Officers deployed Tasers four times before man's death in Point Arena

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When two deputies knocked at Jan Saulsbury’s door in Fort Bragg on Wednesday night and asked to come in to talk, she suspected the worst possible news about her son, who had a troubled history that included multiple arrests and alcohol and drug abuse.

“I said, ‘He’s dead, isn’t he,’ ” she said Friday.

Daniel Cedar Saulsbury, 39, of Fort Bragg and Point Arena, died Wednesday after being shocked with Tasers by law enforcement officers as he struggled to avoid being arrested on suspicion of robbery in Point Arena. He was suspected of having thrown rocks at a man on Main Street and then taking his diaper bag.

It’s the second death of a suspect in Mendocino County following the use of Tasers by law enforcement officers, according to Sheriff Tom Allman. The first was in 2010, according to Press Democrat news accounts. Allman said Friday that the cause of Saulsbury’s death has not yet been determined, so the role of the Tasers is unknown.

The death stunned Point Arena residents and raised concerns about law enforcement’s use of force, at a time when attention has been focused nationally on demonstrations over the fatal shooting death of a young black man by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo.

“I’m concerned with that,” Point Arena Mayor Doug Burkey said. But he said he does not know all the circumstances of the local death and is withholding judgment.

According to the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office, a CHP officer was the first on the scene to investigate the reported robbery. He contacted Saulsbury and attempted to detain him, but Saulsbury fled and a foot chase ensued, sheriff’s officials said.

The officer requested backup and two sheriff’s deputies responded, officials said.

Saulsbury continued to resist, then got into his vehicle and started it, said Mike Geniella, spokesman for the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office, which is charged with investigating the incident.

“He appeared to try to leave the scene,” he said.

That’s when the officers deployed their Tasers, Geniella said.

The officers used their Tasers an estimated four times, Geniella said. He said the exact number of times is uncertain because once someone has been hit with the stun gun’s barbs, he can be shocked multiple times. Geniella said his office does not yet have all of the reports on the incident and the computerized information contained within the Tasers has not yet been downloaded.

Once Saulsbury was subdued, the officers handcuffed him, hands in front, pulled him from the vehicle and placed him facedown on the ground, Geniella said.

Saulsbury continued to resist and banged his head on the ground, Geniella said. Officers placed a blanket under his head in an effort to prevent serious head injury, he said.

Saulsbury also fought off efforts by volunteer firefighters to take his blood pressure or otherwise evaluate his condition, Geniella said.

“He was extremely agitated,” he said.

Saulsbury then became pale and unresponsive, Geniella said. Paramedics attempted to resuscitate Saulsbury but were unsuccessful, he said.

Unlike in fatal shooting cases, the sheriff’s deputies involved have not been placed on administrative leave because firearms were not involved, Geniella said. CHP officials reached Friday did not know whether the officer involved was on active duty.

This was not Saulsbury’s first interaction with police.

“He’s been in and out of the system,” Geniella said.

Saulsbury’s criminal record includes an arrest for domestic violence, for which he recently served several months in the county jail, his mother said. She says the case against him was exaggerated.

Court records were not available Friday, a holiday for county offices.

Saulsbury was released from jail in connection with the domestic violence case a month ago and was living primarily with his mother until recently, she said.

She said he had drug and alcohol abuse problems in the past but had been clean and sober for several years and had even regained custody of his 3-year-old son. But since his release from jail, he’d begun frequenting Point Arena again, where he had friends who were still drug abusers.

“I was worried,” Jan Saulsbury said.

Point Arena residents said Daniel Saulsbury recently had been acting up again and was likely using methamphetamine, based on his erratic behavior and his past.

Mayor Burkey recalled seeing him in a parking lot, screaming.

But Saulsbury wasn’t particularly scary, he said.

“People knew he was bad news, but people weren’t afraid of him,” Burkey said.

A downtown merchant who did not want to be identified, said Saulsbury was a good person. She said she’d known him since he was a boy.

“He was a good kid,” she said. But “he was troubled.”

She said she is saddened by his death but doesn’t think law enforcement officers used excessive force.

“I don’t think they did have a choice” but to use the Tasers because Saulsbury was struggling with them, she said.

Saulsbury’s mother said she has not yet scheduled a funeral service for her son.

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or glenda.anderson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MendoReporter.

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