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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Louisiana man dies

Robert Ingram, 27, Raceland, Louisiana

Friday, May 30, 2008

Recommended Reading

I highly recommend that you visit Excited-Delirium at least daily for some truly independent and non-Taser sponsored observations and equations. Tasers safer than Tylenol? Not on your life!

Treating "excited delirium" in Nashville

May 30, 2008
The Tennessean

Excited delirium often leads to difficult arrests because people are agitated, difficult to control and often violent. Metro police officials say it's a medical emergency that often appears to be a police emergency.

After Patrick Lee's death, the Nashville Fire Department developed a protocol to identify people in the heightened state and administer a shot of Versed, medicine similar to Valium, to calm agitation.

Fire department officials said they've used Versed five times since the policy was put in place in February 2006. Nashville Fire spokeswoman Kim Lawson said she is not aware of any situation in which a Taser was also used to subdue the patient.

Metro police spokeswoman Kristin Mumford said the department doesn't track Versed use and can't say whether police were involved in the incidents or any patients were arrested.

Alberta RCMP to get "excited delirium" training

May 30, 2008

EDMONTON -- All RCMP officers in Alberta must now receive training on a controversial disorder linked to people who have died after being zapped by electronic stun guns such as Tasers. The training program might be rolled out across the country, according to RCMP officials.

"Excited delirium" is a non-medical term used to describe a condition in which a person becomes extremely agitated and dangerously hostile, exhibiting exceptional strength without getting tired.

While Mounties issued with Tasers are taught about excited delirium, all 2,200 RCMP officers in Alberta have been ordered to familiarize themselves with the condition whether they carry the stun gun or not.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Nashville police to return tasers to any trained officer

May 29, 2008
By KATE HOWARD, Tennessean.com

Metro Police announced today plans to return Taser stun guns to its regular arsenal, almost three years after removing them from all but high-ranking officers in the wake of a controversial death.

Police Chief Ronal Serpas said he’s carefully considered the medical research on the weapons, and he’s confident that the benefits — fewer fistfights with suspects who resist arrest — outweigh the perceived risks. Serpas said there is no credible research to suggest the Taser causes significant injury.

He said the department currently has no plans to make the $799 Taser X26 a tool on the belt of every Metro officer. Instead, the department will have a total of about 200 Tasers, enough for each on-duty officer who wants one to check it out for a shift. Only officers who take an eight-hour certification class will be allowed to use the Taser, Serpas said.

While Serpas said he thinks the Taser is a safe and useful tool that can prevent stronger use of force during an arrest, he said he won’t insist that any officer uncomfortable with the tool must use it.

“This is all about reducing injury and the number of times we have to go hand-to-hand with people,” Serpas said.

The 2005 death of 21-year-old Patrick Lee raised questions about the safety of Taser use. Lee was shot with a Taser 19 times outside a Nashville nightclub and died two days later. The autopsy cited his cause of death as excited delirium, a medical condition often associated with in-custody deaths of suspects using illegal drugs.

Family files $145 million lawsuit in Taser-related death

May 29, 2008
Keith L. Martin, Maryland Community Newspapers Online

The family of the late Jarrel Gray has filed a $145 million lawsuit against Frederick County, Sheriff Chuck Jenkins and Corp. Rudy Torres for the Taser-related death of the 20-year-old in November. Ted Williams, the attorney who represents the Gray family, announced today that he filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt a day earlier on behalf of Gray's parents, Jeffrey Gray and Tanya Thomas.
The case seeks damages for seven counts, including wrongful death, police brutality⁄excessive force, deprivation of civil rights, and negligent training and supervision.

‘‘From everything we've been able to see ... there has been a cover-up from the beginning,” Williams said, standing in front of the Asbury United Methodist Church in Frederick.

Greg Lattimer, Williams' co-counsel, said the family did not name Taser International, the manufacturer of the less-lethal device, because it was not on the scene that night nor responsible for how the Taser was used.

