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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Tasers a shocking addition to Winnipeg police arsenal

September 28, 2006
CBC News

Starting Friday, Taser guns will be added to Winnipeg police arsenals as another "less-lethal force option" along with batons and pepper spray.

The hand-held guns, which police say use 50,000 volts of electricity at low wattages, can temporarily paralyze even the most resilient criminals.

Every officer has been trained in using the device, but not all officers will be issued with one, said Sgt. Kelly Dennison. Instead, there will be one Taser gun for each cruiser car.

"On that day, when you go to work and you sign on and you go out into your cruiser car, you will actually have the Taser on your belt," he said Thursday.

"So one member of that unit will be carrying that Taser with them to perform their duties throughout their entire shift."

Dennison would not specify in what situations an officer will use the device, although he would say it is meant to be used on violent individuals in stable situations.

"I think officers are going to have to individually assess each 'use of force' situation that they get themselves into," he said.

"And upon that, they're going to have to make the determination for themselves: what is the proper use of force to use? The Taser that our officers are going to have with them now is just another tool for them."

Dennison emphasized that a Taser gun is not a substitute for handguns.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Suspects' deaths blamed on ‘excited delirium’

September 25, 2006
Associated Press

DALLAS - Police found 23-year-old Jose Romero in his underwear, screaming gibberish and waving a large kitchen knife from his neighbor's porch.

Romero kept approaching with the knife, so officers shocked him repeatedly with a stun gun. Then he stopped breathing. His family blames police brutality for the death, but the Dallas County medical examiner attributed it to a disputed condition known as "excited delirium."

Excited delirium is defined as a condition in which the heart races wildly — often because of drug use or mental illness — and finally gives out.

Medical examiners nationwide are increasingly citing the condition when suspects die in police custody. But some doctors say the rare syndrome is being overdiagnosed, and some civil rights groups question whether it exists at all.

"For psychiatrists, this is a rare condition that occurs once in a blue moon," said Warren Spitz, a former chief medical examiner in Michigan. "Now suddenly you are seeing it all the time among medical examiners. And always, police and police restraint are involved."

Excited delirium came to doctors' attention in the 1980s as cocaine use soared, said Vincent DiMaio, chief medical examiner in Bexar County, Texas, and a proponent of the diagnosis. No reliable national figures exist on how many suspects die from excited delirium because county medical examiners make the ruling, and some use different terminology.

In Dallas, at least three in-custody deaths in the past five months have been linked to excited delirium. This prompted the police department to start offering mental health assessment training they say will stem the sudden deaths.

Other police departments, including San Diego, have done the same to try to prevent community protests and costly lawsuits. In Phoenix, a jury awarded $9 million in April to the parents of a suspect whose death was attributed to excited delirium.

Adrenaline overdose
The condition, described as an overdose of adrenaline, largely affects men with histories of drug use or mental illness, DiMaio said. He said most cases are triggered by drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine.

The drugs elevate blood pressure and heart rate, and the increase is pronounced if a person is experiencing paranoia, hallucinations and violent impulses, DiMaio said.

Police often respond to calls of sufferers stripping off clothes to cope with a soaring body temperature, breaking glass and threatening others. The officers and the suspect struggle, and the excitement stresses the suspect's heart until it fails, DiMaio said.

"You are gunning your motor more and more and more, and it is like you blow out your motor," said DiMaio, who estimates that the condition kills as many as 800 people nationwide each year. "You are just overexciting your heart from the drugs and from the struggle."

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The shocking truth about Tasers

September 24, 2006
Eva Ferguson, Calgary Herald

Almost one year after Calgary police began using Tasers to subdue civilians, five controversial Alberta cases are raising questions about whether officers are using stun guns recklessly as "cowboy policing."

In Red Deer, a man died in hospital last month after being Tasered. In Edmonton, two police officers are facing assault charges after zapping suspects in separate incidents.

A Stettler man is feeling the sting of being Tasered by Calgary cops after he cornered a drunk who urinated on his 12-year-old daughter.

