BANGOR, Maine — A local man who was stunned by Bangor police using a Taser last September after he consumed synthetic bath salts and was “out of control” died as a result of complications from overdosing on the lab-made drug, his autopsy report states.
The man’s father disagrees with the findings and has filed a notice of intent to sue the city for failing to provide proper care to his son after he was hit with a Taser.
Phillip A. McCue, 28, of Bangor had two heart attacks — one shortly after a Taser was used to subdue him on Sept. 12, 2012, and the second one five days later at the hospital — and died as a result of “complications of [Alpha-PVP] poisoning,” according to his autopsy report, which was released at the request of the Bangor Daily News.
“The use by police of [electroshock device] (both barb deployment and direct stun use to his back) is not, in my opinion, a medically independent co-factor in this unfortunate gentleman’s case,” Dr. Michael Ferenc, a former Maine medical examiner who now lives in Phoenix, Ariz., concluded in McCue’s autopsy report.
“He is saying that the Taser hits are not a factor in the death,” Dr. Margaret Greenwald, Maine’s chief medical examiner, said Monday.
A bruise on McCue’s lower right back was discovered by the medical examiner, who indicated it was a wound from the direct stun, but he was “unable to identify the barb site after 5 days in the hospital.”
McCue’s father, Michael McCue of Jackson, disagrees strongly.
“We believe the Taser caused his death and there was not adequate attention given to Phillip when he went down,” he said Monday.
McCue said he has requested reports about the incident from Bangor police, who still have not responded, and the Bangor Fire Department’s rescue team, which issued him a copy of their report about two weeks after his son’s death.
“Right from the beginning, we were concerned because of the EMT report that says they found Phillip on the ground with handcuffs on,” McCue said. “When the EMTs arrived, he was dead. They had to ask [police] to remove the handcuffs. They began resuscitation and within two minutes they had him breathing again.”
Phillip McCue was taken to EMMC and remained there in a coma and alone until his father and stepmother learned two days later that he might have been arrested and started looking for him. They were irate that the hospital did not contact them, which spurred an internal EMMC review and policy changes.
“We’ve been waiting six months,” Michael McCue said, with obvious frustration in his voice. “It’s quite disconcerting to us. It’s not really a matter about how he died. It’s about how he was treated.”
The Bangor Daily News requested a copy of McCue’s autopsy report, which was completed April 9 and delivered April 18 after months of delay caused by the departure of Ferenc, who performed the autopsy but left the case open pending toxicology and other test results.
The report says Bangor police responded to a disturbance at 18 First St. and found an out-of-control McCue.
“Mr. McCue was involved in a struggle with officers who attempted to arrest and bring him under control,” according to the circumstances of death listed in the autopsy report. “During the struggle officers used an electronic stunning device on Mr. McCue that temporarily brought him under control. He was being handcuffed and again began to struggle with officers. While being placed into a police car he became unresponsive with respiratory distress. EMS was nearby and immediately began resuscitative measures.”
The autopsy findings state after Philip McCue was stunned and “after a brief but significant time gap he was found to be in cardiac arrest.”
He was taken to the hospital on Sept. 12, 2012, and pronounced dead on Sept 17, 2012. The autopsy found about 10 medical ailments that are often associated with bath salts addiction, Greenwald said.
“Dr. Ferenc wrote the cause of death as ‘complications of Alpha PVP,’” she said. “That would include the excited delirium, and most of the other listed findings which occurred because he took the drug.”
The medical examiner sent McCue’s blood to a Pennsylvania lab for the toxicology test, which indicated he had in his system more than a dozen separate drugs, including bath salts, benzodiazepines, cocaine, opiates and others.
The Maine attorney general’s office is investigating the death because McCue, who had a history of mental illness and drug use, died in police custody. As of Monday, the case was still under review, AG spokesman Tim Feeley said in an email.
Officials from the Bangor Police Department and Eastern Maine Medical Center also conducted their own internal investigations into the circumstances surrounding the death.
The hospital was trying to determine why McCue’s family members were not notified. It ended up changing a policy as a result, a hospital official said.
Bangor police found officers involved followed procedures, Bangor police Sgt. Paul Edwards said Monday.
“There was no violation of any policy here by any officer,” Edwards said.
The case is in the hands of the attorney general’s office, Edwards said, saying he could not answer any questions about the incident. He has said McCue was taken into police custody but he was never charged with a crime.
Bangor police officers have used Tasers on people high on bath salts who do not respond to police commands and cannot be brought under control by other means, Edwards said in an October 2011 story about other law enforcement agencies looking to purchase the hand-held weapons, which incapacitate people by sending electrical charges through their bodies and nullifying their muscular control.
Jodi Galli, EMMC’s new chief nursing officer, said recently that a change was implemented regarding notifying family members of unconscious patients.
“This experience has led us to review our policy related to notification of next of kin,” she said in an email last week. “Our policy has been revised to better clarify the expectation for our staff to notify next of kin for patients who are unable to communicate.”
Phillip McCue, who leaves behind a young son, overdosed on a derivative of one of the two bath salts strains that surfaced in Maine in 2011. Alpha-PVP first arrived in the Bangor region in August 2012 and caused “a string of excited delirium and agitation [among users] and two overdose deaths,” police Lt. Tom Reagan said in January.
The state’s first confirmed bath salts overdose death, on July 22, 2011, involved a man who took so much of the synthetic street drug that he was delusional and attempted to beat himself up just minutes before he had three heart attacks, his autopsy report states.
Ralph E. Willis, 32, of Bangor consumed a toxic level of methylenedioxypyrovalerone, or MDPV, a key ingredient of bath salts, and died accidentally from “complications of MDPV toxicity,” the report says.
The report revealed that Willis was a danger to himself and others on the day he died. After Willis died, policy changes were made at Penobscot County Jail and it no longer accepts inmates who are under the influence of bath salts. In addition, the Bangor Police Department, Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement agencies now dispatch officers in pairs, whenever possible, when confronted with a person on bath salts.
Michael McCue said he wants changes made to the Police Department’s policies regarding CPR after the use of a Taser.
“If they are going to be using a Taser, they should be trained in CPR,” he said. “That didn’t happen … they waited for the EMTs to get there. Why?”
Those precious minutes could have saved his son’s life, he said.
“We still don’t have all the information,” said Patty McCue, Phillip McCue’s stepmother. “We’re still looking for answers.”