‘‘We have named the people we believe are directly responsible for the death of young Mr. Gray,” he said. ‘‘What [Torres] did was unconscionable. ... [Taser International] didn't tell the man to use it wrongfully and on a helpless individual.”

On May 9, a Frederick County grand jury found Torres justified in his actions, following the presentation of an investigation by the Frederick Police Department into the circumstances surrounding Gray's death.

Included in that presentation was an autopsy from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore, which could not determine the manner of Gray's death.

The medical examiner said the cause of Gray's death was a combination of the method of restraint, in this case the Taser, alcohol intoxication, and Gray's anatomical unique makeup.

Jenkins (R) has said that an internal investigation by his office's internal affairs division also found Torres justified in his use of force on the night of Nov. 18, 2007. Early that morning, Torres, a 13-year veteran of the Sheriff's Office, responded to a call of a fight on Gresham Court East in Frederick.

According to the Sheriff's Office, Torres ordered the men who were fighting to stop, and when Gray did not comply, Torres fired a pair of five-second jolts of electricity from his X26 Taser.

Gray was taken to Frederick Memorial Hospital, where he died nearly two hours later.

Torres is scheduled to return to active duty in the near future, Jenkins recently told The Gazette, after being on administrative leave since the incident. Jenkins did not immediately return a phone call this morning for comment and to see if Torres has returned to active duty.

During a nearly hour-long press conference, Williams challenged Jenkins' account, from his claims Torres was alone on the scene at the time the Taser was used to how Gray acted toward the deputy.

He also questioned the information presented to the grand jury by Frederick County State's Attorney Charlie Smith, asking why he did not subpoena witnesses to testify rather than rely on their interviews with police.

Smith has previously said that that those interviews were enough, and that members of the grand jury could have requested additional witnesses if they felt it was necessary.

One of the men with Gray that night, 22-year-old Charles Kahiga of Frederick, said Torres exited his vehicle with the Taser in hand, and that three or four other police cars were on the scene.

‘‘Nobody was fighting. We were standing around talking,” Kahiga said. ‘‘...'Get on the ground' was the only thing [Torres] said before he used the Taser. ... The second time [he used the device] Jarrel was unconscious.”

Kahiga said that Gray did not address Torres, and did not make actions that would threaten the deputy.

Jenkins has previously said that Gray walked away from Torres with his hands in his pants' pockets while cursing at him. Gray then turned toward Torres with his hands in his pants' pockets, causing Torres to feel threatened and fire his Taser.

‘‘For the future, we want the police to think twice before they wrongfully murder someone's child and turn around and cover it up,” Jeffrey Gray said.

Gray's mother, Tanya Thomas, said Torres could have brought Jarrel home and knocked on the door to talk to her about the incident, something he had done a year and a half prior to Nov. 18 regarding an alleged punch Jarrel threw at a young woman.

At that time, Thomas said, Torres talked to her and her son for an hour, calling Jarrel a ‘‘good kid” and advising him that hanging out with the wrong crowd was not for him.

‘‘Then he [Torres] was the one to take my son,” Thomas said, indicating she thought Torres was making a point by subduing the young man with his Taser that night.

Williams said he has requested copies of the investigations by Frederick Police and the Sheriff's Office, and that more information will come to light at trial.

‘‘No investigation can bring Jarrel Gray back,” Williams said. ‘‘All we can do ... is get to the truth of what happened here.”

RCMP Taser incidents involving two disabled men angers support group

May 29th, 2008
Canadian Press

Aeron Hall admits he’d had a few drinks before setting off on the walk home one spring night four years ago.

But Hall, who is disabled, said it was his limp and not excessive intoxication that attracted the attention of RCMP and set off a chain of events that ended with him being jolted seven times by RCMP Tasers, including once to his testicles.

Hall’s experience in Merritt, B.C., and a disturbingly similar experience by a Kamloops man have angered the head of the B.C. Coalition of People with Disabilities, which wants police officers better trained to recognize disabilities.