And only days ago, a provincial court judge convicted a Morinville RCMP officer of assault for firing his Taser at a man he wrongly arrested for refusing to pay cab fare.

The cases highlight questions surrounding the use of a weapon that police believe saves lives. Critics, however, say stun guns lead to officers needlessly shooting first, and asking questions later.

"It's become a problem-solving device for police -- instead of taking the time, talking to people, calming them down, and then arresting them quietly, they're depending on Tasers," says Stephen Jenuth, president of the Alberta Civil Liberties Association.

"They're moving officers away from good police work to bad police work."

Leo Knight, a former Vancouver police officer and securities expert who now runs a security company, agrees these cases suggest Tasers can lead to lazy policing, highlighting the fact some officers aren't being properly instructed.

"Tasers can be too easy to fall back on -- especially if the proper training isn't there.

"They should only be used in serious incidents where officers are in danger . . . some of these cases would indicate that isn't happening."

Janel Boettger, whose husband Darcy was shot twice by a Taser earlier this year, says the stun guns are a clear excuse for inexperienced officers to skip verbal negotiations and shoot before even knowing who their bad guy is.

"It's cowboy policing and it's totally unnecessary," she says.

The Stettler family was attending a Calgary funeral in January when suddenly a drunken mourner inside the community hall exposed himself and began urinating on the couple's daughter.

Livid, Darcy ran down the drunk and chased him through a glass door. The drunk quickly closed it behind him, leaving Darcy to smash his head through broken glass.

Ultimately Darcy, a 6-foot-one, 250-pound "pussycat" with a shaved head, subdued the man in a corner of the hall.

Janel says when police arrived and saw her husband covered in blood, they mistook Boettger for the bad guy and tasered him -- twice.

The family has issued a complaint with Calgary police, which is still investigating the matter.

Sgt. Chris Butler, who heads up the Calgary Police skills and procedures unit that trains officers in Taser-use, can't speak to the details of the case until the probe is finished.

"My husband wasn't doing anything, he wasn't threatening. He actually said to them 'I'm not the guy,' " says Janel, who witnessed the incident.

"But this young 20-year-old cop didn't even listen, he just walked right up to him and shot the Taser.

"Everybody in the hall couldn't believe it. They were all upset, they were all saying 'You Tasered the wrong guy!' "

Police say when suspects are Tasered, a 50,000-volt zap of electricity jolts their body causing severe cramps, leaving them with no muscle control for up to five seconds.

But Janel believes her husband suffered long-term physical damage, and is still battling high blood pressure and nightly muscle cramps.

Butler, however, says there is no conclusive medical evidence that Tasers injure or cause death.

Ald. Craig Burrows, a member of the city's police commission, argues the use of Tasers is still an excellent alternative to shooting a gun and that lives are saved because of them.

He added the police commission studied the issue closely last year, and found not using a Taser was more dangerous to the public.

"Tasers are a nice opportunity where it's force, but not lethal force.

"And I guarantee anytime you get a bullet, you're going to hospital. When you get Tasered, it's very rare that you'll have to go to hospital."

Still, the question of whether Tasers can cause physical harm was brought to light yet again last month in the alarming death of a Red Deer man.

Jason Doan, 28, died in hospital three weeks after RCMP subdued him with a Taser.

Officers were called to a Red Deer neighbourhood after a man was seen damaging vehicles.

The man, who had fled when Mounties arrived, resisted arrest after he was apprehended and zapped three times.

RCMP said they used Tasers after an officer was hit with the wooden handle of a pitchfork.

Members of the Doan family have not spoken to the media, but the Alberta Medical Examiner's office is now investigating.

Butler says the cause of death won't be known for several weeks until toxicology tests and a coroners' report are complete.

But he believes Doan's death may have been caused by "excited delirium" a common medical condition -- often exacerbated by alcohol or drug use, or mental illness -- that causes severe chemical imbalances in the brain.

The mix can lead a suspect to act extremely agitated, excited or violent, in such a way that police are usually called.

Butler says that when police arrest such suspects, using a Taser or not, the overload with excited delirium can lead to heart failure

"Many of these suspects that we arrest, in this agitated state, will die anyway even if we don't use a Taser. And many were dying well before we even introduced tasers, simply because of excited delirium."

