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Former Rankin chief died of natural causes after being Tased, coroner says

| Thursday, July 18, 2013, 11:38 a.m.

The wife of a former Rankin police chief who died after a state trooper used a stun gun on him said Thursday she was relieved to learn the weapon played no role, based on a coroner's findings.

“I never thought anything was suspicious,” Maria Briston said after Washington County Coroner Tim Warco announced that a lengthy investigation determined Darryll Briston died of natural causes after an altercation at The Meadows Racetrack and Casino.

“I just wanted to make sure Darryll wasn't abused. I wanted to make sure he wasn't another Jonny Gammage,” referring to a black motorist who died in an altercation with white police officers during a 1995 traffic stop in Carrick.

Darryll Briston, 49, of Penn Hills on Dec. 15 punched a man who was talking to his wife inside the North Strabane casino and ran when confronted by Meadows security and state and local police, police said. After a quarter-mile chase, Briston tussled with officers. A trooper discharged a Taser on his leg for two seconds, police said.

Soon after, Briston reported trouble breathing. He went into cardiac arrest 24 minutes after his arrest, police said.

Warco's investigation revealed significant blockage of Briston's arteries.

“Scientifically, the Taser had nothing to do with the individual's death,” Warco said.

Maria Briston said her husband suffered from a heart condition and had gained a significant amount of weight but passed a physical for a fracking job just before he died. The American Heart Association last year published a study showing that electronic stun guns can cause cardiac arrest and death.

Nearly 540 people in the United States have died since 2001 after being shocked with police Tasers, according to Amnesty International and Electronic Village, a blog that tracks Taser-related deaths. Darryll Briston's death is not included in the tally.

“While Taser is pleased to see there is no causality in contributing to the death, there is always sadness that comes from a situation like this, and my heart goes out to the family,” Taser International Inc. spokesman Steve Tuttle said.

Briston served as a police officer in Rankin and Swissvale before becoming Rankin's chief. He was fired in 2003 and served three years in prison after being convicted of theft and obstruction of justice.

“My husband is laid to rest,” Maria Briston said, “and now he can rest in peace.”

District Attorney Gene Vittone said no charges will be filed.

Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or jcato@tribweb.com.

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