This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
A man who died Friday night after Salt Lake City police officers wrestled him to the ground and shocked him with a Taser gun did not have a warrant for his arrest, as police initially thought.
Alvin Itula, 35, was in his yard in the 1200 West block of Iola Avenue (340 South) between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. when two uniformed police officers in an unmarked patrol car approached the house and identified themselves as gang unit officers, said Itula's wife, Penina White.
Itula, who was afraid and distrustful of police, took off running, White said.
"I just kept yelling at him to stop and he just kept saying he didn't do anything," she said.
The officers, who called for backup, tried to arrest Itula but he resisted, said Robin Snyder, a Salt Lake City police spokeswoman. They used their pepper spray, batons and Taser guns in an attempt to subdue him.
White, who was standing nearby and got pepper spray in her face, hair and on her hands, said one officer held down Itula's head with her foot, while another placed his foot on Itula's neck. Yet another officer was on Itula's back and a fourth restrained his legs.
She said she believes the officers fired their Taser guns four to five times.
Itula repeatedly told the officers he couldn't breathe, White said. She heard one respond, "Well if you're talking, you can breathe."
Soon after, Itula stopped struggling, White said. An officer kneeled down to check his pulse and noticed that it was faint. The officers started CPR and called paramedics, who used a defibrillator on Itula before taking him to the hospital.
White was escorted to the Salt Lake City police station to write an incident report, she said. About 10:45 p.m., her son called to say the television news reported Itula was dead.
"I would have never dreamed Al would die this way," she said.
Itula, however, had a history of running from police.
In 2002, he was charged with failure to stop and respond at the command of police, a third-degree felony, and interfering with a legal arrest, a Class B misdemeanor, among other charges, according to court records.
Two years later, Itula was also charged with assault against a police officer, a Class B misdemeanor.
The former case dragged on for years, and on April 11, when Itula failed to appear at a preliminary hearing on the charges, a warrant was issued for his arrest. On April 17, however, Itula appeared before a judge and the warrant was recalled, according to court records.
White said she told police officers Itula's warrant was cleared as they wrestled with him, but they didn't double check their information with dispatch until he was taken away in an ambulance.
"Al is no angel," said White, as her daughters scribbled messages about their stepfather on neon-colored poster board and hauled them outside to hang on the fence. "But what happened last night [Friday night] should have never happened to anyone."
In January, Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson refined the circumstances when Tasers may be employed.
Instead of allowing officers to use Tasers on a "dangerous or violent subject" who "communicates" his or her resistance, opposition or attempt to flee, Anderson permitted officers to used the 50,000 electric volts when a "dangerous or violent subject aggressively resists or attempts to flee."
Anderson also forbade multiple officers from using Tasers on one individual and imposed a restriction on the repeated use of a Taser on an individual. To get a second cycle of jolts, the subject must continue to aggressively resist or attempt to flee.
In the past, the Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has voiced its opposition to the use of Tasers because of an increasing number of Taser-related deaths and lack of independent medical studies.
As of Saturday, White said, her husband's body was still at the State Medical Examiner's Office. White said Itula did not have any serious medical conditions and was not taking prescription medications. In the past, he has been charged with possessing and using drugs, court records show.
Snyder said the four officers involved in the incident are on paid administrative leave while the case is investigated by the police department's internal affairs and homicide units, and the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office.