RMCP officers in Alberta were the first in the country to start using stun guns as a pilot project in 1999.

One year later, other parts of the country followed suit. Last year, RCMP officers across the province deployed them 80 times.

But many city police detachments, like Calgary, didn't start using Tasers until well after the RCMP.

In Calgary, police officers have fired tasers 84 times since January.

A study done last year by the Canadian Police Research Centre found the advantages of Tasers far outweigh the risks and although there have been reports of deaths, no evidence exists showing the devices alone are to blame.

The study, which included police and medical professionals, stated the conducted energy devices are "effective law enforcement tools that are safe in the vast majority of cases."

Butler stresses that Calgary officers are specifically trained to never shoot a Taser unless they are being physically threatened or assaulted by a suspect.

But Knight says as hard as police departments try to train officers, there are members who shoot before they should.

"It's just the law of averages. You're always going to get a few people who just don't follow the rules."

On Wednesday, Const. Stephen Shott of the Morinville RCMP detachment was reassigned to administrative duties following his conviction of assault with a weapon in an Edmonton court.

Judge Allan Lefever said Shott had no legal justification to arrest Gordon Brown at his home in Gibbons in February 2004.

Shott fired his Taser at Brown, who was holding a cat in his arms, then handcuffed him and placed him in the back of a cruiser.

Shott later discovered Brown was not the person he suspected of refusing to pay a cab fare and released him without charge.

Lefever wrote in his 40-page decision that "the force used by the accused on Brown was unnecessary" and that Shott "did not act on reasonable and probable grounds."

Earlier this month, an Alberta judge said an Edmonton police officer looking for an excuse to fire his Taser chose to punish a 15-year-old boy following a break-in. The officer then tried to cover up his blatant abuse of authority, the judge said.

Judge Patricia Kvill stayed the charges against the boy, citing a violation of the teenager's Charter rights.

She described the behaviour of Edmonton police Const. Todd Hudec as a "shocking abuse of police powers," and noted Hudec did not record the Taser incident in his notebook, nor file a mandatory report about firing the weapon.

The police officer was himself charged earlier this year with assault with a weapon against the teen and his trial is set to begin in January.

Hudec's case comes on the heels of another Edmonton officer being charged with assault for using his Taser on two sleeping men.

Const. Jeffrey Resler, charged with two counts of assault and two counts of assault with a weapon, testified earlier this month that he believed firing his Taser at the men was a safe way to wake them up.

He and three other officers had entered a hotel room looking for an armed robbery suspect, and found two men in the bed and another lying face down on the floor.

The hotel was well-known for violent crime and drugs and Resler had said in a statement that the room smelled strongly of chemicals.

But Const. Jeff Minten, an expert in the Edmonton police department's use of force model, testified that using a Taser to wake a sleeping person is inconsistent with police standards.

The three cases outline the strict policies police have surrounding Taser use, and the consequences officers face when Tasers aren't used properly, says RCMP Const. Blaine Kobeluck, an expert in tasers who also trains officers and instructors.

"If they overstep their boundaries, they are liable to criminal charges just like anyone else.

"When it does happen, it usually means there has been a miscommunication in training."

Resler's trial is set to resume Oct. 25.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Human rights group condemns use of Taser on teen

September 21, 2006
CBC News

Amnesty International is questioning the repeated use of a Taser gun on a 17-year-old boy by police officers at a house party in Hampton, N.B.

Amnesty spokesman Andy Buxton says nobody should be hit with the weapon, which can deliver up to 50,000 volts of electricity in one shot, especially vulnerable groups like children, teenagers and the elderly.

The international human rights group is calling for a suspension of the use of all Tasers by police officers.

"Typically you wouldn't shoot somebody 13 or 14 times, you'd only shoot them once," Buxton said. "It's important to understand, of course, that the police very rarely shoot people with their guns and unfortunately, they have this sort of tendency to pull out their Tasers and use them way more often … when they're out they tend to get used multiple times and we think that's excessive and abusive."

