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State investigating death of 'incoherent' man after altercation with Lockport police

A man who died following an altercation with four Lockport police officers late Sunday had been acting unusually after taking some medication, prompting the man’s mother to call 911, according to interim Police Chief Steven C. Preisch.

When police responded, they eventually used a Taser on Troy A. Hodge, 39, outside the mother's Park Avenue home, Preisch said.

"Once they were able to get him into custody, it was described to me, he went kind of into medical distress," Preisch said. "They had the ambulance expedite, and actually the first two officers who were involved in the call jumped into the ambulance and assisted in rendering CPR on the way to the hospital."

Hodge was pronounced dead at Eastern Niagara Hospital.

A relative of Hodge's asserted the police are responsible for his death.

"He was murdered," said Renee Cheatham, who identified herself as a cousin of Hodge's mother, Fatima Z. Hodge. "When you tase somebody to death until his heart stops, that's murder to me," Cheatham said.

She said a Taser stun gun was used on Hodge "until it broke."

The police chief, however, said an examination of Hodge's body failed to show any marks from Taser probes.

"We're downloading the software," Preisch said. "It'll tell you when it was deployed, how long it was deployed. However, and it was not just us, the medical examiner was not able to locate any Taser marks where it punctured the skin."

Preisch said Hodge was wearing three layers of clothing — an undershirt, a regular shirt and a jacket — and the Taser didn't penetrate them all. He said he received that information from two officers who photographed Monday's autopsy.

"The Taser probes can attach in the material, not puncture the skin and therefore not work and not be effective," Preisch said.

Niagara County District Attorney Caroline A. Wojtaszek said the Erie County Medical Examiner's Office has not yet reported a cause of death.

The four police officers were placed on administrative leave Monday, a standard procedure after such an incident.

A knife was recovered from the scene, said attorney Thomas H. Burton, who's representing the four officers.

The officers have not been identified by the department or their lawyer.

"It involved an altercation with the police, and a knife was recovered from the person who ultimately died," Burton said. "I can confirm a knife was recovered and the individual was armed with it when he started fighting with police."

Burton said three officers were evaluated for injuries after the encounter.

"At least one was evaluated for bite wounds," Burton said.

Preisch said Hodge's mother called 911 at 11:42 p.m. Sunday to report that her son was acting unusual after taking drugs.

"She referred to, on the 911 phone, about medication," Preisch said. "He wasn't acting right. He wasn't himself."

The mother thought it was because of the medication, and then he was hallucinating, Preisch said.

"That's what the medical examiner's for," he said. "That's what the toxicology report will show, hopefully, exactly what was in his system, how much of it, and if that combination of what was in his system had a potential impact on his behavior."

The police chief would not specify what kind of drugs were found at the scene.

"We believe they were prescribed to him, but that's what the investigation is for," Preisch said.

Asked if Hodge had overdosed on drugs, Cheatham said, "Absolutely not."

Asked if he had a knife, Cheatham refused to answer.

The district attorney described the 911 call as "a medical call with police assistance."

"There was some indication there might have been some physical contact between him and his mother," Wojtaszek said.

"We actually sent a police car and an ambulance," Preisch said. "When I listened to the call, it sounded like it was, not an intentional overdose, but someone who gets their medications kind of mixed up and they have a negative reaction, like a mixture of meds or someone potentially overmedicated."

"She was concerned how he was acting. He wasn't acting himself," Wojtaszek said.

"The first officer on the scene made contact with the person," Preisch said.

He said Hodge was "not acting rationally" and "making incoherent statements."

"At some point (Hodge) talked about going back into the house to get a gun," Preisch said.

The first officer decided "to go hands-on to prevent that from occurring. That started a physical altercation," Preisch said.

The chief said a second officer arrived, saw the altercation and radioed for support.

"Two more of our officers showed up, so a total of four of ours, and … county cars showed up," Preisch said.

Niagara County Sheriff James R. Voutour said three deputies responded.

Burton said the four Lockport officers were placed on leave "as a result of the critical incident policy the Lockport PD employs."

"That's standard protocol when we have officers involved in something like this," Preisch said. "What this is, is an opportunity for them to collect their thoughts, to put everything on paper, submit their paperwork that they need. They're also required to do follow-up counseling to ensure that everything is good. This is a traumatic experience for everyone."

"Placing someone on administrative leave doesn't imply anything other than the police management and the prosecutorial authorities are trying to find out what's going on," Burton said. "It's something that happens as a matter of course, and nothing negative should be inferred from it."

A spokeswoman for the state Attorney General's Office said Monday that the agency is looking into Hodge's death.

An executive order signed in 2015 by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo directs the attorney general to act as a special prosecutor in cases of a death in police custody where the victim is unarmed or where there is a serious question about whether he was armed.

State investigators are doing their own fact-finding, said the spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office.

"They stay involved until they find out whether he was armed," Wojtaszek said.

"I certainly welcome the Attorney General's Office as part of this parallel investigation," Preisch said.

Burton said the officers "are cooperating fully with their department and their reporting will be in in short order, so the powers that be can review this unfortunate incident."

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