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When officers from the Catskill Police Department tased a man they’d just seen douse himself in hand sanitizer, he burst into flames for nearly half a minute. But instead of helping the man who’d just caught fire, the officers were caught on video running out of the room, leaving the man to put out the blaze himself.
The man, identified as 29-year-old Jason Jones, was gravely injured and died in the hospital 45 days later. Now, the New York attorney general’s office has released an hour of footage of what happened before and after police set Jones on fire, nearly a month after the AG opened an investigation into the incident.
Catskill police say Jones walked to the local police station on Oct. 31 after leaving a bar just a few hundred feet away, according to previously published reports. Jones was at the bar earlier in the night when officers were called over a disturbance that Jones was allegedly directly involved with. Unhappy with how the officers had handled the situation, Jones headed to the station to discuss what had happened.
Jones stood in the lobby of the station for about 30 minutes, during which time three officers surrounded him, according to two videos released by the attorney general’s office on Friday. Jones is seen pacing, taking off his shirt and shoes, and even lighting a cigarette while talking to officers. There’s no audio.
About 25 minutes into the encounter, Jones grabs a container of hand sanitizer off a table and starts to back away from the officers as he pours it on his head and body. One of the officers then points a taser at Jones and fires. The officers first approach Jones but then back away from him about five seconds later as he catches on fire. Two of the officers immediately flee through a door while another backs up into a corner and looks on.
Jones’ head and torso are on fire for 25 seconds, as he rolls on the ground and rubs his head to put out the flames. An officer rushes back into the room and immediately reaches for Jones’ arm and tries to place it behind his back as if he’s going to handcuff him. The officer eventually gives up as Jones keeps trying to embrace him and the other two officers who return. The cops keep backing away from Jones, whose torso is bright red from burns in footage, until a civilian at the station who witnessed the blaze comes in to hug and comfort him.
Kevin Luibrand, the Jones’ family attorney, told VICE News that the 29-year-old had been in some sort of mental distress at the time of the encounter, although he didn’t disclose any details about a possible diagnosis.
“Jason was unarmed, not threatening anyone, and not committing any criminal offense,” Luibrand said. “Rather than render aid, the officers ran out of the room, shut the door behind them. Another officer stood in a corner. And all of them watched Jason just burn.”
Jones is seen talking to the officers immediately after the blaze and is eventually taken out of the room on a gurney fully conscious. However, he was eventually placed in the intensive care unit due to severe lung damage and then died of his injuries on Dec. 15 after being taken off ventilator support.
Police Chief Dave Darling did not immediately respond to VICE News’ request for comment but called the incident “horrible” in a statement to the Albany Times Union last month.
“I think they were afraid he was going to hurt himself, and that’s what started it,” Darling told the outlet.
Luibrand, however, says the police shouldn’t have introduced a taser into the situation in the first place.
“The circumstances were not cause for that level of force,” he said.
He said that Axon, the company that manufacturers Tasers used by police officers, specifically warns in the user manual not to fire the less-lethal weapon on or near flammable substances such as gasoline or alcohol. But according to the Times Union, the officers didn’t know that hand sanitizer was a flammable substance.
The New York attorney general’s office declined to comment on the investigation as it is ongoing. Jones’ family has not filed any legal proceedings in Jason’s death, according to Luibrand. It’s not known if the officers present at the time of Jones’ death were reprimanded for their actions.