Both Hall, 35, and Gary Williams, 49, admit they had been drinking before their confrontations with RCMP officers. But both adamantly deny they were drunk.

Williams has a limp from a horrible accident as a child. He also has a chronic sleep disorder and speaks slowly and carefully.

Hall had a brain aneurysm as a child. His weak leg swings as he walks, a visible reminder of his disability.

Both men are on government disability pensions.

Hall said he was on his way home after having a couple of beers with a few friendsin June 2004 when he was confronted by a female police officer in front of the Merritt RCMP detachment. He questioned the need to get in her vehicle but said he did comply and was driven a short distance to the detachment door.

Once inside, Hall was told to remove all his clothing and jewelry but the First Nations man wouldn’t take off one necklace. He said his spiritual adviser told him never to take it off.

That’s when he said two large, male officers approached him.

“One was holding a Taser behind his back and they reached for my necklace to rip it off. I stepped back and he pulled out the Taser … and I started defending myself,” Hall said.

“They wrestled me to the ground and started Tasing me in my privates and on my back and my legs.”

Hall was released the next day from jail without charge. His doctor counted seven Taser burn marks, including three on his back, three on his legs and one on his genitals.

Hall’s mother, Norma, later received a copy of a police report that concluded the officers had done nothing wrong.

“Evidence supports the amount of force applied was consistent with training methods and standards,” wrote Staff Sgt. A.H. Clark, the officer in charge of the Merritt RCMP detachment at the time.

The letter sent to Norma Hall said that her son was “unco-operative and combative.” It supported her son’s story that he became aggressive when officers tried to remove his necklaces.

The letter further said officers were trying to touch him in the thigh area when he refused to comply with officers’ requests.

“Your son continued to fight and kick and turn on the ground, causing the Taser to contact him in multiple locations,” Clark wrote.

The letter also noted Aeron continued to fight even after being Tasered.

Williams’s encounter occurred in the summer of 2005, when police showed up at his apartment. Officers were responding to a call after he yelled at a woman in his building who didn’t hold the door open for him.

“They said ‘You’re under arrest for public intoxication,’ ” he said with a laugh. “I said ‘I’m in my apartment. How can you arrest me?’

“I was zapped on my right (side) first … and I guess because I didn’t fall down the other officer jabbed me from the other side with his (Taser).”

Williams, who has bad burn scars on his torso from a previous accident, said the third hit came at the detachment.

“I was pulling my shirt off over my head - and this is my theory, because there was absolutely no scuffle going on, no words exchanged, nothing - and I pulled the shirt off my head and exposed that large white area and I guess it looked too tempting … and bam right in the scabs,” he said.

Williams wasn’t charged with anything and didn’t complain at the time because he said he thought the abuse would only get worse.

That’s a misconception RCMP Sgt. Pierre Lemaitre wants to fix.

Lemaitre, an RCMP spokesman, said Williams needs to come forward to allow police to investigate the incident.

“If there was any impropriety we need to know, we need to deal with it now,” Lemaitre said when asked about the incident.

Lemaitre said police are trained from the start to observe if a person is intoxicated by alcohol or drugs, which includes the smell of liquor, slurred speech, lack of balance, glassy eyes.

“But the first thing that officer does is try to communicate with that person,” he said. “And you try to go through some check list.”

Unlike Williams, in Hall’s case a complaint was filed to the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, an independent body created by Parliament to investigate public complaints against RCMP.

“The result of the investigation (was the RCMP) acted within their policy guidelines and were upholding the law,” Norma Hall said.

She said her son had the right to be protected, but instead he was attacked by the very people who should have been protecting him.

“We warned him about coming downtown alone … he could get picked up again,” she said.

The stories anger Margaret Birrell, executive director of the B.C. Coalition of People with Disabilities.

“What is this intolerance about? Have they got nothing else to do?” she asked. “If we heard about this in another country, we’d be appalled. It’s abuse of power.”

Birrell said any number of disabilities including brain injuries, Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis can give the impression someone has had too much to drink.

