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Posted: 8/4/2005 2:10:18 PM EDT
Thursday, August 04, 2005
News staff writer
A jail inmate died from heart disease complicated by alcoholism, not from being hit by an electric stun gun, according to a Jefferson County coroner's report released Wednesday.

Autopsy findings of Rockey Bryson, 41, confirmed what authorities said immediately following the McCalla man's July 7 death in the Birmingham City Jail.

"The Taser had nothing to do with it," said Jefferson County Chief Deputy Coroner Jay Glass.

Bryson, a mechanic and father of two who was jailed on a DUI charge July 3, was found dead in his cell about 3:30 a.m. four days later.

Records show that at 9:30 a.m. July 6, Bryson was involved in an altercation with correctional officers and was hit twice with the Taser and sprayed with Mace. He was taken to Cooper Green Hospital, where he was treated and released and returned to jail. A jail sergeant saw him standing in his cell at 11:40 p.m. Another corrections officer checked on him throughout the night, saying he was on his back on a mattress and that she could see he was breathing because his chest was moving.

At 3:25 a.m., she found him unresponsive and paramedics pronounced him dead on the scene.

Relatives have said they had no knowledge of Bryson's having heart disease, but the autopsy showed significant narrowing of his coronary arteries, which means he wasn't getting a sufficient blood flow to his heart. That can lead to heart failure or a heart attack, Glass said.

The heart disease, Glass said, was complicated by Bryson's chronic alcohol abuse.

According to the autopsy report, Bryson was observed in his cell having hallucinations, seeing objects on the floor that weren't there. "This type activity suggests in the strongest possible way that the deceased was having delirium tremens," according to the autopsy.

Delirium tremens, known as the DTs, is severe alcohol withdrawal.

"DTs put a strain on your heart to begin with, then with heart disease there, it's more likely to lead to heart failure," Glass said.

Bryson's relatives have said they believe Bryson was mistreated at the jail and suffered an unnecessary death. They claim Bryson was hit 20 to 30 times with the Taser.

Bryson's brother, Rayme Bryson, said Wednesday he hasn't seen the autopsy report, but he and the family will continue to try to get straight answers in Bryson's death. "We're getting conflicting stories. I still feel like there's some kind of cover-up going on here."

Rayme Bryson said his brother's two children have hired attorneys and are moving forward with lawsuits in the death.

"There's something going on here and I hope and pray somebody gets to the bottom of it," he said. "There's a lot of questions I hope to get answered."

A chip inside the Taser will tell how many times it was fired, but police spokesman Lt. Henry Irby said Wednesday the investigation continues and authorities couldn't release that information.

The coroner's report said there were two puncture areas on Bryson's chest and abdomen surrounded by superficial burning with some charred hairs in both areas. Glass said that was consistent with a strike from one Taser device and its two electrodes.

Just days after Bryson's death, Birmingham Mayor Bernard Kincaid ordered Birmingham police to stop using the devices while he further studied their safety. The mayor insisted his decision to take the weapons away from the officers was not in response to Bryson's death.

Kincaid is an idiot.
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