Kiethedric Hines fought with police and fought for his life Sunday night. He lost both times. He was pronounced dead at Rockford Memorial Hospital’s emergency room shortly before 7 p.m. But why Hines died is unknown. What is known is that Hines was shot at with a Taser.

Kiethedric Hines fought with police and fought for his life Sunday night. He lost both times.


The 31-year-old Rockford man was pronounced dead at Rockford Memorial Hospital’s emergency room shortly before 7 p.m. But why Hines died is unknown.


What is known is that Hines was shot at with a Taser. He was also showered with pepper spray in the face but was still conscious — and struggling with emergency workers — when he was taken to the emergency room after complaining about shortness of breath.


But whether it was the Taser, the pepper spray, the fighting, the running, a combination of those or something else entirely different, that ultimately led to his death remained unclear late Monday night.


“This is still an ongoing investigation,” Rockford police Chief Chet Epperson said during an afternoon news conference in the downtown Public Safety Building. “We have not drawn any conclusion that the cause (was related) to the Taser.”


Less lethal weapons


The use of the Taser, an electroshock weapon that several police departments employ as part of their less lethal arsenal, has become a focal point of the incident because of the uncertainty many, from international human rights groups to local lawmakers, feel about its safety. If Hines was hit by the Taser, then he is the second person in Rockford to die after being shot with a Taser in the last three months.


Rep. Chuck Jefferson, D-Rockford, said he plans to call for a meeting with city officials to discuss the recent Taser-related deaths.


“If the consequences are going to continue to be death, and in a nonlife-threatening situation for (police), then we may need to look at other options,” he said.


Jefferson’s Senate counterpart, state Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, felt differently.


“The bottom line is that police have to have a tool to either defend themselves or be able to stop or catch individuals who have committed serious crimes,” he said.


“If they don’t want them using guns and they don’t want them using batons, then a Taser seems to be the best scenario. ... The easiest answer to that is when the police tell you to stop, a person should stop and a Taser would never occur.”


Autopsy inconclusive


But autopsy results Monday weren’t conclusive that Hines was even struck by the weapon, Winnebago County Coroner Sue Fiduccia said.


“There is a small puncture mark ... in his upper back,” Fiduccia said, but, she added, it was unclear if the wound came from a Taser prong or something else.


Epperson said police came into contact with Hines Sunday night after 911 received a call from a woman who was asking for help saying Hines was trying to break down her door.


Officer Brad Lauer responded to the call, according to reports, and Hines fled when Lauer pulled up in his squad car and ordered him to stop.


A foot chase through several backyards ensued and, according to reports, Lauer fired his Taser at Hines as Hines was jumping a fence. Somehow, both men ended up on the ground, and that’s when a second responding officer, Eric McLain, found both men.


McLain wrestled with Hines and used pepper spray to subdue him. Hines was handcuffed and complained of being short of breath. A Rockford Fire Department ambulance transported Hines to the hospital where he later died.


Meanwhile, Lauer suffered some head injuries and had to be taken to the hospital. He has since been treated and released, Rockford police Deputy Chief Greg Lindmark said.


Epperson said the officers “responded appropriately” and “within department policy” in chasing and attempting to subdue Hines. He said department policy allows officers to use Tasers on fleeing suspects or when officers feel they are in danger.


He added that there are no plans to change the department policy of when Tasers can be used.


The chief would not, however, release a copy of the policy to the Rockford Register Star.


“We don’t do that, per city legal,” Epperson said. “You can (file a Freedom of Information request for) it, but it’ll be denied.”


Mike Wiser can be reached at (815) 987-1377 or mwiser@rrstar.com.