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LPD Taser Incident


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  • LPD Taser Incident

    Man dies after police use Taser on him
    By LORI PILGER and HILARY KINDSCHUH / Lincoln Journal Star

    It happened within minutes, as the city slept.

    A police officer could hear a young woman screaming when he got to the brick apartment building across 27th Street from the zoo.

    It was her screaming that had led a neighbor to call 911.

    Three minutes later, Officer Jonathan Kossow arrived at 1255 S. 27th St., Apt. 3. One minute more and he went in.

    Less than an hour later, a 23-year-old was dead - the first suspect to die after getting shocked by a Lincoln police Taser.

    Police Chief Tom Casady said Gabriel Bitterman had dragged the woman into a back bedroom, a kitchen knife in his hand. The couple's 5-month-old child was not in the apartment at the time.

    Bitterman had told the 19-year-old woman he would hurt himself, and cut his arm superficially, Casady said.

    When Kossow got to the bedroom door, Casady said, Bitterman turned toward him with the knife. The officer ordered him to get down, to drop the knife.

    But he said Bitterman ignored the commands.

    "The officer discharged a Taser, one time," Casady said.

    The barbs from the Taser model X26 struck Bitterman, sending a 5-second pulse of electricity through his body.

    Bitterman went down, Casady said. His girlfriend ran out.

    Waiting outside, a camera crew with the MTV reality show "Busted!" - on a ride-along with Kossow - caught the audio from a microphone on the officer.

    The officer called for an ambulance, per police policy after one of the department's 15 Tasers is used.

    The officer took the Taser barbs off Bitterman and handcuffed him.

    In the next few minutes, Bitterman, lying face up on the floor, stopped breathing, Casady said.

    Officers took off the handcuffs and were starting CPR when paramedics arrived.

    Bitterman was pronounced dead at BryanLGH Medical Center West shortly after 4 a.m.

    An autopsy is planned.

    The officer, with the department nearly nine years, has been put on administrative leave while an internal investigation is under way. The department's Criminal Investigation team will investigate, too, Casady said. It's the normal protocol.

    The audio recorded by the MTV crew has been secured as evidence, Casady said.

    There also will be a grand jury investigation, required by law when someone dies in police custody.

    n n n

    Rob Peterson, the father of Bitterman's girlfriend, thinks Kossow was too quick to use a Taser.

    "I know what he (Bitterman) was doing was not right. We're talking about my daughter," he said. "But I have a problem with Casady saying they followed procedures."

    They could've called in a dog, used Mace or a police baton, or tried to negotiate with Bitterman first, Peterson said.

    But Casady said if Kossow had not had a Taser, he might have had to shoot Bitterman.

    Peterson said his daughter told him that when Bitterman realized police were behind him, he got up, turned around and looked, and the officer fired the Taser at his chest from at least eight feet away. Bitterman's hips hadn't yet turned toward the officer.

    As Peterson's daughter ran to another room, Bitterman fell to the bed, then the floor, Peterson said.

    Peterson said Bitterman shouldn't have been carrying a knife or threatening people with it. But he says he doesn't think Bitterman was trying to hurt his daughter. He was trying to hurt himself.

    He doesn't know why Bitterman would have dragged her into the room.

    "Gabe was a good kid," Peterson said - a good kid who might have made a bad decision under the influence of alcohol.

    Police believe Bitterman had been drinking.

    Peterson said Bitterman was part of the city's Youthbuild Program that helps young people gain experience in building affordable housing.

    And he loved his daughter.

    "He tried as hard as he could to be a family," Peterson said.

    He said he's been fighting back tears all day, and misses the young man he's known for years and sometimes went fishing with.

    "We did a lot of things together, and now he's gone," Peterson said.

    n n n

    Bitterman had been set to go to court next Monday on an allegation he assaulted the same woman on Aug. 5.

    It was 12:49 a.m. on that date when police were called to the same apartment building on a report of people fighting.

    The woman told police Bitterman had punched her in the face, according to court records.

    The officer who took the report said Bitterman tried to "come at the victim" in front of them. A man held him back.

    A witness said the two had been arguing all day. Police took Bitterman to jail.

    His girlfriend was charged, too, for assaulting Bitterman and was fined $200.

    When Bitterman went to court, County Judge Jean Lovell set his percentage bond at $2,500 and told him if he posted it he was to have no contact with the woman.

    On Sept. 1, the woman asked for the "no contact" order to be dropped. In her letter, she said she and Bitterman wanted to try to work out their relationship.

    "I feel it's important for both of us to raise our baby together," she wrote.

    But the judge kept the order in place. They lived together anyway, police said.

    Three days later, police cited Bitterman on suspicion of child abuse. Officer Katie Flood said he passed out drunk and left their daughter unattended.

    Reach Lori Pilger at 473-7237 or [email protected] or Hilary Kindschuh at 473-7120 or [email protected].

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