LONDON (AP) Britain's independent police watchdog opened an investigation Monday into the death of a former Premier League soccer player who was shot with a stun gun by police.
Dalian Atkinson, 48, went into cardiac arrest on the way to a hospital and died around 90 minutes after officers used a Taser on him, the West Midlands Ambulance Service said in a statement. Officers deployed stun guns after being called to an address in Telford, northwest of Birmingham, involving ''the safety of an individual,'' West Mercia Police said.
''He had some health issues that he was trying to get through and that's why his heart was weak,'' his nephew Fabian Atkinson said. ''When a Taser is deployed, as soon as a Taser is deployed, they need to automatically call an ambulance. How do they know the health of the guy or the girl that they are affecting?''
The case immediately touched off a debate about the use of Tasers in a country where police rarely carry guns.
Black people were three times more likely to be involved in Taser incidents than whites from 2011 to 2015, according to Home Office statistics obtained by the BBC in a Freedom of Information request. Atkinson was black.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission swiftly moved to take charge of the investigation into Atkinson's death.
''I would like to assure people that we have begun a full and thorough investigation into police contact with Dalian Atkinson prior to his death, including the level and type of force used,'' said the IPCC's deputy chair, Rachel Cerfontyne. ''Our investigation team have been securing and preserving relevant evidence, and identifying witnesses.''
Three of Atkinson's former clubs - Aston Villa, Ipswich and Sheffield Wednesday - all paid respects in posts on their websites. England's Football Association said it was ''saddened to hear of the passing'' of Atkinson, who represented England's `B' team.
Atkinson scored 20 Premier League goals during his time at Villa from 1991-95. He also played for Ipswich, Wednesday and Manchester City in England, and had spells with Real Sociedad in Spain, Fenerbahce in Turkey and also in South Korea.
Atkinson was most famous for a scoring a goal for Villa against Wimbledon in October 1992, when he ran from inside his own half, evaded a number of attempted challenges before chipping the ball over the goalkeeper and into the net. It was voted as goal of the season in the 1992-93 Premier League.
Atkinson also scored in the 1994 League Cup final when Villa beat Manchester United 3-1.
''Aston Villa is saddened to hear of the death of our former striker Dalian Atkinson,'' the second-tier club said in a statement. ''Dalian undoubtedly provided real memorable moments during his time in claret and blue.''
Wednesday said Atkinson was ''widely regarded as one of the most exciting football talents to emerge during the mid-1980s to early 1990s.''
In an era when English players seldom played abroad, Atkinson scored 12 goals in 29 league games during one season with Real Sociedad, before returning to England to play for Villa. He scored 10 goals in 21 league games for Istanbul-based Fenerbahce after leaving Villa.
Steve Douglas reported from Manchester.