West Mercia Police said in a statement Monday that an independent investigation has been launched into the death of a man who was shot by police with a Taser in the town of Telford early Monday.
The deceased man was named by local media as Dalian Atkinson, a 48-year-old former striker for English soccer team Aston Villa.
Atkinson played in the early 1990s for the Birmingham-based club, which was then part of the Premier League, and is remembered for having scored one of the competition’s great individual goals in 1992.
Aston Villa released a statement Monday saying it was saddened to hear of Atkinson’s death, and recalling his memorable moments playing for the club.
Police: Early morning callout
West Mercia Police released a statement saying that officers in Telford, about 130 miles northwest of London, had responded “to a report for the concern for the safety of an individual” at about 1.30 a.m. Monday.
“Upon arrival, Taser was deployed and a 48-year-old man, who subsequently received medical attention, was pronounced dead at approximately 3 a.m.” read the statement.
The statement said that the incident had been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), “as is normal procedure,” and that as a result, officials could make no further comment on the case.
Forensic investigators were at the residential street where the incident occurred Monday, and had erected a cordon at the scene.
During his 16-year career, Atkinson, a talented striker, played for English teams including Manchester City, Ipswich Town, Sheffield Wednesday, as well as teams in the Spanish, Turkish, Saudi and Korean professional leagues.
His former clubs and teammates were quick to pay tribute as news of his death broke Monday.
Aston Villa lead the tributes, noting how although Atkinson’s time at the club was disrupted by injuries, “he still averaged a goal every three games.”
The statement recounted Atkinson’s most celebrated achievement on the football pitch, a famous solo goal against Wimbledon in 1992 which was voted Goal of the Season at the time.
The goal was “widely regarded as Villa’s best goal of the Premier League era,” said the club statement.
The statement noted Atkinson’s status as a fan favorite at the heart of some of the club’s golden moments. “It’s fitting that, when we polled supporters at the start of the season in order to create a collage of great pictures for our walls at Bodymoor Heath, Atkinson came out on top twice.”
Sheffield Wednesday, the team Atkinson played for from 1989 to 1990, wrote: “The thoughts of everyone at Wednesday are with the friends and family of Dalian Atkinson this morning. RIP.”
Turkish football giant Fenerbahce, which Atkinson joined in 1995, also paid its respect, while Ipswich Town, where Atkinson began his career as a teenager, tweeted: “Terribly sad news about our former striker. Our thoughts are with Dalian’s family and friends at this tragic time.”
Former England player and broadcaster Gary Lineker wrote: “Terrible news about Dalian Atkinson. Losing his life after being tasered by police. Thoughts are with this fine footballer’s family.”
Former England international Sol Campbell also expressed his shock.
“What?! Former @AVFCOfficial footballer Dalian Atkinson tasered?! Shocked & saddened by this news. Thoughts with friends & family.”
Darren Byfield, a former Aston Villa player who now manages Redditch United FC, wrote: “What a legend.” Byfield also noted Atkinson “always had time for the young lads growing up at Villa.”
Using the hashtag #UmbrellasForDalian, Aston Villa fans on Twitter called for supporters to pay tribute to Atkinson by bringing their umbrellas to the team’s next game on Tuesday night. The gesture would be a reference to one of Atkinson’s best-known goal celebrations, in which he and a teammate stood under an umbrella.
Club owner and chairman Tony Xia ruled out the gesture on health and safety grounds, but said another tribute was in the works.
Previous deaths following Taser use
Police use of Tasers has been the subject of public debate since they were introduced in England and Wales in 2003 as a less lethal alternative to firearms.
Activist coalition Black Lives Matter UK paid tribute to Atkinson on Twitter, and wrote that the case was a reminder that “UK police don’t need to regularly carry guns to regularly exercise lethal force.”
Eight of those deaths had been investigated by the time the 2014 report was published, and in none of those cases was the use of a Taser found to have directly caused a death, according to the report.
In a number of those cases, it was found that the deceased had died of self-inflicted wounds, rather than the Taser charge. In one of the cases, the coroner found that the man died of long-standing heart disease.
The most recent UK death following the use of an electroshock weapon occurred in 2013, when 23-year-old Jordan Begley died after he was targeted by police in Manchester following reports of an argument.
According to a 2010 Home Office survey of public attitudes towards Tasers, cited in the IPCC report, nearly three-quarters of respondents supported police use of the devices, with a similar percentage saying they had trust in the police to use them responsibly.
About half of respondents believed their use was justified for people behaving violently or suspected of carrying a weapon, and about a quarter said it was appropriate on someone threatening to do self-harm.
CNN’s Richard Allen Greene, Mahatir Pasha and Tom McGowan contributed to this report.