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Man dies at Pima County Jail after he was tased multiple times

Man dies at Pima County Jail after he was tased multiple times

  • Pima County Sheriff's Deputies and corrections officers stand outside the jail during a protest against jail deaths in Feb. 2022.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comPima County Sheriff's Deputies and corrections officers stand outside the jail during a protest against jail deaths in Feb. 2022.

A man who died at the Pima County jail last week was shocked multiple times with a Taser by corrections officers, authorities said Wednesday.

Wade Welch, 37, died around 8 p.m. on Aug. 16 after he was tased a half-dozen times during a 30-minute incident, officials with the Pima Regional Critical Incident Team said. Corrections officers also restrained him and put a "spit sock" over his head, according to new details released as part of the investigation.

PRCIT officials said Welch became "combative" after he was moved to an assigned cell, and repeatedly refused to follow the orders of corrections officers.

Last week, the Pima County Sheriff's Department announced Welch's death and said it would be reviewed by PRCIT.

Welch was booked into the jail a day earlier on Aug. 15, and was charged with domestic violence, disorderly conduct, and domestic violence threats and intimidation, said Deputy Marissa Hernandez, a PCSD spokeswoman last week.

While most jail deaths are reviewed by detectives with the Pima County Sheriff's Department, the deaths of detainees and inmates resulting from force by corrections officers are reviewed by the newly-formed critical incident team. Launched in March, PRCIT is tasked with reviewing major incidents and allows law enforcement officers from a separate agency to take the lead in criminal investigations of those events.

"At the request of Pima County Sheriff’s Department, the Pima Regional Critical Incident Team has been activated to conduct the investigation," said Hernandez last week. "Tucson Police Department will be the lead investigating agency."

Pima County's jail has come under increasing scrutiny after 10 people died at the jail in 2021. Thus far in 2022, five people have died while in custody at the jail, including Welch.

In February, dozens of people, including family members who lost loved ones, protested in front of the jail.

Around 7:30 p.m., on Aug. 16, Pima County Corrections officers moved Welch from one housing unit to another, and during that move, Welch "refused" to enter his assigned cell. Corrections officers attempted to restrain Welch "physically," and corrections officer tased him, firing both cartridges "with little effect," said officials with PRCIT.

Welch continued to fight with officers, and reportedly "grabbed" the officer's taser "before being taken to the ground," officials said.

While Welch was on the ground, he refused to put his hands behind his back, and a corrections sergeant used his taser and fired both cartridges. PRCIT officials wrote "this again had little effect," and the sergeant shocked Welch again by pressing his taser against the man's skin. 

At this point, the officers put a "spit hood" over Welch's head, and handcuffed him, said officials.

He was taken to another part of the housing unit, and officers attempted to put him in a "restraint chair." As they did so, Welch again "became combative" and refused to follow commands from the corrections officers.

He was tased again. And, Welch "became unresponsive."

Corrections officers and nursing staff attempted "life-saving measures," and they requested help from the Tucson Fire Department, according to the release from PRCIT.

"Despite these efforts, Mr. Welch was pronounced deceased," officials said.

While TPD reviews the case, Pima County sheriff's own Internal Affairs will "conduct a separate but parallel administrative investigation to examine the actions of their personnel," said PRCIT officials.

Tasers are designed to deliver a brief, paralyzing electric charge and are marketed as a "non-lethal" or "less-lethal" weapon to manage combative or uncooperative people. In recent years, however, Axon Enterprises—formally named after the weapon— has warned the devices can cause fatal disruptions in heart rhythms.

The Scottsdale company developed the taser and has sold the weapon to more than 18,000 state, local and federal law enforcement agencies nationwide. However, in 2017, the company changed its name as it expanded to include the sale of body-cameras and other devices.

Last week's incident mirrors the in-custody death of a 27-year-old man during an incident in April 2020 involving Tucson Police officers.

In mid-May, the Sheriff's Department announced the death of Alejandro Romo at the jail.

Around 5:30 a.m. on May 13, a corrections officer found Romo, 47, unresponsive in his cell and called for medical assistance. According to a statement released by the Sheriff's Department, staff "immediately entered the cell and began administering emergency life-saving measures" while waiting for medics from the Tucson Fire Department. TFD personnel arrived and declared Romo dead.

Detectives with the Sheriff's Department's own Criminal Investigations Division reviewed Romo's death and found "no signs of trauma or suspicious circumstances," said PCSD.

An autopsy conducted by the Pima County Medical Examiner ruled Romo's death an accident, caused by "acute fentanyl and methamphetamine intoxication."

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