Family seeks answers in death of a Caldwell man who died after he was hit by a Taser

Police haven’t released reports about Anthony Firkins Jr.

jsowell@idahostatesman.comFebruary 20, 2014 

Anthony Firkins Jr. poses with his son Mason at a martial arts tournament in an undated photo.

PROVIDED BY THE FIRKINS FAMILY

  • Between 2001 and 2012, 540 people died in the United States after being shot with a Taser by police, according to Amnesty International.

    Between 2008 and 2012, 378 to 414 people committing felony crimes were killed annually by police, according to statistics from the FBI. The agency does not track overall shooting deaths by police.

Every workday, Rupert truck driver Anthony Firkins Sr. pulls his tractor-trailer past 11th Avenue North and Industrial Road in Nampa and shudders.

Ten months after his son, Anthony Firkins Jr., 33, died after reportedly being shot three times with a Taser by Nampa police officers, Firkins Sr. said he doesn’t know anything more about what happened.

On Wednesday, he called on Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden to release police reports and audio and video recordings so he and the rest of his family can learn the circumstances that led to his son’s death.

“I’m just asking him as a father to let this evidence out and let us look at it, let the public see it,” Firkins Sr. said during a phone call from his home.

The younger Firkins’ wife, Heyburn resident Julie Firkins, said her ongoing grief and the uncertainty over the circumstances of her husband’s death have overwhelmed her and made it difficult to keep her mind on her work as an accountant.

“There’s no closure,” she said. “We want to know the truth. We want to know what happened.”

Idaho public records law allows an exemption from disclosure for records that are part of an ongoing investigation. It wasn’t certain Wednesday whether that exemption is why no reports or recordings have been released, but Wasden’s office is still reviewing the matter and family members said past records requests had been turned down for that reason.

The case began when Nampa police responded to a report of a screaming woman near the corner of Hudson and Canyon streets in the early morning hours of April 19.

Officers spotted a pickup without lights that they said was driving recklessly. After a pursuit that lasted several minutes, the driver, later identified as Anthony Firkins Jr., lost control of the truck and crashed near 11th Avenue and Industrial Road.

Firkins Jr., a Caldwell resident employed by Anderson Trucking in Burley, jumped a fence and tried to escape, police said. Officers later found him hiding under a trailer.

Police have never publicly explained what happened during a struggle to apprehend Firkins Jr., other than to say he was noncompliant.

At some point after Firkins Jr. was taken into custody, he stopped breathing. Medics attended to him but he was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

He died eight days after serving as a pallbearer for the burial of his grandfather, Austin Firkins.

Autopsy photos showed multiple puncture wounds consistent with Taser barbs, said Boise attorney Scott McKay.

“I think it’s clear that a Taser was used multiple times,” he said.

An EMT report said Nampa police told emergency responders they shot Firkins Jr. three times with the electrical shock weapon, McKay said.

Canyon County Coroner Vicki DeGeus-Morris ruled last June that Firkins Jr. died after experiencing a condition of high excitement known as “excited delirium.”

The condition is marked by a sudden onset of agitation, aggression, distress and death, typically cardiac arrest. It almost always takes place during a struggle with police.

DeGeus-Morris made her findings after reviewing pathology and toxicology reports. She said acute methamphetamine intoxication also contributed to the death.

Excited delirium is not a medical condition recognized by the American Psychiatric Association or the World Health Organization. Skeptics, including the American Civil Liberties Union, say it’s an easy way to explain away a death at the hands of police.

The Canyon County Critical Incident Task Force investigated Firkins’ death and turned over its report to Canyon County Prosecuting Attorney Bryan Taylor.

Because Taylor’s office regularly works with the Nampa Police Department on criminal cases, Taylor asked the attorney general’s office to review the task force’s findings and decide whether police were to blame for the death.

Wasden’s office has been looking into the matter since at least October. Spokesman Todd Dvorak said he had not been told how long it might take for the office to finish its work.

Canyon County spokesman Joe Decker, who has spoken for the task force, declined comment because the case is in the hands of the attorney general.

Julie Firkins said her husband was a good man, a good father and a good husband. The couple had been together six years and married three years. They met when he came into the grocery store where she had a second job working as a clerk.

Firkins Jr. was funny and had a contagious laugh, Julie Firkins said. He also loved to strum a guitar, she said.

“He was really a good guy. He loved people,” she said.

Firkins Jr. had previous encounters with law enforcement. He pleaded guilty in 2007 to attempted grand theft in Cassia County. He was sentenced to three years in prison in that case, but the judge retained jurisdiction — giving Firkins a chance to complete an initial period of confinement and treatment — and released him on probation six months later.

That same year, Firkins Jr. pleaded guilty in Cassia County to battery on a correctional officer or jailer — receiving credit for 208 days spent in jail — and waived an extradition hearing for unspecified charges in Wyoming, online court records show.

Tort claims on behalf of Julie Firkins, Anthony Firkins Sr. and Anthony Firkins’ 10-year-old son Mason were filed in October against the city of Nampa, Canyon County, the Canyon County Ambulance District and Canyon County Paramedics. The claims are a precursor to filing a lawsuit in state court.

“I have grave concerns that the Nampa police used excessive force to apprehend this young man and that excessive force caused his death,” McKay said.

Julie Firkins and Anthony Firkins Sr. noted that the Filer Police Department released a video of an officer shooting and killing a dog within days of the incident earlier this month. They said they can’t understand why they’re still waiting to see video taken by cameras worn by Nampa police officers in Anthony Firkins’ death.

“If there’s nothing to hide,” Anthony Firkins Sr. said, “then quit hiding it.”

John Sowell: 377-6423, Twitter: @IDS_Sowell

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