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Sunday, March 11, 2007

New Brunswick man's death from excited delirium raises questions about police Tasers

March 11, 2007
The Canadian Press

FREDERICTON -- A New Brunswick man's death due to a mysterious malady called excited delirium has raised more questions about police arrest techniques and the growing use of stun guns.

Kevin Geldart, 34, of Moncton, N.B., died after he was repeatedly shocked with Taser weapons by RCMP officers in 2005.

It was another in a long series of deaths in North America following the use of police force and Taser guns to control people who are described as combative, irrational and extraordinarily strong.

In most of these cases, the cause of death is difficult to pinpoint and is often attributed to cardiac arrest, drug intoxication or a combination of the two.

But a New Brunswick coroner's inquest into Geldart's death earlier this month ruled that the large, mentally ill man died of excited delirium -- a condition that cannot be found in medical or psychiatric text books.

"Excited delirium is not a diagnosis used in psychiatry,'' says Dr. Roumen Milev of the Mood Disorders Clinic at the Providence Continuing Care Centre in Kingston, Ont. "It does not exist as such either in the American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic and statistical manual, or in the World Health Organization's international classification of diseases.''

Critics say excited delirium exists purely in the imaginations of those who are anxious to defend the use of Taser weapons and excessive police force.

Eric Balaban, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, says that blaming excited delirium for in-custody deaths could be a way of whitewashing inappropriate use of force by police. "It's not recognized as a mental-health diagnosis,'' Balaban says. "It is really used only by medical examiners to attribute the cause of death of an arrestee following a violent scuffle with police officers.''

Whatever excited delirium may be, it is characterized by extreme agitation, incoherence, bizarre behaviour, often superhuman strength and a high body temperature.

It is associated with drug abuse and mental illness, and occurs often in people who, like Geldart, are very large. Geldart was tall and weighed at least 350 pounds.

Family members and friends of people who die during police Taser arrests are almost always unsatisfied with descriptions of the cause of death and the fact that the police are exonerated.

One of Geldart's relatives has called for a moratorium on the use of Tasers until more is known about the effects of the weapon on people, especially on those with mental illness.

So far, 212 people in North America have died following custody struggles with Taser-wielding police officers -- at least 15 of them in Canada, where the weapon has been used since 2001.

In all cases, the stun gun has been cleared of any direct involvement in the deaths, even in cases like Geldart's, where there were eight Taser injuries to his body and head.

"I'm not aware of any case in the world where the conductive energy weapon has been found to be the factor that caused death,'' Sgt. Richard Groulx, an RCMP training and tactical weapons expert, told the New Brunswick inquest.

The Taser delivers a pulsating, 50,000-volt electrical current through the body, and police say it can pierce clothing four centimetres thick. The shock, which lasts up to five seconds, locks muscles instantly and overrides the central nervous system.

Dr. Deborah Mash, professor of neurology at the University of Miami and a leading expert in North America on excited delirium, says the ultimate goal of her research is to establish a protocol so police know how to handle people exhibiting signs of the condition.

Mash says excited delirium is a real brain disorder. "There are clearly neuro-chemical changes in the brain,'' she says. "There is a defect. The issue of police brutality is simply wrong. That's not to say it can't occur, but when the police are confronted by someone exhibiting superhuman strength like a Hulk Hogan ... what can they do?''

Mash says the phenomenon came to light in the 1980s, when crack cocaine first burst onto the Florida drug scene. She says many victims have cocaine or drugs in their systems, although mentally ill people like Geldart, who was bipolar, are also susceptible. "It doesn't have to be drug-related,'' she says. "There are a number of triggers that will pop the switch.''

Mash says no one knows the best intervention techniques for police when confronted by an individual in the throes of excited delirium. She says she hopes a standard of practice can be developed. She also says research may ultimately unlock a clear diagnosis of the disorder, so victims can be identified before they run into trouble.

"Thanks to advances in molecular biology, we have an opportunity to look for the first time for real diagnostic markers, and that's what we need,'' Mash says.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

New Brunswick police to monitor Taser use

March 7, 2007
CBC News

A new policy on how police in New Brunswick can use force to apprehend suspects will include a requirement to track the use of Taser weapons. The rules will apply to municipal forces, but not the Mounties.

The province, along with the New Brunswick Association of Chiefs of Police, is drafting a new use of force policy because the one currently in place doesn't include monitoring the use of Tasers, said Mike Quigley, director of policing services for the province.

"At this time there are only three of the municipal regional police forces that have been using it for a year or two, but other police forces have expressed interest," Quigley said Tuesday.

The RCMP does have a Taser-use policy in place, but Quigley said he'll pass along a copy of the province's new policy to the RCMP once it is complete.

The announcement of the new policy comes days after the conclusion of a coroner's inquest into the Taser-related death of Kevin Geldart.

Geldart died in May 2005 after RCMP officers used Taser weapons to subdue him at a Moncton bar. He had walked away hours earlier from the psychiatric ward at Moncton Hospital where he was being treated for bipolar disorder.

At an inquest completed last week, the jury determined the cause of death was a condition known as excited delirium, but found that injuries from the Taser weapon contributed to it.

Quigley said the new policy could be adopted by municipal forces this summer.

"We're hoping to achieve the final draft by the end of June and it will have to proceed through the policy committee of the New Brunswick Association of Chiefs of Police," Quigley said. "That procedure is not expected to be very lengthy."

Monday, March 05, 2007

Taser inquest disappoints relatives of N.B. man

March 5, 2007
CHRIS MORRIS, Canadian Press; Rick Cash and Johanna Boffa

MONCTON -- Relatives of a New Brunswick man who died after he was repeatedly shocked by police with a taser say they are disappointed with a coroner's jury that recommended better training for police and medical officials.

