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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

BC cop who shot man reached for Taser, pulled gun instead

February 19, 2008
Rob Shaw, Times Colonist

A Victoria police officer who shot and injured a man in 2005 was reaching for his stun gun but grabbed his handgun by accident, the police force confirmed yesterday.

It has long been speculated that Const. Mike Miller confused his Taser and pistol while struggling with a violent man outside the McDonald's restaurant in Esquimalt on Sept. 10, 2005. But the department has never publicly acknowledged the mistake, refusing to discuss it last month when Miller resigned -- on the day of his disciplinary hearing -- because it was a "personnel matter."

Amid mounting pressure for answers, Victoria's police chief released details yesterday. Miller had been trying to subdue Daniel Hammond, 25, who was reportedly banging on windows at the restaurant and causing a disturbance in the parking lot.

An internal investigation concluded Miller drew his Taser from the holster on his left hip. He put it in the right pocket of his cargo pants so he could handcuff Hammond. But Hammond resisted and ended up wrestling on the ground with Miller and Const. Clarke Dumont, police say. A struggling Miller pulled his firearm from his right holster -- thinking it was the Taser in his right pocket -- and fired into Hammond's stomach, police say. Hammond survived and is suing the police department.

Victoria police are aware of "several cases" in North America where officers have confused their firearms and Tasers, interim chief Bill Naughton said yesterday.

Although worn on opposite sides of the body, the version of the Taser Miller used was designed to mimic the feel and weight of a Glock pistol, so an officer who trained with a gun would be comfortable with a Taser as well. "It has happened before, but it is a very rare event," said Joel Johnson, B.C.'s use of force co-ordinator at the Justice Institute police academy. "I can't think of more than four cases North American-wide since the implementation of the device."

Victoria police have since purchased different Tasers that less closely resemble a handgun, said Naughton. The Glocks do not have trigger safeties but the Tasers do.

Miller went on almost two and a half years of paid sick leave, collecting as much as $172,000 in salary, before resigning on the day of his disciplinary hearing Jan. 18. He also received a $50,000 settlement to pay out vacation time and benefits.

Miller's resignation was negotiated with the department because it cost significantly less than going through the disciplinary process, said Naughton. "I believe that decision was in the best interest of Const. Miller, this department and the public," said Naughton.

Naughton admitted the police department was only going public with details of the case now -- two and a half years after it happened -- because B.C.'s police watchdog complained the public had not been given enough information about the shooting. The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner said it was reviewing the new information and consulting its lawyers to see whether it was still appropriate to consider a public hearing into the case.

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