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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

S.E.C. decides not to act against taser on safety statements

December 14, 2005
By ALEX BERENSON, New York Times

The Securities and Exchange Commission has decided not to take action against Taser International in connection with statements about the safety of its electric stun pistols, the company said yesterday.

Taser's shares jumped 15 percent on the news, though they remain far below the highs they set a year ago. They closed at $7.04, up 92 cents. They closed at $32.59 on Dec. 30 last year.

The company's pistols, called Tasers, which are widely used by police to subdue suspects, have been associated with more than 140 deaths. The weapons fire electrified barbs up to 25 feet, delivering a painful 50,000-volt shock.

Taser's sales and profits soared in 2004, but the company's profits have plunged this year as controversy over the safety of its weapons has grown. In November, an influential police research group recommended new restrictions on the use of the weapons, suggesting that officers be allowed to use them only on people who are actively resisting arrest.

Last month, Taser said it would have to restate its profits for the first half of 2005 because it had failed to properly record its legal and professional expenses during that period. The company also failed to file its third-quarter financial statements within the Nasdaq's deadline for filing, leading the Nasdaq to warn that Taser stock would be delisted. Taser has appealed the delisting requirement.

In January, Taser announced that the S.E.C. had begun an investigation into the company's statements about the safety of its stun guns and a sales order that it announced in late December 2004. Taser said in a statement yesterday that S.E.C. enforcement officials had told the company that they had completed the investigation and had decided against taking action against the company.

Taser also said that the S.E.C. was ''continuing to investigate issues relating to trading in the company's stock.''

As a matter of policy, the S.E.C. does not comment on its investigations.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Police won't face charges in taser death, Crown says

December 10, 2005
ROBERT MATAS, Globe & Mail

Officers' actions 'necessary and reasonable'

VANCOUVER -- Vancouver police will not face criminal charges for using the controversial taser stun gun in an incident 18 months ago that led to the death of 44-year-old Robert Bagnell, a spokesman for B.C. Crown counsel said yesterday.

"A thorough review by senior members of the criminal justice branch determined that charges were not warranted," Stan Lowe said in an interview. "Based on all the available evidence, the officers acted within the scope of their duties and their actions were necessary and reasonable."

Mr. Bagnell was shot at repeatedly, possibly with more than one taser gun, during an incident on June 23, 2004, in a residential hotel in central Vancouver. At least five police officers were believed to be in the room at the time of his death. His family has been trying for 18 months to find out what happened in that room.

Yesterday, Mr. Bagnell's sister Patti Gillman questioned the basis for the decision not to lay charges.

"I do not know how they can draw that conclusion given the evidence we've seen," she said in an interview from Trenton, Ont. "We believe they made that decision on incomplete and contradictory evidence."

A police report provided to the family shows information about the use of the gun was incomplete, she said. "They don't have anything to go on, as to information on which taser was used, when it was used, by whom it was used."

Ms. Gillman also questioned the credibility of the information. "The report states the weapons were secured adequately at the scene and that's not true. They were not secured until a day or two after the fact," she said.

"We hope the inquest will give us a little more insight into what did happen that night. But, so far, we still do not know what happened."

The taser gun, which emits a 50,000-volt electrical charge, is at the centre of an international controversy over how police should deal with potentially violent people. Police say the gun is an effective weapon that saves lives in confrontations. Its critics, including Amnesty International, say the gun has not been tested sufficiently and has caused several deaths.

Police initially told Mr. Bagnell's family that he had stopped breathing when they tried to subdue him, and they did not mention the use of the taser gun. But a month later, police revealed a taser stun gun had been used. A few weeks after that, police said the taser was used to rescue Mr. Bagnell from a fire. The family later discovered the fire was a minor electrical fault on a different floor of the hotel.

Mr. Lowe dismissed concerns about the investigation. "It is the view of senior Crown counsel [that] it was a thorough and comprehensive investigation," he said, adding that prosecutors would have pushed for a further investigation if they had any concerns.

The decision not to lay charges was based on a review by senior staff in the regional office and a second review at headquarters in Victoria, he said. The police report on the incident was submitted to the regional prosecutors' office on May 25, 11 months after the death. Senior management in Victoria received the report on July 15.

The prosecutors concluded that Vancouver police had a right to arrest and take Mr. Bagnell into custody, Mr. Lowe said.

Also, prosecutors decided that it was reasonable to use the taser gun.

