The death of a man shocked by Worth County deputies’ Tasers in September has been ruled a homicide, state medical examiner officials have concluded.
The man, Michael Zubrod, 39, was beating his girlfriend Rhonda Schukei with a hammer and scissors when deputies arrived, according to reports from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation. He additionally attacked Deputy Isaac Short with a pair of needle nose pliers, agents said in a release today.
Short and Deputies John Smith and Shayne Hoch attempted to subdue Zubrod with Tasers, which they reported as having little to no effect. Zubrod became unresponsive while in handcuffs and leg shackles and emergency officials were unable to revive him, agents said.
Zubrod’s mother, Cheri, has questioned her son’s death. She has said she doesn’t believe deputies intended to kill him but questions if Tasers were overused and believes they played a role in his death.
Cheri Zubrod said state officials told her Friday that her son had been stunned three times by Tasers. She does not know the total length of time he was shocked.
A press release issued today by DCI lists the cause of death as “cardiac arrhythmia following an altercation with law enforcement in the setting of acute methamphetamine intoxication.”
The press release does not note that Zubrod’s death has been classified as a homicide, which Cheri Zubrod said she was told Friday in a conversation with an official from the Iowa Medical Examiner’s office.
Cheri Zubrod noted that she was told that the homicide classification does not mean officers were part of any wrongdoing. That generally means that a person died at the hands of another, she said.
Gerard Meyers, assistant director of field operations for DCI acknowledged this afternoon that the case was considered a homicide. The state, however, is not looking to make an arrest in the death, Meyers said. Worth County Attorney Jeffrey Greve has concluded the deputies were justified in their actions.
“Law enforcement has to know these devices are deadly. They have to know that,” Cheri Zubrod said today. “This just doesn’t make sense. None of this makes any sense.”
Michael Zubrod is one of two people who have died after being shocked by Tasers by Iowa authorities in the last six months. In the United States at least 540 people have died since 2001, according to statistics by Amnesty International.
The other Iowa death associated with a Taser was Thomas Martinez Jr., 40, who was having mini-seizures at a Coralville restaurant when police say he became combative to medical personnel and was shocked twice by Tasers. He soon thereafter became unresponsive and died the next day in a hospital.
Martha McKee, the mother of Martinez, Jr., told The Register last month that she also suspects that Tasers were misused and played a significant factor in her son’s death.
Autopsy and toxicology reports in Martinez’s case have not been released.
Meyers said today that partly because of the drugs in Zubrod’s case, it’s impossible to definitively determine if there was an “associative impact” caused by Tasers in the death.
Schukei, 48, is still recovering but has been released from the Mayor Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
Cheri Zubrod said Schukei called her a week after her son’s death and expressed sorrow about the entire situation.
“She told me she was so sorry,” Zubrod said. “I told her I was sorry, too. I was sorry for her, sorry for Mike and sorry for all the people involved in this.”
Studies by the U.S. Justice Department and the American Heart Association have concluded that Taser shocks can cause cardiac arrest and death, especially when an individual is stunned more than once or for a prolonged period.
Cheri Zubrod has previously noted that her son had a mental illness that she believes was exacerbated by drugs. She said she wants people to understand that her son was, nonetheless, generally a kind person who worked with her and her husband Larry Zubrod on their farm near Charles City.
“There was a lot more to Mike than anything that was written about him in the paper,” Cheri Zubrod said today. “He was our friend. He worked for us. He ate with us. He played with us. He was always sweet and always kind and always gentle.”
She continued: “I don’t know what happened to him that night. I don’t know what would have made him do or hurt or attack Rhonda like he did. It had to be the meth and his mind just snapped but that wasn’t the person that he was.”