But New Brunswick RCMP officers are defending the use of a Taser on the teen, saying he was being combative with officers and needed to be subdued.

Two RCMP officers were called to a rowdy house party in Hampton, a town 30 kilometres east of Saint John, last Saturday night, where they found approximately 30 teenagers.

The officers said they tried to get the teens to calm down by giving them verbal warnings, but some of them refused.

RCMP Sgt. Terry Lee Kennedy says one of the teens was particularly belligerent, and officers had to use the stun gun to bring him under control.

"The members were trying to calm down the teens, but weren't able, through verbal commands, to calm down the youth," Kennedy said. "They ended up having to arrest four teenaged boys who appeared to be out of control. One teenage boy was combative and resistant, and the members, to effectively and safely arrest him, had to use a directed energy weapon to get him under control."

The 17-year-old's back and belly are covered in burns from the Taser. The boy has seven Taser marks on his lower back, and approximately six more on the front of his body, even on his groin area. He can't be identified, but told CBC the incident was terrifying.

"I was pretty scared," he said. "I didn't know how dangerous this thing was, how much of a risk it could be. I didn't know what they were trying to do. I was down on the ground for a while and after you've been hit with that thing a few times, you're not thinking too straight."

Carley Nichols was at the house party and witnessed the exchange between the boys and the police. She says the Taser wasn't necessary because her friend was not resisting arrest.

"It went on for like 20 minutes. They kept telling him to get on his back but every time he tried to turn, they'd keep Tasering him. It was just horrible," she said.

RCMP Cpl. Gary Fournier is reviewing the incident and says the Taser was used on what is called the "touch-stun" mode.

"The Taser can be deployed in two modes," said Fournier, "one in which it shoots two prongs that go into the individual …. The other mode is a touch-stun mode, which simply means the weapon itself is pressed against the person that it's being deployed against."

Fournier said the Taser delivers a big jolt, but it doesn't hurt as much as being struck by a police baton.

The boy who was Tasered and three other teens were taken into custody and kept overnight. Police say the boys could be charged with mischief and obstructing the police.

They're expected to make an appearance in court at a later date.

Tasered man died of heart attack: RCMP

September 21, 2006
CBC News

The RCMP say a Taser is not to blame for the death of a man who struggled with three officers in Digby last year.

Paul Saulnier, 42, died outside the RCMP detachment in Digby on July 15, 2005, after officers used a stun gun to immobilize him.

On Thursday, Nova Scotia's chief medical examiner said Saulnier died of a heart attack brought on by excited delirium, linked to his paranoid schizophrenia.

"It's a disease that's characterized by sudden onset of very violent and aggressive behaviour, confused thinking, superhuman strength," Dr. Matthew Bowes told CBC News.

Bowes said excited delirium usually affects two groups: chronic cocaine addicts and people with pre-existing disorders.

RCMP Sgt. Frank Skidmore said the deputy chief medical examiner for Ontario reviewed the case and concluded that the Taser played no role in Saulnier's death.

Wife filed complaint

Saulnier ended up in police custody after his wife filed a harassment complaint.

Helen Saulnier said she did so in an attempt to get him psychiatric treatment.

Saulnier walked into the RCMP detachment. When officers told him he was being arrested and charged, he fled the building.

Three officers tried to bring him down in the parking lot by using pepper spray and a baton. When that didn't work, they used a Taser, which delivers a jolt of electricity.

A few minutes later, Saulnier stopped moving. Paramedics arrived, but Saulnier died at the scene.

An investigation headed by Halifax Regional Police found the three officers were justified in using force, Skidmore said.

He said Saulnier's family has met with Bowes to discuss the report.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Family shocked by inquest delay

September 15, 2006
CBC News

An inquest into the death of former P.E.I. resident Robert Bagnell has been adjourned to Nov. 6, to the shock of family who travelled to British Columbia from P.E.I. and Ontario to attend.

The seven-week delay is due to the coroner's need to further study a particular point of law.

Bagnell was jolted twice with a police Taser before he died in a hotel washroom in Vancouver in June 2004. A pathologist's report found he died from a cocaine-induced heart attack.

