Teen dies after being hit by police Taser in NE Phila.

October 7, 2010 8:45:33 PM PDT
A teen, who relatives say is mentally challenged, is dead after police used a Taser on him in Northeast Philadelphia.

18-year-old Patrick Johnson, a graduate of Our Lady of Confidence day school, was known in the neighborhood as 'stick boy' because he was always playing or waving some kind of stick.

"He's severely retarded. He was having a tantrum and my grandmother couldn't handle him, so she called the police," the teen's cousin Michelle Rynkiewicz said.

Rynkiewicz says Johnson had the mind of a 7 or 5-year-old.

Relatives say Johnson had a history of volatile behavior and fits of anger and there was never a warning light that went off before it happened.

"Very big strong boy and then when he gets excited, the adrenaline pops up and he goes into a rage. I thought I had him under control, but I guess I didn't," Patrick's stepfather Steve Zielinksi said.

Just before 12:30 p.m. Thursday on the 6900 block Souder Street, relatives say Johnson's grandmother caught him trying to light sticks on fire on the kitchen stove and was having a tough time trying to get him to stop.

"He was having a tantrum and my grandmother couldn't handle him so she called police to come out," Rynkiewicz said.

Meanwhile, the stepfather says he tried to stop him.

"I got him, pinned his arms behind his back, he broke out. By that time, the cops were here. The cops told him four times to drop the sticks or they were going to Tase him. He lunged at the cops and they Tased him," Zielinksi said.

Zielinski says Johnson then broke through a basement door that was locked, ran down the steps and collapsed.

He was rushed to Nazareth Hospital where he later died.

"I can't believe he's gone," Zielinksi said.

Tasers have become a tool that more law enforcement agencies have come to rely on.

Every time an officer pulls the trigger, 50,000 volts are injected into the target.

Advocates say it's a safe tool to subdue volatile suspects and that the risk of one causing cardiac arrest is extremely rare. But a recent study in the American Journal of Cardiology finds that the number of deaths caused by Tasers has been rising steadily.

While the cause of Johnson's death has not been determined, some relatives are questioning police use of the Taser on Johnson.

"I think Tasing him was excessive, I think it was uncalled for; I think, maybe, they should have used mace or tried to tackle him onto the ground," Rynkiewicz said.

Officials have told Action News they had previously been called to the home for similar incidents as many as 14 times.

The investigation continues into the death and whether or not the Taser may have contributed. At least initially, police say it does not appear police regulations or procedures were violated.


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