- Associated Press - Monday, March 7, 2016

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A transit police chief says the death of a man who was hit with a stun gun during a struggle with an officer in Philadelphia last fall was drug-related, but also that a sergeant has been disciplined for sending him to a hospital farther away than the nearest facility.

The internal affairs report released Monday by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority Transit Police Department said an autopsy by the Philadelphia medical examiner concluded that Omar Lopez died of acute PCP toxicity and ruled the death accidental, noting that the drug “is known to cause agitation and violent behavior.”

The struggle began after the transit police officer escorted the 24-year-old out of SEPTA’s Huntingdon Station as he was closing it down last October and then intervened in an argument between Lopez and another man. According to the report, the officer struggled with Lopez for several minutes in an effort to handcuff him. The officer hit Lopez with a stun gun 10 times in about two minutes after the report said Lopez bit the officer’s left wrist.

The report said he “used verbal persuasion, de-escalation techniques, warnings, pain compliance” and adhered to the department’s policies on the use of stun guns. A police lieutenant at the scene said the officer “appeared as though he was just in the fight for his life,” the report said.

Lopez was placed in a transit police vehicle after he was handcuffed with the aid of some passing firefighters, but the report said he wasn’t immediately transported to a hospital because “he had no visible signs of injury nor had he complained of being injured.” He was described as conscious and alert and was checked four times in the nearly 11½ minutes he remained at the scene, but after a seven- to nine-minute trip to the hospital, he wasn’t breathing and had no pulse, according to the findings.

A SEPTA police sergeant had Lopez taken to a hospital more than three miles away even though there was a closer hospital just about a half-mile from the station. The report said the sergeant, who wasn’t named, mistakenly thought the first hospital was closer. It also found that the sergeant violated departmental policy on obtaining the identities and statements of witnesses at a crime scene. Officials declined to say how he was disciplined, but say he didn’t challenge the action imposed.

SEPTA police chief Thomas J. Nestel III declined to release the name of the officer, saying a death threat had been made against him. He returned to active duty over the weekend.

The report also noted that officers had difficulty answering the officer’s calls for backup because he didn’t provide his location. Because of that, the report said SEPTA police now require officers to notify police radio when they leave patrol vehicles and are moving to introduce GPS tracking of equipment.

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