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Cause of death in Taser case remains unclear

Tue., June 11, 2013

Autopsy inconclusive on man hit with Taser

The Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office said Monday it needed more time to determine how a disorderly man who was shocked with a Taser by sheriff’s deputies died.

Will Berger, 34, died Friday, the examiner’s office confirmed. Results of an autopsy conducted Monday were inconclusive, though. The Washington State Patrol said Berger was taken off life support and his organs were harvested for donation shortly afterward.

Spokane County deputies were called to Oz Fitness around 7 p.m. Thursday after witnesses reported erratic and increasingly violent behavior from Berger. One witness, Joe Bornstein, said Berger ran outside to Regal Street, where he struck cars with his hands and was eventually hit with a Taser by responding deputies.

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said some witnesses described Berger as pulling the Taser leads from his chest and continuing to run away from pursuers before being stopped.

A similar incident involving Berger occurred last Tuesday at a central Spokane gym, according to owner Bart Smith.

Smith said Berger signed up for classes last Monday, then attended a group session at Brazilian Jiu-jitsu on Tuesday night. At first, Berger appeared to have “kind of a quirky personality, but it didn’t seem like anything was wrong,” Smith said. Berger then began striking his grappling partner and toppled a trash can before barricading himself in a gym bathroom.

“He kind of struck me as someone who should have been on psych meds,” Smith said.

Gym workers and members eventually subdued Berger in the bathroom, holding him until police arrived. Smith said he was surprised to learn just a couple days later Berger had been released and could enter another gym.

“That makes me think somebody just really dropped the ball,” Smith said.

According to a Spokane real estate agent, Berger was in the process of buying a house on the South Hill in the days leading up to the incident. Family members said Berger had recently suffered a head injury. Deputies involved in the incident are on administrative leave, and the Washington State Patrol is leading the investigation.

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