“Somebody has to take leadership on awareness with the police forces,” she stated. “We’ve got to have more understanding and tolerance. I mean not everybody’s an ace athlete.”

Birrell said the fact these men had a few drinks shouldn’t matter.

“They weren’t driving. They were walking.”

A public inquiry is underway in British Columbia into the general use of Tasers by law enforcement in the wake of the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver’s airport last October.

Video shot by a member of the public, showing Dziekanski dying on the airport floor, stunned the public and focused attention on the controversial shock weapons.

The first part of the inquiry by former B.C. Court of Appeal justice Thomas Braidwood is looking into medical issues and police policies surrounding the use of the Taser. A report is expected later this year. The second phase will look specifically into Dziekanski’s death, but only after a decision on possible criminal charges has been made.

Birrell said her group hadn’t planned on making a submission to the Taser inquiry but has changed its mind after hearing of the treatment of the two men by Mounties in B.C.’s Interior.

“I’m so offended,” she said.

Robert Dziekanski may have died from suffocation while restrained

May 29, 2008
Alan Ferguson, The Province

People have written to me expressing doubts that the Thomas Braidwood inquiry will get us any closer to solving the mystery of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski's death at YVR.

We'll have to wait and see.

The first stage of the former judge's probe was restricted to police use of stun guns.

How Dziekanski died last October will be the exclusive focus of a second inquiry.

And a coroner's inquest has yet to be held.

In advance of the official findings, various theories have been advanced, including that Dziekanski was mentally unbalanced, that the police used excessive force or that the double blast from a Taser somehow killed him.

But the literature on the subject suggests the possibility that what doomed him was a phenomenon known as "restraint asphyxia."

As anyone who's watched the video knows, Dziekanski was in a highly agitated state. After a long flight and 10 hours lost in the airport, he was physically exhausted. Experts say that can cause the victim to behave irrationally -- which he did.

After he was Tasered by Mounties, Dziekanski was pinned to the ground, face down, in what is known as a "prone restraint" position.

Const. Steve Hiscoe, who teaches at the RCMP's Pacific Region Training Centre in Chilliwack, says officers are told that putting a suspect in prone restraint can definitely lead to medical issues: "We teach them that, as soon as it is safe to do so, to get off the person's back . . . [he] should be placed in the recovery position as soon as possible."

What can happen is that the victim, flat on his stomach, is unable to breathe. The contents of his abdomen block the function of the diaphragm, the body's "air pump" that controls the intake of oxygen.

As Charly Miller, an internationally recognized expert on the subject, has written: "It is practically impossible for restrainers to tell the difference between a victim struggling to 'escape restraint' and a victim desperately struggling to breathe."

Respiratory arrest can be quickly followed by unconsciousness, even though the victim appears to be continuing to struggle.

"Involuntary muscle movement of an unconscious respiratory arrest victim does not stop until after the victim's heart stops," says Miller.

And, once the heart stops, "successful resuscitation remains virtually unheard of."

Miller's research showed her "the average time between first application of forceful prone restraint and when full cardiopulmonary arrest was noticed is only 5.6 minutes."

Miller's time span is eerily close to the time Dziekanski went down and when he ceased to struggle.

She has written: "Expert opinion and actual field experience . . . indicate that the practice of prone restraint does in fact lead to deaths among suspects in the custody of the police.

"Therefore, until such time as this threat is proven non-existent, a prohibition against unqualified use of this restraint procedure . . . should be included in all law enforcement agency policy."

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Taser to unveil new device at June conference

May 28, 2008
Phoenix Business Journal

Only 345 dead people too late

Taser International Inc. announced Wednesday will launch a device designed to integrate audio and video connections with officers in the field at its annual conference, slated for June 20. The Taser AXON -- short for "autonomous extended on-officer network -- features an audio/video earpiece that records sights and sounds from the officer's point of view. Taser officials said the device can be used for evidence collection, communications and reporting.