Bagnell's mother, Riki, lives in Charlottetown, and was one of the family members who travelled across the country to attend the inquest.

The Bagnell family has initiated a lawsuit against the Vancouver Police Department, the officers involved and the company that manufactures Tasers.

Taser inquest shut down

September 15, 2006
Coroner's move shocks victim's kin
Petti Fong, Globe and Mail

VANCOUVER -- A B.C. coroner abruptly shut down the inquest into the death of Robert Bagnell and adjourned hearings for six weeks after the family of the victim tried to introduce a letter from the Victoria chief of police that raised concerns about the use of tasers.

The surprise announcement by coroner Stephen Fonseca caught lawyers off guard and shocked Mr. Bagnell's family who had travelled from Ontario and Prince Edward Island to attend. The inquest was to wrap up today after a two-week hearing before a five-man jury. The coroner announced the adjournment without the jury present and left the hearing before Cameron Ward, the family's lawyer, could file any argument or submission requesting the inquest continue. Mr. Fonseca also ordered a ban on the distribution of the letter from Victoria Police Chief Peter Battershill to Dirk Ryneveld, the police complaint commissioner. A copy of the letter was also sent to Vancouver Chief Constable Jamie Graham. Karen Johnston, a spokeswoman from the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor-General, said yesterday that there was an issue over the handling of third-party documents. "There's a confidentiality around those documents," she said. "The presiding coroner ordered an adjournment so he could seek clarification on that." Ms. Johnston said the issue was raised by legal representatives of parties with standing at the inquest, but declined to say which party had raised the objection. The reported parties with standing at the inquest are Mr. Bagnell's family, Tasers International Inc., the weapon's manufacturer and the Vancouver Police Department. Coroners counsel Chris Godwin declined to comment on why the inquest was shut down.

Mr. Ward said the letter is important and should be known to the jury. "The suppression of the letter is against public interest. The letter in my view has public safety implications," he said yesterday.

Mr. Bagnell's sister, Patti Gillman, and his mother, Riki Bagnell, have filed a civil suit against the Vancouver police.

Mr. Bagnell, 44, died from acute cocaine intoxication, according to the medical examiner, but his family believe that the use of a taser played a role in his death.

In earlier testimony, the jury heard from Mr. Bagnell's neighbours that he was violent the night he barricaded himself in the fifth-floor washroom of the hotel where he lived. A medical examiner and toxicologist had also testified that Mr. Bagnell had enough drugs in his system that night to cause his death. Police officers testifying at the inquest said that a fire on the first floor of the hotel created an urgency to the barricade situation four floors above where an emergency response team had been trying to get Mr. Bagnell to come out. Although police originally informed Ms. Bagnell that her son died of an overdose, a detective confirmed a month after his June 23, 2004, death that a taser was used. One month after confirming the taser use, police released information about the fire on the first floor of the hotel.

Patti Gillman said she was shocked to hear the inquest ordered shut down. "I can't believe we won't be able to walk away from here with the truth and some recommendations to prevent this from happening to others," she said. Ms. Gillman travelled from Ontario to attend the hearing and her mother came from Prince Edward Island.

The jury will also return to hear the rest of the testimony from witnesses including the emergency response team officer who fired the taser. The inquest is supposed to resume Nov. 6.

Victoria police chief says public should be part of Taser use discussion

The inquest into my brother's death was abruptly adjourned after we tried to introduce a letter from the Victoria chief of police that raised concerns about the use of tasers.

September 15, 2006
Canadian Press

The continued use of Tasers by police in Canada needs to be discussed in a wider forum than just the policing community, Victoria's police chief says. In a 2005 letter to Police Complaints Commissioner Dirk Ryneveld and copied to Vancouver Chief Const. Jamie Graham, Paul Battershill said he had "philosophical concerns about whether police 'by themselves' should be defining where the Taser (Nasdaq:TASR) belongs on the force continuum. "As various studies rapidly evolve, it may be necessary to change placement in the continuum and I am not convinced this can be done by police 'by themselves," he said.

