NEW YORK (AP) — Police officers in upstate New York will not face criminal charges in connection with the death of a man who doused himself with hand sanitizer and then caught on fire when one of the officers shot a stun gun at him, the state attorney general’s office said Friday.
Jason Jones, 29, was taken off life support in December 2021 after having spent six weeks in intensive care following the fire at the Catskill police station.
Attorney General Letitia James’ office released a report on Jones’ death and the officers’ actions, concluding that a prosecutor would not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers committed crimes. The report also recommended that police officers receive new training on using stun guns safely.
“Officers attempted to subdue Mr. Jones with a device that is not usually lethal to take him to a hospital, believing he was a danger to himself or others,” James’ office said in a statement. “The investigation showed that their training did not warn them against using a Taser around hand sanitizer.”
Jones’ family disputes the report’s findings and has a pending lawsuit against the town of Catskill and three officers, according to their lawyer.
On Oct. 29, 2021, police in Catskill, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) south of Albany, responded to a local bar for a 911 report about an unruly patron. When officers arrived, they escorted Jones outside and he ran to the police station, authorities said.
Jones became unruly in the police station lobby too, pounding on windows, overturning a table and removing some of his clothes as three officers talked to him to try to calm him down, police said. Jones then took alcohol-based hand sanitizer that was in the lobby and spread it on his head and upper body, authorities said.
The officers determined Jones “could be” a danger to himself or others and decided to take him into custody, according to James’ office. One officer shot Jones with a stun gun, and his head and upper body burst into flames for about 25 seconds. Officers appeared startled and ran out of the lobby to find a fire extinguisher, the report said.
Graphic video shows Jones putting out the flames himself and later being taken away to a hospital.
Kevin Luibrand, a lawyer for Jones’ family, said Jones’ father is upset by the report’s conclusions, and Jones’ mother had been “inconsolable” over how long the investigation was taking before she died of natural causes Tuesday.
Luibrand said he and the family believe it could be proven in court that the officers committed crimes, and parts of the report are inconsistent with the video. Luibrand took issue with the report’s findings that before the stun gun was used, there was a discussion among the officers about taking Jones into custody because he appeared to be a danger to himself or others.
“There was no conversation. There was no discussion,” he said, adding the stun gun use “was reactive and wholly unnecessary.”