California man dies after being tasered

May 28, 2008

Ricardo Manuel Abrahams, 44, Woodland, California

A man died Wednesday [today] after police officers used Taser guns to try and subdue him at a mental health facility. Staff members from the hospital on Kentucky Avenue called police when the man became belligerent and walked out of the building. Police said the man became aggressive when they tried to address him. Officers then used several Taser guns to try and restrain him. When they took the man in custody, officers said they noticed he wasn't breathing. The man died later at Woodland Memorial Hospital.

Update - July 2008: The Yolo County Coroner's Office concluded a man who died in May after being confronted by police did not die from Taser shots. A report released Thursday afternoon stated Ricardo Abrahams, 44, died from "positional asphyxia." Yolo County Sheriff's spokeswoman Michele Wallace said Abrahams' weight, hypertension and obesity contributed to his death. Abrahams weighed more than 300 pounds, Wallace said. The coroner ruled there was no foul play involved. Wallace said the toxicology report on Abrahams' body showed drugs also were not a factor. The report stated Abrahams' bi-polar/schizophrenic disorder was also a significant factor, but did not link it directly to his death.

Irregular heart rhythm? Try a taser

May 28, 2008
By Lester Haines, The Register

Connecticut doctors have provided circumstantial evidence that Tasers do affect the heart - backing critics' claims that the use of the "less-than-deadly" incapacitator may in fact prove resolutely deadly.

In the case of the belligerent 28-year-old patient admitted to Hartford Hospital, however, the end result of a light tasering was a swift recovery from atrial fibrillation, possibly provoked by his jumping into a freezing lake while attempting to escape pursuing cops back in April.

Cardiologist Dr Kyle Richards, who treated the unnamed perp in the hospital's emergency room, said: "I don't know exactly what he had done but he fled capture from them and he hid in a lake."

Richards noted in the Annals of Emergency Medicine that an electrocardiogram indicated the patient was suffering from the aformentioned irregular heart rhythm, "possibly as a result of the cold and shock".

Following treatment, the man became "very combative and started yelling in my face and that's when I left the room and got security", Richards continued.

Police and security operatives quickly followed the increasingly-popular hospital subjugation protocol and whipped out a Taser, administering a "low-voltage charge meant to cause pain" rather than the full-fat 50,000V shock.

A further electrocardiogram on the man "showed his heart rhythm was normal". Richards noted: "This is the first report of a patient receiving a shock of this kind and having a positive outcome."

Sounding a note of caution, though, Richards admitted the patient "was not hooked up to the electrocardiogram at the precise moment of being shocked", and stressed: "People can spontaneously go from atrial fibrillation into a normal rhythm without any intervention at all. You cannot conclusively say that the Taser did it."

Richards said he believed it did, concluding: "It's just one more thing that says, hey, Tasers can actually affect the heart."

Reuters notes that Amnesty Inernational has fingered the Taser in 290 North American deaths since 2001. Taser insists there is "no evidence the gun directly caused the deaths", as Reuters puts it.

The UN's Committee Against Torture disagrees, and back in November last year issued a statement on the TaserX26, which read: "The use of TaserX26 weapons, provoking extreme pain, constituted a form of torture, and that in certain cases it could also cause death, as shown by several reliable studies and by certain cases that had happened after practical use."

Among several notable Taser-related fatalilties is the case of 21-year-old Christian Allen, who was was pulled over by cops in Jacksonville, Florida, "because his [car] radio was too loud". When he and a passenger "took off running", as ABC put it back in November, an officer gave chase, caught Allen and "used a Taser gun at least three times before [he] was taken into custody".

Allen was put in the back of a police car, "suffered a cardiac arrest and died later at a hospital".

Accused Edmonton cop walks on technicality

May 28, 2008
Elise Stolte, The Edmonton Journal

EDMONTON - Disciplinary charges were tossed out on a technicality Tuesday against a police constable accused of using a Taser on two sleeping men.

