October 2, 2008
NEW YORK — The man was naked, teetering on a building ledge and jabbing at police with an 8-foot-long fluorescent light bulb as a crowd gathered below.
Lt. Michael Pigott responded by ordering an officer to fire a stun gun at the man, who froze and plunged headfirst to his death in a scene captured on amateur video and replayed frequently on the Internet.
The officer was remorseful and distraught. He apologized and sought the family’s forgiveness. Then he went to his unit’s headquarters Thursday morning and fatally shot himself, just hours before the family laid the victim to rest.
“The lieutenant was deeply distraught and extremely remorseful over the death of Iman Morales in Brooklyn last week,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. “Sadly, his death just compounds the tragedy of the loss of Mr. Morales.”
The suicide marks another tragic turn in a case that has raised questions about the use of Tasers by the nation’s largest police force.
Thousands of police sergeants began carrying Tasers on their belts this year after the NYPD expanded use of the weapons, a trend that has been playing out in police departments across the country in recent years. The pistol-shaped weapons fire barbs up to 35 feet and deliver powerful shocks to immobilize people.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has acknowledged that the weapon is controversial, and some organizations are strongly opposed to police use of Tasers — fearful that the guns can be abused without clear guidelines.
Police said the use of the stun gun in the death of Morales appeared to violate department guidelines, which explicitly bar their use “in situations where the subject may fall from an elevated surface.” Marchesona also was reassigned to desk duty but was not stripped of his gun and badge.
Pigott learned firsthand the dangers of Tasers after he was called to a Brooklyn apartment building on the night of September 24.
Witnesses and neighbors said Morales grew increasingly agitated and threatened to kill himself, leading his mother to call 911. When police arrived, Morales fled naked out the window of his third-floor apartment to the fire escape. He tried to get into an apartment on the floor above, and then climbed down until he reached a ledge over a shuttered storefront, where he started jabbing at officers with the light bulb.