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Tasered man in flames

AN Australian man whose relatives say had been sniffing gasoline burst into flames after a police officer Tasered him as he ran at officials carrying a container of fuel, police said yesterday.

The man, identified by his family as 36-year-old Ronald Mitchell, was in critical condition at a Perth hospital in Western Australia state following Monday's incident in Warburton, an Aboriginal community 1,540 kilometers northeast of Perth.

Western Australia police said they were responding to a complaint at a house when Mitchell ran outside carrying a cigarette lighter and a plastic bottle containing what they believe was fuel. When he refused to stop running toward them, one officer Tasered him, police said in a statement.

The man was engulfed in flames. The officer smothered the blaze with his hands, the statement said. Mitchell was charged with assault to prevent arrest and possession of a sniffing substance.

An 18-year-old woman threw rocks at the officer as he tried to help, and he was later treated for a cut on his head and burns to his hands, police said.

The woman was charged with two counts of assaulting an officer, police Sergeant Graham Clifford said. Two others at the house were charged with possessing a sniffing substance.

Mitchell's sister, Morinda West, told The Australian newspaper that her brother had been sniffing gasoline and that when he ran out of the house he was carrying a lighter and a juice container full of gasoline.

Police spokeswoman Susan Usher said Mitchell appeared to have third-degree burns to about 10 percent of his body.

Western Australia Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan defended the officer's actions, calling Mitchell a known gasoline sniffer and violent offender.

He also said it wasn't clear if the stun gun sparked the fire.

"There is a very strong possibility the fire was caused by the lighter in the hand of the offender," said O'Callaghan.


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