CATSKILL, N.Y. (NEWS10) — New York Attorney General Letitia James on Friday releases a chilling set of videos showing the moment Catskill Police officers used a stun gun on an agitated man in their front lobby and the spark that caused him to burst into flames. The Attorney General’s Office says this is part of the investigation into the death of 29-year-old Jason Jones who passed on December 15, 2021 after the encounter with police on October 30.
The AG’s Office says Jones walked into the police department and video shows he started a verbal altercation with three officers. The video does not include audio; however, officers appear to try speaking to Jones for around 30 minutes as he wanders, distressed, in and out of frame.
“Without hearing what was said, we can’t evaluate how effective de-escalation may have been in this case,” says police training expert and former Troy PD officer John Cooney.
Later in the video, Jones is seen taking off his shirt before picking up a large jug of hand sanitizer and spraying it over his neck, head, and back. When an officer used a stun gun in an attempt to subdue him, Jones burst into flames. He had been hospitalized since the incident until he was pronounced dead in December.
“The Taser is 50,000 volts of electricity. It’s well known, police are trained, not to use it in that circumstance. Jason predictably ignited as a result of that,” says Kevin Luibrand, the lawyer representing the Jones family. “Every single day police come into contact with people having some form of mental health episode, whether it’s on the streets or at home, and there’s ways to handle it. That’s not the way to handle it.”
However, Cooney disagrees and says the earlier parts of the video showing the beginning of the encounter indicate Jones was reaching higher and higher levels of aggravation.
“The use of force continuum starts at a point which is basically responsive to the amount of force and the amount of aggression that we are perceiving. From the first second to the last frame of the video, we see that he’s agitated, he’s very quick with his movements. One thing I noticed specifically was a constant clenching and unclenching of his fingers into fists,” Cooney comments.
He further says the situation is an unusual one not covered in traditional stun gun training.
“It’s fair to know that any flammable liquid in a close proximity, a Taser probably won’t be effective. In fact it could be very harmful to the individual. But as a rule, we’re talking about gasoline, we’re talking about natural gas environments, we’re talking about environments that are fairly common. I think it’s fair to say in most Taser trainings, we don’t talk about sanitizer as that obvious flammable liquid,” he explains to NEWS10 ABC’s Mikhaela Singleton.
The full videos can be viewed on the Attorney General’s website; however, be advised that the second video is extremely graphic, as it shows Jones on fire. In light of this, NEWS10 has chosen only to air that video in parts.
Luibrand says one of the most distressing parts of the video to the Jones family is when officers can be seen running from Jason after he caught fire.
“Jason was unarmed. The police, rather than help him, ran out of the room, shut the door behind them, and let Jason burn,” Luibrand says.
“To immediately respond to jump on top of, to help roll over the individual, that’s a very individual decision and it’s not necessarily predicated by police procedure. The officers left what they thought was a very hazardous situation. They did respond at some point. They reassessed and then responded,” Cooney replies.
Greene County District Attorney Joseph Stanzione said his office was involved in the investigation into the case initially. He said is it the process for the Catskill Police Department to report incidents to the DA to be open and transparent.
During the DA’s investigation, they were waiting on the status of Jones with the interest of interviewing him. However when he died, the AG’s Office got involved per the state law regarding officer involved deaths.
The release follows James’ directive that videos obtained by her office in the course of investigations conducted by the Office of Special Investigation (OSI) be released to the public in order to increase transparency. The AG’s release says the choice to publicize the video is not an indication of the guilt or innocence of any party involved.
OSI looks into every incident where a police officer may have caused a person’s death.