The same technicality -- resulting from an expiry date missed by a single day -- threatens charges in 11 other disciplinary cases against officers, said acting Insp. Chris Boehnke of the Edmonton police professional standards branch.

Two cases were already thrown out May 1, but at that time the branch thought it was an isolated problem. "The extent of the problem just became apparent today," Boehnke said on Tuesday.

Const. Jeffrey Resler was charged with six counts of unnecessary exercise of authority and using a Taser and hitting three men in their Cromdale Hotel room in 2003. Four officers were looking for a robbery suspect that November night.

In his initial report to professional standards, Resler said he used his Taser to wake the men up because he thought they were dangerous. A supervisor reported him.

Resler was found not guilty in provincial court in 2006 when the judge found testimony given by witnesses offered starkly different accounts of what happened.

An internal disciplinary hearing related to the same incident started April 25.

On Tuesday, Resler's lawyer, Alex Pringle, noticed a one-day lapse in the extension orders granted to investigating officers by the Edmonton Police Commission. City police officers who are investigating other officers are granted an initial three months to build their case and must apply to the Edmonton Police Commission for any extensions if they need more time.

The time extension ran out on April 18, 2006, and was not renewed until April 19. The police commission may be able to correct the problem by passing retroactive extensions and reopening the files.

The charges against Resler weren't the first to be thrown out. On May 1, charges against two other constables were dropped because of the same gap. One was charged with discreditable conduct for allegedly threatening to "end" the complainant. The other was accused of using inappropriate force.

"It's obviously disturbing when basic things such as a statute of limitation are missed," said Brian Hurley, president of the Criminal Trial Lawyers' Association, when he heard the news.

"If the police expect the public to have confidence in their disciplinary proceedings, they need to be handled better than that."

Brian Gibson, chairman of the police commission, said the mistake happened because a staff member thought the commission was meeting on the 18th instead of the 19th, when the extensions were written.

The mistake affected charges against 62 officers. Three had their charges cancelled at their hearing. Nine officers are still being investigated. The rest of the cases have been closed without charges.

Gibson said legal counsel is looking at the problem and will report back at the commission meeting on June 19.

At the hearing Tuesday, presiding officer Supt. Mark Logar said he had no choice but to declare the charges null.

"When that gap occurs, jurisdiction is lost," he said.

"Hopefully we are back soon, but that is not my decision to make," he added. "The constable is interested in closure. The complainant is similarly interested. ... (Citizens) have every right to know what happened.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

After taser shot, fugitive’s irregular heartbeat becomes normal

May 27, 2008, 2:25 pm
Jacob Goldstein, Wall Street Journal Health Blog

A 28-year-old man with a history of mental problems fled from the cops and spent 40 minutes hiding in a lake before they collared him and hauled him to the ER.

His body temperature had fallen to a chilly 89 degrees. Docs found speed and cocaine in his blood, and an ECG showed an irregular heartbeat.

Then things turned ugly. The guy got agitated, ripped off his electrodes and tried to pull out his IV. A cop stepped in and gave him a jolt to the chest with a Taser, and the suspect’s heart soon went back into a normal rhythm.

We’ve seen previous reports from the U.S. and Canada of people dying after being shot by a Taser, with some suggestion that it may be especially common in patients on illicit drugs.

But there’s still a debate over whether Tasers can be deadly. Some studies suggest that the devices may be able to affect the heart, but Taser International cites other studies that show they don’t.

The case report published today in the Annals of Emergency Medicine is the first time we’ve heard of someone’s heart possibly being knocked back into a healthy rhythm by the device. The young man’s heart was in atrial fibrillation, a condition in which the upper chambers of the heart quiver rather than beating properly. The larger lower chambers of his heart were beating 145 times a minute, which is abnormally fast.

That’s why the folks in the Hartford Hospital ER, where the true crime drama unfolded, called in Kyle Richards, a cardiology fellow who is the first author of the case report. In an interview this afternoon, Richards told the Health Blog the patient was “remarkably unhappy” to be in the ER, and grew combative. Richards called in security as the man pulled off the electrodes that were monitoring his heart. That was when the officer Tasered the patient. The hospital staff quickly reattached the electrodes and saw that his heart was in a normal rhythm.

