February 1, 2008
DAVENE JEFFREY, Halifax Chronicle Herald
Public doesn’t have all the facts, force says
Halifax police struck back at detractors Thursday, insisting their officers went by the book when they Tasered a 17-year-old girl in her bedroom last year. Police said Thursday that the public has no idea what the officers confronted that night and hasn’t heard their side of the story, which a trial transcript says includes an angry crowd gathered outside the room.
Earlier this week, Provincial Court Judge Anne Derrick acquitted the girl of two counts of assaulting police and one count of resisting arrest. In her ruling, Judge Derrick said she was disturbed and disconcerted by the spectacle of the girl’s Tasering.
Since The Chronicle Herald ran that story Wednesday, Halifax Regional Police have been under fire from members of the public and at least one political party. "We are concerned that limited information has been relayed about this matter; only the judge’s decision and comments, and not the details presented as evidence by our officers during the trial, were released to the public," says a police department release. "Further, it is disconcerting to us that individuals and persons of office are weighing in on this matter publicly without having all the facts."
The release says the force would like to tell the whole story but it doesn’t want to jeopardize an appeal or future court proceedings. The department has asked the Public Prosecution Service to determine whether any errors in law were made in the case that would be grounds for an appeal.
On Wednesday, NDP justice critic Bill Estabrooks said he was alarmed by the incident and urged the government to fast-track its review of the use of stun guns in Nova Scotia.
The province, however, won’t be rushed. Justice Minister Cecil Clarke ordered the review last fall after a Dartmouth man died in jail 30 hours after police shocked him with a stun gun. The first phase of the review is expected to be finished by the end of the month. In the meantime, Mr. Clarke is refusing to comment on specific incidents.
The latest furor over Taser use stems from events that occurred Feb. 19, 2007, in a townhouse on Fundy Lane in Dartmouth. A transcript of the girl’s trial obtained Thursday by The Chronicle Herald provides the officers’ account. The court heard about a domestic incident call that quickly became one of the scariest incidents at least one experienced officer had ever been involved in.
Constables Philip MacKenzie, Tara Doiron and Brendan Harvey answered a call from a woman who wanted her angry teenage daughter out of the house before she caused damage. The 17-year-old had been arguing on the telephone with a younger sister, who had taken her purse. The officers testified that they had been told the older girl wanted to get even. When the 17-year-old refused to come downstairs, the officers went upstairs to her room. The girl was standing quietly by a window, and nothing had been damaged.
Const. MacKenzie tried to convince the girl to leave the home, but she refused and became angry. The officers admitted that they had no authority to arrest the girl at that point. Judge Derrick said that the officers should have backed off and spoken further to the girl’s mother. "By not leaving the bedroom that evening, the police set up the circumstances for an intense confrontation," she said.
According to the officers’ evidence, an intense confrontation is what they got. Const. MacKenzie testified that when he reached for the girl’s arm, she swung at him. He said he then pushed her onto the bed. The girl said she snatched her arm away and was pushed to the bed. All agree that the girl began fighting, trying to get two officers off of her. They got a cuff on one of her hands but couldn’t get hold of the other hand.
The girl, who was described as average-size, was yelling, swearing, spitting and growling, the officers testified. That’s when Const. MacKenzie told Const. Harvey to use his stun gun.
"I took off the cartridge and dry-Tasered or touch-Tased her in the lower back," Const. Harvey said. "The idea is just pain compliance to gain compliance for the arrest."
Seconds later the cuffs were on, but the girl was still struggling. At that point, the officers testified, they realized they were in danger. There was a large crowd in the hallway. The girl’s mother had come into the room, as well as a cousin, Wayne Thompson. "All you can see is people outside this door frame," Const. MacKenzie testified. "(Mr. Thompson is) literally (like) this at the door, keeping those people from coming at us." During the ruckus, the lights went out for a few seconds.
"It’s the first time in my career that I felt scared for my safety to the point where (I thought), ‘Oh my God, I’m in grave personal danger here,’ " Const. MacKenzie told the court.
More officers arrived and helped lead the girl through the crowd, downstairs and to the police vehicles. The Crown argued that the officers had the grounds to arrest the girl after her behaviour "crossed the line." Judge Derrick ruled that if a breach of the peace did occur, it happened because of an unlawful arrest.
The girl has said she intends to file a complaint with the police and may sue. Police spokesman Const. Jeff Carr said no complaint had been filed as of late Thursday afternoon.
Taser use made national headlines after a Polish immigrant died at the Vancouver airport on Oct. 14 after he was shocked during a confrontation with RCMP.
British Columbia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador are also conducting reviews of the use of the weapons in their provinces.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Friday, February 01, 2008
February 1, 2008