Veteran in emotional distress Tased, later dies

Aaron Mesmer reports

- The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office is investigating after a Navy veteran died when deputies used a Taser on him while responding to a call for medical help.

According to Don Degraw's family, he had been acting erratically after experiencing "seizure-like activity" Wednesday, so his wife called 911.

In a news release from the Sheriff's Office, "paramedics and deputies spoke with Donald and he claimed he was having a bad dream. Donald admitted he was currently taking medication for Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome and he refused medical attention. Donald did not meet Baker Act criteria so paramedics and deputies left the residence."

But deputies were called back less than two hours later.

"He became disoriented, confused and trouble following direction when deputies came," said Alecia Janczak, a family friend, reading from a statement written by Degraw's wife.

Investigators wrote that when deputies arrived a second time, "Donald was screaming in emotional distress. Deputies determined that Donald's erratic behavior met the Baker Act criteria and they attempted to take him into protective custody," but Degraw resisted.

According to the news release, deputies knew Degraw, 58, "had access to a loaded fire arm within his  immediate reach," so they used a Taser on him and he became unresponsive. He was rushed to the hospital but did not survive.

"We were heart-broken. We were in shock," Janczak said, adding Degraw, a Gulf War veteran, was a father of two and married for 30 years. "He was friendly. He was nice. He was joking with us all the time. His kids loved him. His wife loved him very much."

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said he won't comment on the case until after an autopsy comes back.

Degraw's friends just want to be there for his family.

"We're just going to love and support [his wife] and her children and be there for her when she needs us," Janczak said.

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