Vancouver Police spokesman Howard Chow also dismissed concerns about the internal report, saying that no one had suggested previously that it was incomplete or contradictory. He noted that a date has not yet been set for the coroner's inquest, and that the Public Complaints Commissioner can still call an public inquiry.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Man killed by taser looked massive, inquest told

December 1, 2005
Petti Fong, Globe and Mail

VANCOUVER -- Autopsy results show Roman Andreichikov was a slight, smaller-than-average man, but to the four police officers who struggled to subdue him while he was under a cocaine-induced psychosis, he looked massive.

Mr. Andreichikov, a onetime fitness trainer, was so strong and unwilling to comply with police commands that he bucked off a 175-pound (80-kilogram) police officer with his legs while two others held down his upper body.

Three of the officers testifying at a coroner's inquest into Mr. Andreichikov's death said they gauged his height to be at least 5 feet 11 inches (1.8 metres) and his weight at more than 200 pounds.

All the officers were surprised to hear while they were testifying that Mr. Andreichikov was 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighed 168 pounds (76 kilograms).

"He was extremely strong, even face down," Constable Brian McKeddie said at the inquest yesterday. "It took 15 to 20 seconds to get the handcuffs on and we had a lot of difficulty holding him."

When police responded to a 911 call that Mr. Andreichikov was suicidal, the man looked so massive and imposing that within seconds of seeing him sitting on a couch, Vancouver Police Constable Darren Hall said he decided to draw his taser from its holster.

When Constable Hall and his partner, Constable Mark Bouchey, entered the Granville Street apartment on May 1, 2004, Mr. Andreichikov, 25, was upset and on the fifth day of a cocaine binge. A friend had called to say Mr. Andreichikov had attempted to commit suicide twice that day.

In his testimony, Constable Hall said he tried to control Mr. Andreichikov's legs while two other officers, who arrived moments later, attempted to control his upper body. But Constable Hall, who is 5 feet 11 inches and 175 pounds, said Mr. Andreichikov easily lifted the officer off him with his legs and threw him about 60 centimetres.

The five-person jury is hearing evidence in the inquest about the circumstances that led Constable Hall to use his taser. Mr. Andreichikov stopped breathing and died within moments of being hit with two electrical shocks.

Constable Hall said after he was thrown off, he showed Constable Bouchey a better technique to control the man's lower body, but the other police officer still had trouble.

At 6 feet 3 inches and 220 pounds, Constable Bouchey was larger than Mr. Andreichikov.

Constable Hall said that when he and his partner first entered the apartment and saw Mr. Andreichikov, he didn't have time to gauge the man's height and weight adequately. He was more concerned, he told the jury, about the man's agitated state.

"I could see how hard he was flexing his body. He wasn't sitting still. He was shaking and vibrating," Constable Hall said. "With the clenching of the jaw, the fast breathing, the sounds. It was hard to describe. It was so primal."

The officer said based on his experience he believed the man was in a drug-induced psychosis.

Constable Hall said he once saw a 300-pound police officer, one of the biggest guys on the force, lose a physical encounter with a 130-pound teenager in a similar agitated state. It took six police officers to control the skinny youth.

In his testimony, Constable Hall, who had received his taser 10 days before the May 1 incident and was testing it in the field, said he tried to calm Mr. Andreichikov. He said he feared that the man was going to run for the balcony and try to leap off again.

In earlier testimony, Rahim Hadani said he visited Mr. Andreichikov that day and got caught in the middle of a fight he was having with his girlfriend. Mr. Hadani persuaded the girlfriend to leave and tried to calm his friend down. But twice, Mr. Hadani said, he had to plead with his friend to come back inside after he threatened to jump from the balcony.

Mr. Hadani said that as three officers were on top of Mr. Andreichikov and pressing his face on the carpet, his friend said he couldn't breathe. But an officer responded that if he was mumbling, he was breathing.

Constable Hall testified that when an officer alerted him that Mr. Andreichikov had stopped breathing, he tried to clear the man's airways. He said he never heard Mr. Andreichikov complain about not being able to breathe.

Two other officers who testified yesterday said they did not hear any complaints from the victim.

In fact, Constable Hall said the man was incoherent during the encounter. Constable Hall fired two shots of 50,000 volts each at Mr. Andreichikov.

Jurors have not yet heard toxicology results, but his family has said they did not know Mr. Andreichikov was an active drug user.

His girlfriend, Jamie Layno, who had testified at the start of the inquest this week, said Mr. Andreichikov had been using cocaine for five days straight and suffering from paranoia and delusions.

The Vancouver Police have faced criticism from families of victims and some community-rights groups over the use of tasers to subdue individuals.

Just one month after Mr. Andreichikov's death, another man, Robert Bagnell, died after he was hit with a taser.