The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

July 1, 2006

Coroner rules Lenox Township man's death in TASER shooting a homicide




Kenneth L. Cleveland, 63, was shot two or three times with a TASER gun

By DORIS COOK

Staff Writer

dcook@starbeacon.com



ASHTABULA - - Dr. Robert Malinowski, Ashtabula County coroner, has ruled the May 7 death of 63-year-old Kenneth L. Cleveland, of Lenox Township, a homicide resulting from being shot with TASER guns by three sheriffs deputies and a Jefferson police officer.

"The ruling is a homicide due to the actions or inaction of another person," Malinowski said Friday. "It does not mean there was anything of criminal intent. When we rule a death as a homicide it can cover many areas," he said.

Cleveland died between 9 p.m. and 9:19 p.m. after being hit two or three times with a TASER gun when deputies responded to his home on a complaint call. The caller reported that Cleveland had threatened two ATV riders with a gun.

The call to the sheriffs dispatch center was from a cell phone. It was made by a relative of the two ATV riders, who were identified only as a grandfather and a young boy.

Sheriff William Johnson and investigating officers have declined since Clevelands death to release the deputies incident reports or names of the officers involved. They were waiting for Malinowski to release his report findings, according to Lt. Joseph Bernardo, who headed the investigation.

After deputies subdued Cleveland May 7, he collapsed in his driveway. Several deputies used CPR procedures on Cleveland before the South Central Ambulance District emergency squad arrived. He was transported to St. Joseph Emergency Center in Andover where further attempts were made to revive him.

Malinowski received the Cuyahoga County Coroners Office autopsy reports on Cleveland eight days ago, but withheld information on the case until the victims family was notified.

"Sometimes I cant certify the cause and ruling right away. I met with my staff June 23, then we tried to call Mr. Clevelands family after our meeting. The family has a right to know before we release information to anyone else," Malinwoski said. "This is my normal procedure in a case like this," he said.

The official death certificate was obtained Friday by the Star Beacon from the Ashtabula County Health Department. Malinowski said only the death certificate was publicly available.

The coroners investigation findings and the Cuyahoga County Coroners Office medical reports were turned over Friday afternoon to Ashtabula County Prosecutor Thomas Sartini.

Malinowski expects all his paper work with the Cleveland case to be done this week to give to Sartini in order for any grand jury presentation.

"We arent trying to cover anything up because this deals with police. Usually getting autopsy reports from the Cuyahoga County Coroners Office can take up to 8 to 12 weeks," Malinowski said.

The death certificate lists the cause of death as the "combined effects of atherosclerotic heart disease, restraint asphyxia, and physiologic stress" within minutes of onset and death. The victims injuries occurred form being "restrained by law enforcement."

"We do our own investigation. Now its up to Mr. Sartinis office. Mr. Clevelands family so far has not requested a copy of the autopsy report," the coroner said.

Sartini, reached in court late Friday, had not seen the coroners reports on the case. The prosecutor said the reports were probably on his office desk, but he was busy in court matters most of the day.

"More than likely Ill take it (the case) to the grand jury to be fair and impartial. Once I get all the coroners verdict on cause and manner of death plus the medical information well see where we are," Sartini said. "The verdict is based on the facts from sheriffs office and coroners investigations. Ill make the determination to take it to the grand jury," he said.

Johnson also said he had not seen the coroners reports Friday.

"The case is not going to change nor is the evidence. I have no problem if the prosecutor wants a neutral police agency to look at our investigation," Johnson said.

The sheriffs office conducted its own investigation with reports compiled by the three deputies and the Jefferson officer, who were at the Cleveland house. In addition, his office had the two TASER guns used at the scene May 7 sent out to the manufacturer for tests.

"The two TASERS were used by one deputy and the Jefferson officer. The tests on the guns determined if they were properly operating and how many times fired," Johnson said.