Ariel Galarza’s family plans to file a civil lawsuit following the release of a report that “no criminal culpability” was found in Galarza’s death on November 2, 2016 after multiple Tasers by police.
Sanford Rubenstein, the attorney for the family, said on Wednesday, September 6, that although the report of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s investigation, released Thursday, August 31, ruled out criminality by police, there are “serious issues involving whether there is civil liability here and we will be filing a civil lawsuit against the NYPD and the officer sometime this week.”
The police officer, sergeant William Melrose of the 45th Precinct, had Tasered Galarza while responding to a 911 call of an emotionally disturbed man armed with a knife behaving violently at 1840 Mayflower Avenue last November.
Galarza, 49, had allegedly threatened Melrose with an intact glass bottle when officers entered his basement apartment inside the multi-family home.
The cause of death was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner, according to Julie Bolcer, NYC Office of Medical Examiner’s public affairs director.
“The classification does not imply any statement about intent or culpability,” Bolcer had said in April. “The evaluation of the legal implications of this classification is a function of the district attorney and the criminal justice system.”
Schneiderman’s Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit reported that its investigation — led by Chief of the Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit Alvin Bragg — found no criminal culpability in Galarza’s death.
According to the report, on November 2, 2016, 45th Precinct police officers responded to a 911 call from another resident of Galarza’s building, who said that Galarza had been brandishing a knife and screaming.
Upon arrival, the police officers discovered Galarza in his basement apartment holding a 12-ounce glass bottle.
When ordered to lie down on the floor, Galarza stood up and lifted the bottle in the air, within eight feet of sergeant Melrose.
Galarza ignored orders to drop the bottle and Melrose deployed a Taser delivering a five-second electric charge.
He continued to struggle with the police officers as they attempted to handcuff him, reports state.
Melrose activated the Taser two more times for five seconds each, before the officers were able to restrain Galarza.
After he was handcuffed, Galarza lost consciousness and his heart stopped beating.
EMS personnel arrived within minutes and were able to restore a heartbeat. However, once at the hospital, emergency room physicians were unable to maintain a normal heart rhythm and Galarza was pronounced deceased.
“There are key issues here,” said Rubenstein. “One is the fact he was Tasered twice after he dropped the bottle and secondly, there were three Tasers within one minute — all which violate the guidelines in the (NYPD Patrol Guide).”
Rubenstein said that Galarza’s family “looks forward to a jury made up of citizens from the Bronx making a determination with regard to the issue of civil liability and damages. A jury will decide the damages this family is entitled to after we determine the issue of liability.”
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner conducted an autopsy, and SIPU also retained an independent forensic pathologist to conduct a separate autopsy, according to the report.
OCME and the independent expert separately reached similar conclusions that Galarza died of cardiac arrest resulting from a combination of a pre-existing heart condition, drug intoxication, and obesity, combined with the effects of physical exertion, restraint, and the use of the Taser.
The drugs included cocaine and “bath salts,” classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration as n-ethylpentylone, a type of synthetic cathinone, which are cheap substitutes for methamphetamine and cocaine.
In light of all the evidence — including that Galarza was threatening the police officers with a glass bottle, and that a police officer may justifiably use reasonable force in order to protect himself against the imminent use of unlawful force against himself or another person, or to effect an arrest — SIPU found that criminal charges against the responding police officers were not warranted.
“We send our deepest condolences to the family of Mr. Galarza, whose death was a tragedy,” said Schneiderman. “We remain committed to following the facts and providing exhaustive and transparent accounting of all cases we investigate under the executive order.”