- Associated Press - Saturday, January 30, 2016

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Nearly six months after Matthew Russo died after Hartford police shocked him with a stun gun and a paramedic gave him a sedative during a violent confrontation, the cause of his death remains a mystery and authorities face questions on why the death wasn’t noted in a required report on stun gun use.

Police and paramedics were called to Russo’s home for a medical-related disturbance Aug. 7 at the request of mental health professionals. Officials said Russo, 26, weighed around 500 pounds and had a history of violent behavior.

A police officer shocked Russo with a stun gun but it had no effect, authorities said. The officer did not fully deploy the stun gun by shooting its electricity-charged wires at Russo, but rather put the weapon on Russo and shocked him.

A paramedic then gave a dose of a sedative to Russo, who developed problems breathing and was pronounced dead at a hospital about two hours after emergency responders were called to the scene. Two of the five police officers who responded were injured.

A spokeswoman for the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office said the cause of Russo’s death remains pending and declined to elaborate.

State Rep. Edwin Vargas, a Democrat who represents Russo’s neighborhood, said it seemed “strange” that the medical examiner’s report was taking so long. He said he would look into the matter.

No one answered the door Friday at Russo’s home. Two relatives of Russo reached by phone declined to comment.

Under a 2014 law, Connecticut became the first state in the country to require police to fill out a report every time they use a stun gun or threaten to use one. Forms from 2015 incidents were due to state officials on Jan. 15.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday, based on a review of the reports, that municipal and state police in Connecticut fired their stun guns 437 times and threatened to use them 204 other times last year. The only death reported was by Branford police. Hartford police led all departments with 51 stun gun incidents.

Hartford police did not file a report about the Russo incident, said Kenneth Barone, a policy and research specialist for Central Connecticut State University, which is compiling and analyzing stun gun use data from across the state. He said Hartford police agreed Friday afternoon to send researchers information about the Russo case.

When asked why Russo’s death wasn’t reported, Hartford Deputy Police Chief Brian Foley said the cause of death remains undetermined and it’s not the role of police to say whether the stun gun caused the death.

“It’s a sad situation. We feel terrible for the family,” Foley said. “But at the same time, it would be improper for us to speculate.”

State police are investigating Russo’s death at the request of Hartford police.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut is following the Russo case.

“One thing is clear: the Matthew Russo case highlights the need for requiring police to use Taser cameras, which can shed sunlight on even difficult situations,” said David McGuire, legislative and policy director for the Connecticut ACLU. “Our concern in this and other cases like these, however, remains ensuring that police use Tasers fairly, justly and wisely.”

Foley said Hartford city and police officials also want stun gun video cameras and police body cameras. He said camera use is now being negotiated with the police union.

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