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Stun Gun Death in VA Prison

After being electrocuted repeatedly by a stun gun, Lawrence James Frazier was strapped to a bed where he lapsed into a coma and never recovered. During a struggle with guards, Frazier was electrocuted 3 times by an Ultron II stun device that delivers up to 50,000 volts of electricity to its target. After being strapped to a gurney in a 5point restraint he was left in a medical cell. Sometime later, staff members found Frazier unconscious and unresponsive. He was transferred to Lonesome Pine Hospital in Big Stone Gap VA where he died five days later, on July 4th. Exactly how much time elapsed between Frazier's restraint and when he was discovered unconscious has not been revealed.

The cause of Frazier's death is as mysterious as the circumstances surrounding it. Larry Traylor, director of communications for Virginia DOC, adopts the conclusion that Frazier's death was the result of a massive heart attack resulting from the prolonged struggle combined with complications associated with a chronic medical condition. When Frazier, a 50-year-old diabetic, reportedly ignored verbal instructions to remain on a gurney, several guards physically restrained him. According to Major Scott Semple, Frazier was shouting, singing, and kicking when he "accidentally" kicked a guard in the face. An guard then shocked Frazier 3 times with 45,000 volts from the Ultron II stun device.

Frazier's death launch several investigations of the Wallens Ridge facility. He was the second prisoner to die in their custody since April 2000. David Tracy, a small time drug dealer was seen by security attempting to hang himself, but the 4-minutes it took for officers to enter his cell was not quick enough to prevent his death.

Frazier's death also sparked an FBI probe. Ruth E. Plagenhoef, assistant U.S. attorney in Roanoke, VA said, "If unusual circumstances appear to surround a death, it's not unusual for the FBI to become involved." John J. Armstrong, commissioner of Connecticut DOC says he welcomes the FBI investigation.

But Armstrong has also come under fire for the deaths of Frazier and Tracy. Both prisoners were part of a 500-prisoner transfer from Connecticut DOC to Wallens Ridge prison in Virginia due to overcrowding. Joseph Orabara, a lawyer for the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union calls the exchange with VA "Armstrong's 30 pieces of silver ...and every corpse shipped back from Appalachia to Connecticut is the price we pay."

Virginia officials maintain that the repeated use of a stun gun on Frazier was not inappropriate and did not cause his death. They base this claim on an independent investigation by Dr. W. Andrew Reese, president of Creative Health resources. Reese is a self-proclaimed expert on stun gun technology. While VA prison officials insist that Reese based his findings on both a "medical and policy standpoint," the fact that Reese made his findings without the benefit of autopsy results has left some experts suspicious.

Dr. Robert Greifinger a former chief medical officer for New York DOC calls Reese's conclusions "ridiculous." He points out that Fraser's diabetes could have caused "seizure-like motions that appeared combative." According to Greifinger, Frazier's diabetes not only made his heart vulnerable to stress, the use of a stun device could have caused irregular heart rhythms.

Neither was Christina Police, spokeswoman for the Connecticut DOC, convinced of Reese's conclusions. While she found no evidence of inadequate medical care, she stressed the need to wait for the facts. Even the president of Stun Tech, Dennis Kaufman, the manufacturer of the Ultron II says Reese is no authority on stun gun technology, calling Reese a mere "novice" who has "done his homework."

Records indicate that Wallens Ridge used electronic stun devises 112 times between April 1999 and May 2000. They have also been the targets of more than 70 civil rights lawsuits. In a report last year, Jamie Fellner, a lawyer for Human Rights Watch, accused another Virginia prison of using electronic stun devices for "punishment" rather than "control purposes."

Complete results from official investigations are still forthcoming. And while Richard A. Bieder, a trial attorney representing the families of both Tracy and Frazier admits that not enough information is available to conclude that the stun gun actually caused Frazier's death, he goes on to say that "it does seem to be awful coincidental, doesn't it?"

Sources: The Hartford Courant, The Roanoke Times, Connecticut Post Republican American, Richmond Times Dispatch

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