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Neighbor: Man who died after Tasered by cops was acting erratically

A man who died after police twice used a Taser on him had been shouting and acting erratically moments before officers arrested him near his mother's home in the West Pullman neighborhood on the Far South Side, according to a neighbor.

“He was talking crazy,” said Dana Robinson, who knew Philip O. Coleman for several years and had considered him a friendly and “normal” neighbor in the 12800 block of South Morgan Street. “I know this guy, but I don’t know what (was) going on with him.”

Police say Coleman was "combative" and spit blood in the faces of two officers when they arrested him Wednesday for allegedly beating his 69-year-old mother.

On Thursday, officers were taking Coleman from the Calumet District police station to court when "he again became combative" and a Taser was used "to gain control of the subject," police said.

Coleman was then taken to Roseland Community Hospital "where he became physically aggressive with hospital staff and accompanying CPS officers," police said. "Once again, reasonable force was employed, including a Taser deployment, to gain control of the offender."

Coleman was admitted to Roseland, where he was given a sedative and later died, police said in the statement. The department did not release any other details of the death. Coleman was pronounced dead at 5:47 p.m. Thursday at Roseland. An autopsy was inconclusive and the cause of death is pending further investigation, according to the medical examiner's office.

Coleman's father, Percy Coleman, said today that police “aren’t going to get away with it.”

“My son … (has) never been in trouble,” he said. “He’s a grad of the University of Chicago. They won’t be able to run him out that he’s a drug dealer, this and that.”

Percy Coleman refused to comment further. A woman who answered the door at the Coleman residence later in the morning said the family did not want to speak with reporters.

Robinson said Coleman ran in and out of his garage before he was arrested Wednesday, smashing groceries and threatening his wife.

Robinson, whose garage abuts an alley behind the Coleman family home, said he first heard a man yelling in the alley while he and his wife stood in the garage. Coleman then began darting in and out while shouting nonsensical phrases.

At one point, Robinson said Coleman grabbed at his wife’s arm and said, “Come here.” She was frightened but not hurt.
Later, Coleman tried to flee over a chain-link fence surrounding an empty pool, but he cut his hands on the barbed wire and turned back.

Coleman also smashed a small can of tomato paste on Robinson’s garage floor. The splatter was still visible Friday. When Robinson tried to shut his neighbor out of the garage, Coleman rolled underneath just before the door shut.

Eventually, Robinson said, Coleman spotted his father and left the garage. Robinson said he saw Coleman smack his father with an open palm.

When Robinson and his wife tried to drive away a few minutes later, they saw Coleman running toward four police officers on nearby South Morgan Street, his bloody palms raised. Not wanting to be present if the confrontation escalated, Robinson said he and his wife backed down the street and drove away.

Other neighbors were also shocked by Coleman's actions, remembering him as a polite, quiet man.

"From what I see, he'd just come visit his mama and leave," Yolanda Cole said. "It was real out of character for him."

Cecelia Spearman, an elderly neighbor, learned of Coleman's death from a reporter. "I just can't imagine him being dead," she said. "He was always friendly to me. He was in a crib when I came" to the neighborhood in 1974.

The Independent Police Review Authority is investigating the incident, a spokesman for the agency said.

In 2010, Chicago used federal grant money to expand its arsenal of Tasers to more than 600 -- enough to arm one officer in every beat car and outfit tactical, rapid response and other units. The city consequently saw a 329 percent jump in Taser use, from 195 incidents in 2009 to 836 in 2011.

Each Chicago police officer receives eight hours of training for initial certification, according to Chicago police Sgt. Michael Partipilo, who encourages every officer to take a Taser shock.

Partipilo told the Tribune earlier this year that he teaches officers to assess each situation, from the strength of the officer to the potential dangerousness of the suspect escaping, to decide independently what level of force to deploy. They should keep in mind, for example, that the most serious force might not be appropriate against youths, he said.

Steve Tuttle, a spokesman for Taser International, said the company considers it safe to use a Taser "back to back" on a person up to three times.

“There is not a hard and fast rule,” Tuttle cautioned.

Sometimes, both probes of a Taser do not make contact with the person and the shock is diminished, Tuttle said. "Sometimes you have to make a judgment call if the Taser is not having an effect,” he said.

Tuttle said it is not uncommon for someone to be sedated after being shocked by a Taser, but referred medical questions to the hospital.

pnickeas@tribune.com
Twitter: @peternickeas

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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