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Former Rankin police chief dies after struggle outside casino, police say

| Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, 10:28 a.m.
Attorney William Weiler and his client Rankin police chief Darryll Briston come out of the Federal Courthouse Monday, March 22, 2004.

Former Rankin police Chief Darryll Briston, who spent part of the past decade on the wrong side of the law, died after an altercation with state police troopers who used a stun gun on him during his arrest.

Police said they were trying to arrest Briston 49, of North Braddock for punching a male companion of his estranged wife at The Meadows Racetrack and Casino about 10:30 p.m. Saturday. He ran off when confronted by Meadows security personnel, members of the Pennsylvania State Police Gaming Enforcement Office and North Strabane police, according to a state police report.

They chased him for about a quarter of a mile before catching him, but Briston would not give officers his hands to be cuffed and resisted, police reported. They said he complied after a state trooper used a Taser on his leg for two seconds.

Briston said he was having trouble breathing after officers took him back to their car, and they called an ambulance. He went into cardiac arrest 24 minutes after his arrest, police said.

He died at 11:26 p.m. at Canonsburg General Hospital, said Washington County Coroner Timothy Warco.

An autopsy showed no signs of any external or internal trauma, Warco said. However, the cause and manner of death were left open, pending the results of an investigation.

State police are investigating.

State police said they employ stun guns as “a use-of-force option” and follow basic guidelines on whom they'll fire the devices at and where. Officials would not provide the department's policies on Sunday.

Washington County District Attorney Gene Vittone could not be reached for comment.

Briston is the second man in the area to die after being stunned by a Taser.

Andre DeMon “Dre” Thomas, 37, of Swissvale died in 2008. A federal lawsuit claimed he died of injuries in a struggle with three Swissvale police officers.

The borough, which settled the case for $100,000 in June, maintained that Thomas died as a result of complications from using cocaine.

Forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht, who has been involved in at least a dozen stun gun cases across the country, does not believe the Taser caused Briston's death.

“If he was tasered only once, police did the right thing. It incapacitated him,” Wecht said. “The effects of that wear off in some minutes. The chase, the excitement ... put all that together, and you have a very stressful situation.”

Briston was described as being over 6 feet tall and weighing more than 200 pounds.

“The criminals feared him, I know that,” said William H. Price III, president of borough council who knew Briston for a number of years.

Briston served as a police officer in Rankin and Swissvale before becoming Rankin's chief, Price said.

“I thought he was doing a good job until those cases came up,” said Price, who will mark his 29th year on council in April.

In 2003, prosecutors accused Briston of pocketing $1,334 from a man charged with breaking the windshield of Briston's police cruiser.

Briston collected the money for the repairs, but the work was never done, police said. Briston cashed the check and never put the money in the borough's general fund, police said.

In 2004, Briston went on trial in federal court on charges that he stole almost $6,000 in cash seized as evidence by police and falsified receipts to cover it up. He was sentenced to more than three years in prison in that case.

A year later, he was accused of trying to eat a piece of evidence – a receipt – during a hearing.

Briston scuffled with a state trooper during a preliminary hearing and elbowed an officer who tried to stop Briston from eating the receipt, police said. Briston was later charged with aggravated assault and tampering with evidence.

In 2006, an Allegheny County jury convicted Briston of theft and official oppression for taking the $1,300 for the windshield repairs.

He was sentenced to two years of probation that ran concurrent with the three-year federal prison sentence he was serving.

In later years, Briston was learning to drive a truck, Price said.

Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or csmith@tribweb.com.

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