Attorney General James’ Office of Special Investigation Releases Report on Death of Jason Jones
NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James’ Office of Special Investigation (OSI) today released its report on the death of Jason Jones, who died on December 15, 2021 after an earlier incident in Greene County. Following a thorough and comprehensive investigation, which included review of security camera footage, interviews with the involved police officers and other witnesses, and evidence from the scene, OSI concluded that a prosecutor would not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt at trial that the Catskill Police Department (CPD) officers involved in the incident committed a crime, and therefore criminal charges could not be pursued. In its report, OSI recommends that the Office of Public Safety (OPS) oversee and provide training to members of law enforcement on the safe use of Tasers and similar weapons.
On the evening of October 29, 2021, CPD officers responded to a 911 call reporting an unruly patron at a bar in Catskill. When officers arrived at the bar, they escorted Mr. Jones outside. Mr. Jones then ran from the officers and towards the CPD stationhouse, which was a block away. When Mr. Jones entered the stationhouse, he pounded on the windows, overturned a table, and removed some of his clothes. The officers spoke to Mr. Jones for 25 minutes in the lobby of the stationhouse, repeatedly asking him to calm down and suggesting that they take him home. Eventually, Mr. Jones picked up a bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer and rubbed it all over his head and bare upper body. The officers then decided to take Mr. Jones into custody under Mental Hygiene Law Section 9.41, determining that he could be a danger to himself or others.
When the officers told Mr. Jones that they would take him into custody, his actions indicated that he would not comply, so one officer deployed a Taser to temporarily disable him, with the objective of putting him in handcuffs. The Taser ignited the hand sanitizer on Mr. Jones’ body, and the three officers ran out of the room to look for a fire extinguisher. The first officer to return patted out the last of the flames on Mr. Jones’ body. Mr. Jones was taken to a hospital and was transferred to a burn unit at another hospital, where he died six weeks later on December 15, 2021.
Under New York law, prosecuting reckless manslaughter would require proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers were aware of and consciously disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk. Prosecuting criminally negligent homicide would require proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers failed to perceive that risk. For both charges, the prosecution must also prove that the officers demonstrated a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe.
In this case, the CPD officers attempted to subdue Mr. Jones with a device that is not usually lethal to take him to a hospital, believing he was a danger to himself or others. The video from the stationhouse lobby shows their shock when the hand sanitizer ignited, and the investigation showed that their training did not warn them against using a Taser around hand sanitizer. Based on the investigation and the law, OSI concluded it could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt at trial that the officers committed reckless manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide, and that criminal charges therefore could not be pursued in this matter.
While police officers in New York state are required by OPS to undergo more than 700 hours of training, that training does not cover the use of Tasers or similar devices. Instead, such training is typically provided by the manufacturer of the weapon. In an effort to prevent future incidents, OSI recommends that OPS formulate and oversee training on Tasers and similar devices in the Basic Course for Police Officers, comprehensively study all flammable substances that such weapons could ignite, list those substances in the training materials, and send updates promptly to all departments that have such weapons in use.