The New York State Attorney’s Office on Friday released footage of a man who burst into flames after being tasted by officers inside an upstate police station in October, a meeting that led to his death.
The disturbing surveillance video shows members of the Catskill Police Department running away and leaving the man while desperately trying to extinguish the flames engulfing his upper body and head.
Jason Jones, 29, died Dec. 15 at a hospital in Syracuse after spending six weeks in a medically-induced coma.
New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office is investigating his death.
Footage released by James shows Jones walking around the lobby of the police station, about 30 miles south of Albany, for about 10 minutes after talking to several officers on Oct. 30.
He gets visibly aroused, takes off his short-sleeved sweatshirt and rips his t-shirt off his large frame before taking off his shoes and socks, according to the video, which has no sound.
A little more than 10 minutes later, Jones is seen sprinkling his bare torso and hair with flammable hand alcohol from a large pump bottle standing on a table.
Within seconds, three officers advanced toward him. One of them draws his Taser and fires it at Jones, who is outside the camera’s frame.
Jones then bursts into flames and comes back into the camera frame as he rolls on the floor; his chest, back and head were completely engulfed in fire.
The three officers hurried away – two into another room and a third around the corner from the lobby – leaving Jones alone to put out the fire by rolling on the ground and clapping his head with his hands for about 10 seconds, the video shows.
While Jones is on the floor, badly burned and screaming with anxiety, the officer exposing the stun gun came back into the room and appeared to be trying to get Jones’ hands behind his back while lying on the floor. Jones was never handcuffed, and a civilian whose face was blurred in the video entered the station to give him a hug.
It would take about 15 more minutes before a doctor brought a stretcher and drove Jones away for treatment, according to the video.
He died after spending 47 days in a ventilator because his lungs were so badly burned that he could not absorb oxygen. according to The Albany Times-Union.
The newspaper reported that Jones – a former high school athlete in Catskill – had been at a nearby bar where police were responding to a riot. He allegedly went to the station and confronted the police there.
Police initially treated Jones as an emotionally disturbed person before advancing on him and tased him, in an overt attempt to arrest him, the article said.
“Jason was unarmed at the police station and did not threaten anyone when police hit him with 50,000 volts of electric current and he ignited,” Kevin Luibrand, a lawyer for Jones’ family, told the newspaper.
“Instead of helping Jason, the police ran out of the room, closed the door and let him burn.”
A law enforcement expert who trains police in the use of force allegedly said officers are being asked never to use a Taser on a person who was exposed to flammable liquids. He told the newspaper that police should have immediately tried to help Jones after he went up in flames.
“Once the threat has been stopped, you’re not just saying, ‘I’ll let that person burn,'” the unnamed source said.
James’ office had the task under one 2015 executive order investigating fatal encounters between officers and unarmed residents.
“The release of these footage is not an expression of any opinion of any party’s guilt or innocence in a criminal case or any opinion as to how or whether a person may be charged with a crime,” James said in a statement.