This story was updated on April 24, 2013.
A 51-year-old Gaithersburg man died Friday after officers used Tasers trying to arrest him.
County police officers responded about 6:11 p.m. to the 8800 block of Cross Country Place in Gaithersburg after the man, identified as Anthony Howard, was reported to be acting strangely. A 911 caller said the man was standing in the bed of a pickup truck, striking it with rocks and shouting obscenities, according to a statement from the Montgomery County Police Department.
Victor Lopez, who lives on Cross Country Place, said he had just taken off his boots and made a drink after arriving home from work when his wife told him that a man was acting strangely behind one of his two trucks.
The man was walking in the rain in a blue shirt and shorts and didn’t have shoes on, only socks, Lopez said.
Lopez, who has lived at Cross Country Place for 13 years, said he didn’t recognize the man.
He went outside and found the man on his Ford F-250.
“He was sitting on my tool boxes,” Lopez said.
He told Howard, “Sir, you need to get off my truck.”
But Howard was acting strangely, he said, telling Lopez to shoot him. At one point Lopez said, Howard peered into the back of his truck and told him, “You’ve got a big tiger back there.”
He was hitting two rocks together in his hands. They were about the size of a banana or a baked potato, Lopez said.
Howard took off his socks and threw them, then got on the roof of Lopez’s pickup and jumped onto the roof of his Ford Excursion, parked in the next spot over.
There still is a dent on the Excursion’s roof where the man landed, he said.
Video footage of Howard showed him spinning around on top of the car and later swaying side to side as officers spoke to him.
After police arrived, Howard jumped off the Excursion. An officer sprayed him with pepper spray.
Howard then picked up a potted plant and held it above his head and later, a rock, Lopez said.
After Howard ran to the porch of one of Lopez’s neighbors, officers shot him with Tasers.
“He grabbed the wires. He started pulling them out,” Lopez said.
He saw rescue personnel performing CPR shortly after, he said.
“My wife is very sad about it,” he said, of Howard’s death.
The five officers involved in the incident were placed on administrative leave according to standard police protocol, Montgomery County Police Capt. Paul Starks said.
On Monday, crime scene investigators were at the site where Howard was shot with the Tasers.
Detectives are interviewing about 12 witnesses, according to the MCPD statement.
The official cause of Howard’s death still is under investigation, Maryland medical examiners say.
The Gazette has been unable so far to locate members of Howard’s family.
His death has raised questions within the Maryland ACLU about the use of the Taser in the incident.
“[Howard] did not appear to pose an imminent threat of harm to officers or anyone else,” said Scott Hammack, who represents the Maryland ACLU on regulations of electronic control weapons.
However, he said, it was too soon to know whether the use of the Taser was appropriate because the investigation into Howard’s death still is ongoing.
“In the eyes of the Maryland ACLU, it’s important to recognize that these electronic control weapons should be treated as potentially lethal weapons,” he said.
On Tuesday, Starks said he did not know how many times Montgomery County Police applied their Tasers so far in 2013. However, last September, The Gazette reported that County police used Tasers in 171 incidents in 2011 and more than 60 times in 2012. Of the 1,159 officers then on the county police force, 580 were certified to carry the X26 model Tasers used by the department.
The use of a Taser “depends on the circumstances ... and on the officer’s judgement ... in this case it was very clear,” Starks said, referring to Howard’s refusal to obey officers’ demands and his approach toward one of the homes.
“He had already been sprayed. That didn’t take effect. He already refused to take verbal command of officers,” Starks said.
“He was up at the front door of the residence. We don’t know who if anyone might be inside... or what purpose he had. Was he trying to go inside? If he goes inside, if someone’s there, is he going to hurt them? If the door pops open and someone comes outside, what’s going to happen?”