2021, when the police responded to a call of an “unruly patron” there, according to the investigation report.

Officers arrived and took Mr. Jones outside, but he soon ran a block away to the police , where he banged on windows, flipped a table and removed his shirt, the report says. The officers spent about 25 minutes trying to calm him but he rubbed the alcohol-based hand sanitizer over his head and upper body, according to the report.

The officers told investigators they were concerned that Mr. Jones might be a danger to himself or others, and so in an effort to take him into custody, one of them fired the Taser and the hand sanitizer ignited, the report says.

Hand sanitizers that contain ethyl alcohol are considered a flammable liquid by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says the number of fires caused by hand sanitizer is “very low.”

Parts of Mr. Jones’s altercation with the three officers were caught on security cameras at the police station. The footage shows the officers reacting in apparent shock when Mr. Jones catches fire.

The investigation found that officers had not been trained not to use Tasers around hand sanitizer, the news release said. Police officers in New York state undergo 700 hours of training, none of it covers how to use of the devices.

Mr. Jones’s death led to calls for better Taser training, as well as improved mental health services. Mr. Jones had been struck by a stun gun before, on Nov. 2, 2019, after he became disorderly at a bar and the police were called.

Mr. Jones’s brother, Justin Jones, has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the village of Catskill. The case was in discovery pending the findings of the attorney general’s investigation.

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