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Facts scarce in fatality by cop stun device; Lancaster man, 27, subdued by town police in disturbance, is pronounced dead at hospital

A Lancaster man died Tuesday morning after town police used an "electronic control device" in an unsuccessful attempt to subdue him during a violent domestic disturbance, authorities reported.

Nicholas Koscielniak, 27, was pronounced dead at 6:52 a.m. in Sisters Hospital St. Joseph Campus, Cheektowaga, where he was rushed by ambulance after being subdued by Lancaster police.

Police offered few specifics about the incident, providing neither the exact time nor location where it occurred, but stated that they responded to a 911 call by a resident of the home for "a violent disturbance."

According to a statement released Tuesday by Police Chief Gerald J. Gill Jr., officers arriving at the scene "were confronted by a 6-foot-4 inch, 275-pound male out of control and assaulting another adult male occupant of the home."

"An eventual use by the officers of an electronic control device did not control the man's violence," the statement said. "While the officers were in the process of restraining the man for purposes of ambulance transport to the hospital for a mental health evaluation, he continued to fight with them."

Koscielniak became unresponsive after being put on an ambulance gurney.

An unknown number of Lancaster officers were injured but did not require hospitalization, police said. Although police didn't officially release the suspect's name, Koscielniak's family members confirmed his death late Tuesday.

Police did not say whether the device used was a Taser or a stun gun and wouldn't respond to questions beyond what was detailed in the statement "pending a complete marshaling of the facts," Gill said.

An autopsy was performed later Tuesday morning by the Erie County Medical Examiner's Office. Details of the preliminary findings into the cause of Koscielniak's death were not immediately disclosed.

Police were continuing to investigate the incident, according to Gill's statement.

Attorney Thomas H. Burton, who frequently represents on-duty police officers in use-of-force cases, said that deaths as the result of devices such as Tasers are extremely rare but that the facts described in this case support their use.

"It's a middle-level tool [like pepper spray] the police have to secure someone short of old-style blunt-trauma instruments like a nightstick or a blackjack," Burton said. "It's an interim step that may serve well the citizen if they may be high on drugs or have a mental defect."

Results of toxicology tests on Koscielniak's body are pending.

Burton added that deaths resulting from a Taser or pepper spray -- while they can occur -- are "virtually unheard-of statistically."

"It is an unusual circumstance to violently battle with uniformed police officers, and generally there is a reason for it," he said.

Burton added, "Under New York State law, a police officer has no duty to retreat. Nor do they have any duty to first get hurt before they try something else."

Koscielniak, the father of a young son, Nixon R., was the son of Lori and Alan Koscielniak. He is also survived by a sister, Danielle. A wake will be held Thursday in Lancaster, and a Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 9:30 a.m. Friday in St. Gabriel Catholic Church, 5271 Clinton St., Elma.


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