Updated 01/22/13 – 8:59 p.m.
WAUKEGAN (CBS) — The new Lake County Coroner has revised the finding of his predecessor, ruling the death of a man who was shocked with a police stun gun and allegedly beaten by police to be a homicide.
WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports Darrin Hanna, 45, died a week after he was arrested by North Chicago police in November 2011, following a domestic disturbance.
Hanna’s family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against North Chicago, claiming police officers severely beat Hanna, and shocked him with a stun gun for 20 minutes. They have denied police reports that he resisted arrest.
Lake County Coroner Dr. Thomas Rudd said Tuesday that Hannah’s sickle cell anemia was aggravated by fists and stun guns used during his arrest, so the official cause of death has been changed from undetermined to homicide.
“When he resisted arrest, they had to apply force. Force instituted breakdown of his muscles, and chemicals from those breakdowns went into the blood, affected the kidneys, affected the lungs,” he said.
The previous coroner, Artis Yancey, had cited several factors in Hanna’s death, including drug abuse, physical trauma, taser restraint, high blood pressure, and poor kidney function. But he ruled the manner of Hanna’s death was undetermined.
In reclassifying Hanna’s death a homicide, Rudd stressed he’s not judging whether Hanna’s death was a crime, just that it was a death caused by another person or people.
“Homicide occurs when a person’s death results from a volitional act committed by another person to cause fear, harm, or death,” Rudd said. “Intent to cause death is a common element, but is not required for classification as a homicide.”
He said it will be up to the courts to determine if there was any criminal intent in Hanna’s death.
“We’re going to deal with the truth, and we’re gonna let the chips fall and read them as such,” he said.
Hanna’s family has called for a federal investigation of the case.
Hanna’s cousin, Ralph Peterson, said Tuesday, “it was plain to see he was beat to death. … I mean struck in the face, tased seven times. His poor body couldn’t stand all that.”
Attorney Laura Scarry, an attorney representing the city of North Chicago and six officers accused in the lawsuit, called Rudd’s finding inconsequential.
“It has no bearing on the findings of three separate independent investigations,” she said.
Scarry said Rudd is hardly impartial.
“We welcome the opportunity to challenge his – I believe – politically-driven findings in a court of law,” she said. “Mr. Rudd was incapable of rendering an objective medical opinion since he made Darrin Hanna’s death a political issue during his campaign.”
Rudd responded that, for the first time, Lake County residents have an impartial physician pathologist serving as the elected coroner.
Lake County prosecutors decided last March not to seek criminal charges against the officers involved in Hanna’s death. The Lake County State’s Attorney’s office said an independent investigation by Illinois State Police revealed the officers who punched Hanna and subdued him with a stun gun acted properly after he threatened the officers as they responded to a domestic dispute.
The prosecutors’ report said Hanna lunged at police officers and tried to bite and head butt them. It also said 911 records indicate police called for an ambulance for Hanna less than two minutes after entering the apartment.
State police determined the domestic dispute began when Hanna’s pregnant girlfriend received a call from a female friend and Hanna believed the call was from another man, according to the prosecutors’ report.
Hanna allegedly became enraged and threatened to kill his girlfriend and her unborn child.
Lake County State’s Attorney Mike Nerheim told CBS 2’s Courtney Gousman that the new finding by itself won’t change prosecutors’ decision not to charge the officers involved.
“It’s something that, if there is new evidence that’s brought forward, we’ll look at it, in determining whether there was criminal conduct,” he said.
Scarry said she’s not concerned that her clients could be charged down the line.
“No, I think that if charges were going to be brought, they should have been brought long before this,” she said.
Nerheim, who was newly elected as state’s attorney last November, said his office will conduct a new review of the case to determine if criminal charges are warranted.
The case has been a point of heated contention among all involved.
At a North Chicago City Council meeting on Tuesday, Scarry and State Rep. Rita Mayfield (D-Waukegan), who is related to Hanna.
“Your police officers are going down. We have homicide, murder. They tortured and murdered this man, in this city, and we are not going to stand by,” Mayfield told Scarry.
“I will not stand by with your rank conjecture and speculation. This will be brought out in a civil lawsuit, in a court of law, and the truth will be had,” Scarry responded.
“It will be brought out in a criminal lawsuit. These are criminals, and we want them prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. They are going down. They’re going to prison where they belong. They are rabid dogs, and they need to be put down,” Mayfield shot back.
Hanna’s cousin appealed members of City Council to be a part of an advisory committee that will investigate several other controversial cases involving officers there.