The whole thing took about two minutes, Richards said. “The time course is so close is that it makes the Taser shock more likely as a cause of his conversion” back to a normal rhythm, Richards said. But he added that the case isn’t clear proof that the Taser was the cause of the change, which might also have been the result of his treatment with a beta blocker or may simply have occurred spontaneously.

Peter Holran, Taser’s vice president for public relations, told the Health Blog that there are many possible causes for converting from atrial fibrillation to a normal rhythm. “The timing could suggest that there were some effects of the electric shock, but we just don’t see that in any other studies,” he said. Holran added that the company’s scientific advisory board is reviewing the case report.

Blame shifts to RCMP

May 27, 2008
Canwest News Service

A man who gave a Nazi salute to an RCMP officer, which led to a confrontation in which he was struck a Taser and pepper sprayed, had charges against him stayed Monday.

Instead, Judge Allan Gould of B.C. provincial court ruled that the Mountie should shoulder the blame for the ensuing melee. Shane Owen, 48, had been charged with assaulting a police officer and uttering threats.

The case began on Nov. 25, 2005 when Owen was walking down a street. The officer, who told the court Owen had committed no offence, thought something didn't look right so decided to question him.

Owen told the officer to leave him alone, gave a Nazi salute and swore at him.

Gould said that a more experienced officer would have "spoken in kind" to Owen and gone on his way.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Taser Country


A Wellington [New Zealand] businessman and leadership consultant has created an exhibition of graphic visual images to generate public discussion about the consequences of introducing the Taser as an everyday policing tool in New Zealand.

Lawrence Green says there hasn’t been enough debate about the issue in this country and he is deeply concerned at the possibility of the Taser being introduced.

“I am not the kind of person who joins protest groups or political parties or stands on a soapbox, but I needed an outlet to express what was stirring me up,” he said. “I have always been drawn to the world of visual advertising and to the poster work of political/satirical artists - the way they use language and imagery to communicate. So creating my own posters seemed like a good idea to capture people’s attention and make them think.”

Lawrence Green says while there is no doubt that police face many difficult situations in the course of duty that can be a threat to their own safety as well as the safety of others, and while advocates of the Taser argue that it will actually save lives (because it is 'less-lethal' than a gun), the North American experience shows unnecessary lives lost.

“Between June 2001 and September 2007, Amnesty International recorded 291 deaths of individuals struck by police Tasers in North America. They reported that the vast majority of these deaths were unarmed men who did not pose "a threat of death or serious injury when they were electro-shocked". In only 25 of the 291 deaths was the individual reported to be armed in any way.

“I am not sure that New Zealanders want a country where it is deemed socially acceptable that a certain number of people die as the price for police carrying out their duties. We need to keep what is good about our country and not lose it by becoming more like North

America in this regard. I believe that if we start down this path there is a real risk that we will lose something as a caring and humanitarian nation.”

Lawrence has pulled his ideas together in 12 different posters, which directly address issues raised by the experience of the United States where he says police have begun using the Taser routinely rather than as a weapon of last resort.

“The Taser is described as having a ‘low level electrical discharge’ but it actually hits people with 50,000 volts of electricity. As it has the capacity to inflict multiple and prolonged electric shocks, it is easily abused. Amnesty International also reported that in about a third of the North American cases those who died were subjected to between 3 and 21 shocks. In November 2007 the United Nations Committee Against Torture described the Taser as an instrument of torture because of the extreme pain it provokes.”

Toronto police used excessive force with taser, says Judge

May 26, 2008
Shannon Kari, National Post

A provincial court judge has concluded that Toronto police used excessive force when a suspect inside his SUV was hit in the back with a Taser, allegedly after he was resisting arrest during a late night stop in the city's entertainment district in February 2006.

