I-Team: Exclusive interview with Hamilton County coroner about Everette Howard's death

CINCINNATI - The I-Team was the first to discover telling new details surrounding the death of Everette Howard, the 18-year-old student who died after a Taser was used on him on the University of Cincinnati's campus this past August.

9 News anchor Julie O'Neill, the first reporter to see the preliminary autopsy results, was granted an exclusive interview with Hamilton County's coroner to discuss them.

Hamilton County Coroner Dr. Anant Bhati is not ready to rule on a cause of death, but he appears to have ruled out everything but the Taser shock. He said the investigation is waiting on a report from a cardiology specialist he's brought in to give expert opinion.

"He was (Tasered) and after he was (Tasered) he collapsed and had a cardiac arrest," Bhati said.

Bhati said Howard was struck with a Taser twice in the chest area, one probe right over the area of the heart and the second probe in the area of the belly.

Bhati indicated the Taser darts struck right where Taser International has warned officers to avoid using a Taser on people because of the potential of affecting the heart.

Dr. Bhati also said how close the officer was to him and the thickness of his chest wall would affect how deeply the Taser probes entered, and therefore how much power entered Howard's body. He said Howard's chest wall was just one-and-a-half centimeters thick, which he called, "pretty thin for that young man."

Dr. Bhati said tests done previously at Children's Hospital showed Howard had no history of heart problems.

Dr. Bhati also said tests showed there were no drugs at all in Howard's system and he did not die from falling down in the Taser incident.

Dr. Bhati said he brought in an expert cardiologist to examine the heart more closely.

"He has slides being cut out at that particular portion where we think might be some questionable situation," said Dr. Bhati.

Three years ago while Howard was trying to lose weight for a wrestling match, he had a medical episode that led to him being Tasered. Police reports on the incident refer to him as "a patient" who was "assisted" and he was never charged with anything.

The I-Team wondered if that shock didn't affect his heart, why would this recent one?

Dr. Bhati said the duration of the tasing or maybe the rhythm of the heartbeat at the particular time could have made a difference.

"That's what everybody's suspecting that it could have caused arrhythmias, but we don't know that yet," said Dr. Bhati.

Taser International has said there is no conclusive evidence that Tasers affect the human heart, but electrophysiologist Dr. Douglas Zipes, a key witness in cases against the manufacturer, has said they can.

Dr. Bhati said he has great respect for Dr. Zipes and agrees Tasers can affect the human heart, but he is not ready to rule on whether the Taser affected Everette Howard's heart in his death.

The test results on the Taser used in Howard's death have still not been released, but the I-Team has uncovered test results on the other Tasers at the UC Police Department. Several of them failed the test. You can find those results and what they mean at http://www.wcpo.com/dpp/news/local_news/investigations/i-team-still-no-tests-released-on-taser-in-everette-howard-incident-other-tasers-tested .

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