Battershill said he arrived at that view after comments by Los Angeles Deputy Chief Michael Berkow at the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police meeting in Ottawa on Aug. 22, 2005. Berkow stated the Taser will ultimately end up as 'only' a specific alternative to lethal force.

"This requires further discussion," Battershill said.

Lawyer Cameron Ward agreed with the Victoria police chief that the issue of Taser use should be discussed in the public arena because the device, which delivers an electric shock, has safety implications.

Questions about the safety of Tasers have come in the wake of several deaths. However, the makers of the weapon say they're safe and the deaths resulted from other factors. The issue has been contentious in court cases across the country.
In Alberta, a police officer is on trial in Edmonton for assault over the use of a Taser. Const. Jeffrey Resler said in a statement to the Edmonton police internal affairs unit that he feared that the men he found in a hotel room on Nov. 27, 2003, had recently smoked methamphetamines or popped prescription pills. He said he believed that firing his Taser at two sleeping men was a safe way to wake them up.

In Ontario, a Chatham-Kent police officer faces assault charges in connection with an alleged incident in the booking room of police headquarters in Chatham. Sgt. Edmund MacLean, 58, is alleged to have assaulted and improperly used a Taser on a 33-year-old Chatham man who was being booked at headquarters on July 6.

Vancouver police say their officers unholstered their Taser weapons about once a week last year - a total of 52 times. The number includes not only when Tasers were used to deliver an electric shock, but also when they were deployed to get a suspect's attention.

Police defend the use of the weapon, saying they're safe and effective - saving lives and preventing injuries. Across Canada, at least six people have died after being shocked by Tasers, which 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. Amnesty International has said the weapon should be banned until more tests are done to determine its safety. The human rights group said the guns can be deadly when someone is in a weakened state because of heart problems or drug use. Manufacturers of the Taser guns, now used by more than 50 police and correctional services across Canada, say their weapons have never been held directly responsible for a death. Taser International Inc. also says its weapons have saved more than 6,000 lives and are a safer alternative to police revolvers.

Coroner: Taser 'Associated' With Man's Death

September 15, 2006
CBS Denver

"Ryan Michael Wilson, 22, died of an irregular heartbeat associated with being blasted by the stun gun coupled with a narrow heart artery and physical exertion, Coroner Thomas Faure said in a statement. Steve Tuttle, spokesman for stun gun manufacturer TASER International Inc., said the company was disappointed with the findings."

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Police never mentioned using Taser on man who died, mother says

September 6, 2006
CBC News

The mother of a man who died following a struggle with Vancouver police in June 2004 has told a coroner's inquest she only learned that officers used a Taser on her son when she saw the story on television in P.E.I.

Robert Bagnell, 44, died in police custody after officers jolted him with a Taser and dragged him from the bathroom of a rooming house hotel in downtown Vancouver where he had barricaded himself.

Riki Bagnell told a Vancouver coroner's jury Wednesday that police never told her that a Taser had been used on her son.

Riki Bagnell, who travelled to B.C. from P.E.I. for this week's inquest, told the five-member jury on Wednesday that in the days following her son's death, police were helpful and even helped arrange to get her son's remains back to P.E.I.

But she says that in at least five conversations with police, no one mentioned that officers had used a Taser to subdue him.

She says she only learned that when her daughter called from Ontario and told her to turn on the TV.

Robert Bagnell, 44, had large amounts of cocaine in his system when he died, a pathologist testified on Tuesday.

Long history of drug abuse

Bagnell also told the inquest she wasn't surprised when she received the first phone call from police telling her that her son was dead. She said he had started using drugs at age 18, and he chose a lifestyle that was a "one-way street" that he could never come back from.

Post-mortem toxicology reports showed Bagnell had a large amount of cocaine, along with other illicit drugs, in his system. A pathologist told the inquest on Tuesday it was likely cocaine-induced psychosis and not the Taser that caused his cardiac arrest. The jury was also told that Bagnell had had open heart surgery several years before his death.

The Bagnell family has launched legal action against the Vancouver Police Department, the officers involved and the company that manfactures and distributes Taser stun guns.