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Thursday, September 30, 2004

Better Taser training needed, says B.C. report

September 30, 2004
Canadian Press

VICTORIA — Police in British Columbia should continue using the Taser as a weapon of force despite four deaths, but better training is required, says a report released Wednesday. "Our analysis of the field usages and the medical literature suggests appropriate use of the Taser presents an acceptable level of risk to subjects being controlled,'' concludes an interim report ordered by B.C. Police Complaints Commissioner Dirk Ryneveld.

But, while the B.C. Civil Liberties Association said the report was positive, the watchdog group said the technology is still evolving and must be monitored.

The report, written by the Victoria police chief, includes five recommendations for police across British Columbia.

They are:

A standard provincewide police Taser training course.
Mandatory reports of all Taser uses.
Moves to new technology.
Better training for officers with regards to drug abuse behaviour.
Elimination of a police restraint method that involves handcuffing hands and ankles behind the back.

"We believe that more can be done to ensure uniformity of training across the province to provide enhanced levels of accountability and to decrease the risk to those groups most at risk from sudden and unexpected death associated to restraint, whether or not the Taser is used,'' said the report.

Ryneveld ordered the Taser use probe following reports of the June 23 death of Robert Bagnell of Vancouver. Bagnell, who was high on cocaine and other drugs, was hit by the high-voltage charge of a police Taser in a Vancouver hotel room. He died at the scene. Vancouver police waited a month before confirming one of its Tasers hit Bagnell.

Victoria police Chief Paul Battershill was appointed to lead the probe that included investigating the Bagnell case and reviewing the use of the Taser by police officers in British Columbia. The interim report issued Wednesday only examined Taser use in British Columbia. Four people have died in B.C. in the past 15 months in circumstances where police used a Taser. Each incident, including Bagnell's death, is the subject of a coroner's inquest, all of which are expected to be completed in six to eight months.

The four B.C. cases involved individuals suffering from excited delirium, a condition known to be caused by psychiatric illness or overuse of street drugs, primarily methamphetamine and cocaine.

At a press conference in Victoria, Battershill said police can expect to encounter people in states of excited delirium more frequently as drug use increases.

The report recommended the creation of a standard police course on interpreting signs of excited delirium to all police officers, new recruits and current members.

"That appears to be under-recognized in both the police and medical communities right,'' Battershill said.

Training in Taser use must be standardized across British Columbia because inconsistencies between police departments were discovered as were reporting deficiencies, he said.

All Taser uses must be reported, Battershill said.

Police were also advised to switch to new Taser weapons that emit lower levels of electricity, but provide better control and information storage.

B.C. Civil Liberties Association spokesman Murray Mollard said the only negative aspect to the recomendations is that they should have been made five years ago.

"They're late in coming but now that they're here, it's a good thing," he said. "This is an interim report so we're going to hear more. The technology is new enough that they're going to have to keep doing this." And, Mollard added, evidence out there doesn't support removing Tasers. "We've always said this is an important addition to the use of force spectrum but it must be used appropriately," Mollard said.

At least six people have died in Canada after being shocked by Tasers.

The devices fire two barbs attached to a wire that deliver a 50,000-volt shock on contact for up to five seconds. The weapon is meant to immobilize aggressors by shocking their muscles.

Police like the Taser because it offers a less than lethal option for dealing with dangerous and unstable people. But critics say the weapon is sometimes lethal.

Amnesty International has said the weapon should be banned until more tests are done to determine its safety. The human rights group says the guns can be deadly when someone is in a weakened state because of heart problems or drug use.

About 50 people have died after being shot with Tasers in North America, most in the U.S. The B.C. report examined 4,500 Taser uses across North America and Europe, said Victoria Police Insp. Bill Naughton. Of the 4,500 uses, four deaths were reported, he said. The B.C. deaths were not part of the current probe because they are still subject to a coroner's investigation, said Naughton. He said the Taser is effective 94 per cent of the time. Naughton said the report would have recommended banning Taser use if it found the risks outweighed the advantages. "I don't think we took anything off the table,'' he said. "We would have banned it.''

