Attorney calls Howard death ruling 'terrible,' 'wrong'

CINCINNATI - The attorney for the North College Hill teen who died following the use of a Taser last August is calling the coroner's ruling in the death "terrible,""wrong" and "incomplete."

Hamilton County Coroner Lakshmi Sammarco, M.D. reported the official cause of 18-year-old Everette Howard's death is "unknown/undetermined," stating in a media release, "...it is frustrating not to be able to ascertain a definitive cause of death."

But Al Gerhardstein, attorney for the Howard family, says it is not possible to definitively blame the Taser because doctors know that electricity does not leave evidence behind in the body. He says this case called for Dr. Sammarco to look at other evidence such as witness statements of how Howard reacted after the Taser was used on him.

"We do this all the time with forensic science. You have to look at the circumstances surrounding the death.  I don't see any evidence in this coroner's report that she did that," Gerhardstein said.

Amnesty International's look at medical examiners' findings linking Taser shocks and deaths found, "Such cases are not always clear cut, and one challenge for pathologists is that there are usually no obvious physical signs on a body to show the effects of electrical shocks. Various circumstances, including proximity of the shocks to the fatal collapse; the toxicology findings; and whether the impact of restraining procedures, including CED (Taser) shocks, could have contributed cardiac or respiratory failure."

Gerhardstein said there was good news from the autopsy report, because the toxicology results proved there were no drugs or alcohol in Howard's system when he died.

"3 in the morning, he's in the college dorm and he's not drinking or using drugs.  He's a very clean and upstanding kid, very healthy kid...and the only thing that happened that night is he was Tased and then he died and she's saying this doesn't matter, the Taser doesn't matter...I don't think so," said Gerhardstein.

Howard's family has waited to learn how he died for 10 months after UC police used a Taser to subdue him on campus Aug. 6, 2011.

Travonna and Everette Howard, Sr. told 9 News in an exclusive interview they were devastated when the coroner gave them the news about their son before releasing it to the public.

"I was angry. I was angry," said Everette Howard, Sr.

"This is not what we were looking for," said Travonna Howard. "It's like my son didn't even matter. He doesn't count, and hearing the answer from the coroner, they're pretty much telling us 'Oh well, we don't know what happened to him and you know that's the end of that.'"

The coroner's news release states that several cardiac pathology experts were consulted and only one agreed to review the case. The release states that that coroner suffered a medical episode, which further delayed the investigation.

The investigation was also delayed by the death of the previous coroner, Dr. Anant Bhati.

Also, 9 News first reported the investigation was delayed early on because Ohio's Bureau of Criminal Investigations opted to have the Taser tested for its electrical output at a lab in Canada, which had the Taser caught up in customs issues.

"We waited for a good report, we didn't get one, and now we'll take it into our own hands," said Gerhardstein, who plans to hire his own expert now to look into the death.

"It hurts to know that somebody has had your kid's heart for 10 months," said Everette, Sr. "You know his heart is not even buried with him. It's been cut, mutilated...and no answer."

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