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NEW YORK -- A naked, emotionally disturbed man died in Bedford-Stuyvesant yesterday afternoon when he fell to the ground face-first after police tried to subdue him with an electrical jolt from a Taser gun, police and witnesses said.
It appears Iman Morales, who held police at bay for at least 20 minutes - trying at different times to poke some of the officers with a 6-foot-long fluorescent lamp - died from head injuries suffered in the 10-foot fall, not from the Taser jolt itself, though police said an autopsy would determine that.
The New York Police Department would not immediately say whether police used the Taser appropriately.
A police source briefed on the death, however, said that the Emergency Service officer who used the Taser did so because Morales posed a threat.
"He was swinging a large fluorescent lightbulb at them," the source said. "They were attempting to secure themselves on the fire escape to grab the guy and that's when he swung the light at them."
Morales has emotional problems, police said, and may not have been taking his medication. Others at the scene said Morales' mother, who was seen crying as police held her back when she tried to reach her son, had worried about the side effects of the medication.
The altercation started at about 1:30 p.m. when Morales stepped out of his third-floor apartment at 491 Tompkins Ave. and onto the fire escape. He was naked, witnesses said, and yelling that "they were trying to kill him" and that he would kill everyone.
He climbed up one flight, started pulling belongings out of a fourth-floor apartment, then went back down.
Finally, with police officers on the fire escape above him and other officers on the street below, Morales stepped onto a long metal container that stores the security gate in front of what is an empty store.
Witnesses said police tried repeatedly to talk Morales to safety but that he would not listen and instead grabbed the light from under the container and started menacing officers with it, ignoring their orders.
"Walk down now!" police could be heard shouting to him on a video of the confrontation posted on the Internet.
The Rand Corp., a think thank, in June recommended that the NYPD expand its use of Tasers, first by testing them in a pilot program in which sergeants would carry them on their belts.
Taser use has traditionally been limited to the elite Emergency Services Unit, and the NYPD has described them as an effective way to diffuse volatile confrontations, particularly when dealing with the mentally ill. Critics, however, have called for their ban, citing a number of controversial deaths in cities around the country.