Ryneveld said he will give a copy of the interim report to Rich Coleman, B.C.'s Solicitor General and the minister responsible for policing in British Columbia.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Police Cleared in TASER Death; Boxer Died While High on Cocaine, Stun Gun Not to Blame, SIU Rules

September 28, 2004
Tracy Huffman, Toronto Star

Peel Region police involved in a violent struggle with a semi-pro boxer that ended in his death after one officer used a Taser stun gun have been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing.

Jerry Knight was high on cocaine when 20 officers responded to a 911 call in the early hours of July 17 at a Dixie Rd. motel. Police had reasonable grounds to arrest the 29-year-old, who forcefully resisted arrest, the province''s Special Investigations Unit concluded.

Pepper spray, batons and attempts to handcuff the belligerent Brampton man did not calm him. At one point, he bit an officer. After a 20-minute fight, one officer used the Taser on Knight, hitting him in the back. He eventually lost consciousness and died in hospital.

"The actions of the police appear to have played a role in Mr. Knight''s death, but their actions in and of themselves cannot be said to be criminal, at least based on the available evidence," SIU director James Cornish said in announcing the decision yesterday.

"The cause of Mr. Knight''s death was restraint asphyxia with cocaine-related excited delirium," Cornish said. Excitation delirium is a state in which an individual''s body produces so much adrenaline the heart goes out of rhythm and the person dies.

The forensic pathologist "ruled out the use of the Taser as being a contributing cause to Mr. Knight''s death," according to the report of the SIU, a civilian agency that investigates police incidents involving a serious injury or death.

At the time, witnesses said Knight had "gone berserk" inside the small lobby of the White Knight Motel. Knight had been arrested three times before under the Mental Health Act for erratic behaviour. On July 17, Knight - who was in excellent physical condition - tried to vault the check-in counter, threw business cards around and pulled the fire alarm.

Knight''s death provoked debate on the issue of Tasers and their use by police. Electric guns that discharge up to 50,000 volts, Tasers are designed to cause pain and temporary paralysis, but not death.

The coroner''s office has called an inquest in this case to look at all forms of "less lethal force" used by police. A date has not yet been set.

Police Taser not a factor in Knight's death, SIU says

September 28, 2004

Ontario's Special Investigations Unit has cleared police of wrongdoing in the death of Jerry Knight in July.

The 29-year-old Mr. Knight, a drugged-up and out-of-control boxer, became violent in a motel lobby and died after police used a Taser to subdue him.

"The forensic pathologist in this matter has ruled out the use of the Taser as being a contributing cause to Mr. Knight's death," SIU interim director James Cornish said in a statement released yesterday.

"The cause of Mr. Knight's death was restraint asphyxia with cocaine-related excited delirium."

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

American Civil Liberties Union - Recommendations regarding taser use .

September 21, 2004
American Civil Liberties Union

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Taser technology review and interim recommendations

September 2004
Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner

Six police officers authored this report. One of the authors was former Taser Shareholder, Sgt. Darren Laur of the Victoria Police Department.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Excited Delirium and its Correlation to Sudden and Unexpected Death Proximal to Restraint

September 2004
Sgt. Darren Laur, former Taser Shareholder
Victoria Police Department

In an Arizona Republic article dated September 24, 2005, Robert Anglen wrote: "Another officer who received Taser stock options is Darren Laur of the Victoria, British Columbia, Police Department. Laur has been a staunch advocate for Taser for years and helped write a report in 1999 that helped usher Tasers into Canada.According to court documents, Laur was given 750 stock options in 2001 for helping to design a holster for the Taser. Taser said he sold the options in 2003."In my view there is an appearance of a conflict of interest, or at least the perception of a conflict," Canadian lawyer Cameron Ward said. Ward represents the family of Robert Bagnell, who died in June 2004 after officers shocked him with a Taser."