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Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Autopsy finds police Taser gun played no role in man's death

August 10, 2004
JAMES RUSK, Globe & Mail

Kingston suspect subdued by officers died from a drug overdose, coroner rules

Ontario's police watchdog called off an investigation yesterday into the weekend death of a Kingston man after an autopsy concluded that police use of a Taser gun played no role in his death.

The Special Investigations Unit, which automatically reviews deaths in which police are involved, had been called in on Sunday after Samuel Truscott, 43, died in Kingston General Hospital.

His death occurred about two hours after Kingston Police Service officers subdued him using pepper spray and a Taser gun.

After the autopsy in Toronto yesterday morning, Ontario deputy chief coroner James Cairns said the cause of death was a drug overdose.

"After a review of the medical record and the autopsy findings, I can state categorically that the Taser did not play any role whatsoever in his death.

"The death was due solely to the drug overdose," Dr. Cairns said.

He also said that the police needed to use the Taser to subdue Mr. Truscott, who was armed with a knife and baseball bat.

"The Taser worked appropriately. Mr. Truscott walked unaided to a police cruiser and was immediately taken to hospital, where he died approximately two hours later despite medical care."

SIU director James Cornish said in a statement that the investigation had been terminated because "there is no basis to believe that any criminal act on the part of any officer caused or contributed to the man's death."

Even though the coroner concluded that the use of a Taser did not play a role in Mr. Truscott's death, its use remains controversial.

At least 50 people in North America have died after being shocked by Tasers, which administer five-second shocks of up to 50,000 volts of electricity.

The British Columbia Police Complaints Commissioner ordered an investigation into the case of Robert Bagnell, a Vancouver man, who died in June after being stunned by a Taser.

The SIU is investigating the death in July of Jerry Knight, a Brampton man, after Peel Regional Police used a Taser to subdue him.

Once the SIU investigation in the Knight case is finished, Ontario will conduct a coroner's inquest.

Dr. Cairns said that the inquiry will look at whether the use of a Taser played a role in Mr. Knight's death and, more generally, the issue of Taser safety.

"I don't want any confusion that I'm stating that Tasers haven't got an issue," he said.

"I'm purely looking at the facts of this one [the Kingston case], and the facts are easily obtained and quickly obtained and are irrefutable in this case. . . . I did not want this one running away when you have absolute, clear evidence that it had no role."

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