A coroner's inquest into the sudden death of 34-year-old Kevin Geldart ruled on Friday that he died accidentally of a condition known as excited delirium, with contributing factors.

A pathologist testified during the eight-day inquest that "contributing factors" included repeated shocks to Mr. Geldart's torso and head from an RCMP taser weapon.

"There should be a moratorium on tasers until they know more about them and their effect on people," said Margaret Geldart, Mr. Geldart's aunt.

Mr. Geldart's sister, Karen Geldart, said she was disappointed the five-member jury did not go beyond recommending more training and education for police and emergency medical personnel.

"There is so much that is unknown about these tasers," she said. "It was clear to me that even though the police officers were trained to use the taser, they didn't seem to have a good understanding of when it is appropriate to use and when it is not."

Mr. Geldart, described by his family as a gentle giant of a man, died on May 5, 2005, after four RCMP officers attempted to take him into custody at a downtown Moncton bar.

The victim, who weighed 350 pounds, had earlier slipped out of a hospital psychiatric ward where he was being treated for bipolar disorder.

The coroner's jury made 16 recommendations calling for such things as seminars on tasers for police, recertification of taser instructors every five years and changes to the weapon itself to make sure it accurately records each firing.

It was not clear from police evidence presented at the inquest exactly how many times the taser was used against Mr. Geldart, although pathologist Ken Obenson said there were eight taser injuries on his body.

Karen Geldart said there were inconsistencies in the evidence, which has left family members wondering what actually happened. She said she was bothered by the fact that witnesses at the bar described her brother as scared and confused in his final moments, while police officers said he was aggressive and combative.

Coroner Dianne Kelly made several recommendations of her own on Friday, including the referral of all in-custody deaths to independent agencies for investigation.

Although four RCMP officers were involved in the incident, the investigation into what happened was handled by fellow RCMP officers in Fredericton.

Ms. Kelly also recommended that New Brunswick police agencies develop policies on tasers, including training.

The inquest came at a time when more people are asking questions about the usefulness of the taser as a so-called non-lethal weapon to control violent behaviour.

So far, 212 people have died in incidents in Canada and the United States where tasers have been deployed.

In the vast majority of those cases, pathologists have not been able to clearly identify a cause of death. In many cases, including the Geldart case, death has been attributed to a relatively new condition called excited delirium.

Other taser inquests

Gurmit Singh Sundhu: Died June 30, 2005, after he was restrained by at least two RCMP officers. Police were called to his Surrey, B.C., home where the man was allegedly assaulting his wife in a cocaine-induced state. The 40-year-old father of four was hit by a taser gun a number of times by the first officer at the scene. The coroner's inquest concluded that the cause of death was acute cocaine intoxication.

Robert Bagnell: Died June 23, 2004, after police were called to a Granville Street hotel in Vancouver where Mr. Bagnell had barricaded himself. According to the pathologist and toxicologist who testified at the inquest, death was due to heart problems and acute cocaine intoxication. B.C. coroner Stephen Fonseca abruptly shut down the inquest in September, 2006, 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 inquest is adjourned until March 7.

James Foldi: Died July 1, 2005, in Beamsville, Ont., after he was tasered at least 12 times, including 11 times using what is known as a drive stun technique, where the device is pressed against the person and fired. Mr. Foldi, who was acting erratically, allegedly from a cocaine overdose, rampaged through several houses in his neighbourhood and tried to flee when confronted by three police officers. They struggled for a few minutes, during which time the tasers were used. Mr. Foldi fell to the ground, lost consciousness and never recovered. An inquest is pending.

Roman Andreichikov: Died on May 1, 2004, after he was subdued by police officers who responded to a 911 call about a potential suicide. Mr. Andreichikov, a fitness trainer, had been on a five-day cocaine binge, and after fighting with his girlfriend tried to commit suicide twice by attempting to leap from the fourth floor balcony of his Granville Street apartment in Vancouver. The police had difficulty subduing him and tasered him twice. The inquest decided that cardiac arrest and cocaine intoxication, not the taser, were responsible for his death.

Peter Lamonday: Died on May 14, 2004, after police responded to a break-in at a Hamilton Road gift shop in London. Eight officers attempted to subdue him, and during the altercation Mr. Lamonday was tasered three times. He died about 50 minutes later in hospital. The inquest decided that Mr. Lamonday died from cocaine-induced delirium.

Research: Rick Cash and Johanna Boffa

Friday, March 02, 2007

Excited Delirium: Police Brutality vs. Sheer Insanity

March 2, 2007
Russell Goldman, ABC News
Is a Controversial Medical Condition Being Used to Cover up Instances of Police Brutality?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

N.B. inquest into death of Tasered man told police cleared of wrongdoing

March 1, 2007
Craig Babstock - Moncton Times and Transcript

"Staff Sgt. Gerry Belliveau did note that there were three Taser burns to the back of Geldart’s head. This is not an area recommended for shocking during Taser training, but Belliveau said it played no role in the outcome that night. According to Belliveau, Geldart was Tasered three times by police that night, despite testimony from witnesses he was shocked several more times than that.

There are still unanswered questions about the use of the Taser that night. The weapon has a memory that tells when it’s activated or used and that report is confusing at best. Police identified three Taser activations from that report they say correspond with the three hits on Geldart. However, the report says those three hits happened over a span of 13 minutes. Officers involved that night testified the struggle with Geldart only lasted a couple of minutes."