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Questions surround canceled EMS call in arrestee’s death

SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) — Officials are investigating why an ambulance was called off by Sarasota Police for a man who complained of having an asthma attack while being taken into custody. The man, who police hit twice with a Taser, later died in a hospital.

Police pulled over 33-year-old John Kaafi late Wednesday for a non-working tag light about 60 miles south of Tampa, The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/1EXWkmr). Police said Kaafi acted suspiciously so they detained him. Kaafi complained of an asthma attack while being handcuffed so they called for an ambulance before later canceling it, police said.

Police said they searched his car and discovered cocaine and spice, a designer drug.

Police said Kaafi, who had an extensive criminal history that included four stints in prison, tried to escape out of the police car’s window and was hit twice with a Taser. Kaafi was then transported to the jail, where he again complained of an asthma attack and was taken to a hospital. He died Friday morning.

Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino would not say in a news conference Friday why the initial ambulance request was called off.

“I can’t discuss anything about the case,” DiPino said Friday, citing an investigation by the Sheriff’s Office.

Roy Bedard, a nationally known police practices consultant in Tampa said based on a Herald-Tribune account of what transpired the officers should not have canceled EMS.

“Law enforcement is not trained or equipped to deal with a medical crisis like this,” he said. “There is some possibility that the officers thought they were being bluffed,” he said. “But even then, my training would suggest that the officers allow the ambulance personnel to tell them he’s bluffing.”

Kaafi’s cause of death is not known.

The three Sarasota police officers involved with Kaafi’s arrest have been placed on administrative leave during the sheriff’s office investigation.

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Information from: Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune, http://www.heraldtribune.com

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