"I believe that there were other options available before the firing of the 50,000 volt charge," said Justice William Bassel, in a decision read out in court Monday.

The judge was also critical of the conduct of police after Irshad Ahmed was hit with the Taser.

The suspect was pulled out of his vehicle, which had the front side windows smashed by police and then thrown face down on to broken glass where he was handcuffed. Unidentified officers taunted Mr. Ahmed as he lay on the ground.

"I am mystified as to why Mr. Ahmed would be placed right in the middle of all of this broken glass," said the judge. "There were many officers there to have control of him. There was no evidence of flight risk at that point, and in my view putting him there was not only bad judgment, but it was also unreasonable," said Judge Bassel.

Mr. Ahmed and his passenger Omar Betty were pulled over a few blocks from where they allegedly refused a demand by bicycle officers investigating an assault, to stop their SUV and speak to police.

A number of Toronto police officers testified earlier this year that the two men refused to comply with demands to get out of their vehicle and that Mr. Betty was taunting the officers.

Windows on the driver and passenger side of the car were smashed by police. Mr. Betty left the vehicle and was arrested after Sgt. Peter Troup pointed his Taser at the man.

Sgt. Troup then fired the Taser and hit Mr. Ahmed in the back, because he was allegedly holding on to his seatbelt and trying to avoid being pulled out of the driver's side of the vehicle by other officers.

"I believe that the Taser's implementation at that point was premature and excessive," said Judge Bassel, who noted that the SUV was boxed in by police, there were several officers present and there was no warning before the weapon was discharged.

Police were unaware that part of the incident was recorded when Mr. Ahmed placed a call to his lawyer's voice mail.

"I'll break your f---ing ponytail. Yeah, you're right. You lost. Don't f-k with us," officers are head saying as Mr. Ahmed is on the ground.

Seven officers denied making the threats or hearing them uttered, when they testified in court.

The threats were "not only offensive, but they were completely inappropriate and their existence is further aggravated by the stonewall evidence by the officers that they did not hear them or utter them," said Judge Bassel.

The Charter rights of Mr. Betty were not violated, the judge concluded, so he must stand trial on charges of failing to comply with bail conditions and obstructing police.

The judge dropped one charge of violating a bail condition, against Mr. Ahmed. He must stand trial however, on a failure to stop and an obstruct police charge that related to events that occurred before his rights were violated, the judge said.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Edmonton cops used force less often in 2007 despite more calls

May 24, 2008

City cops used less force in dealing with criminals and keeping peace and order last year, says a report unveiled Thursday at a police commission meeting. Police use-of-force dropped to 1,678 incidents in 2007 from 1,922 in 2006, although cops dealt with more calls for service, according to the 2007 Use of Force Review.

Use-of-force incidents include the times when officers are forced to use stunning techniques, pepper spray and stun guns, as well as when they draw or discharge their firearm.

Insp. Garry Meads said cops will begin using a new system that will quickly generate statistical use-of-force information sometime in the fall. The new system will generate more details regarding the use of force and offer better analysis, he said.

Taser use declined by about 26% in 2007 from 2006, in spite of an increase in the number of officers trained to use the device.

Police are a few months away from testing video-equipped Tasers on city streets, Meads said. The "Tasercams" are equipped with tiny cameras that will record audio-visual information once an officer draws a Taser stun gun and flips off the safety switch.

"It says to me that we have found a way to reduce the use of the Taser and along with that we have a significant reduction in complaints associated with its use," Chief Mike Boyd told Sun Media when the numbers were first reported in November. "Because of the way we're monitoring that along with our training and guidance of our supervisors, we attribute all those factors to the reduction," Boyd said.

Edmonton cops began using Tasers in 2000. Since then, they made "great strides with respect to developing a program that is open and accountable," the report said. In February 2006, cops implemented a new policy that requires a watch commander or duty officer to attend the scene where a Taser has been deployed.

The officer then must supervise the downloading of the data to a computer. Data includes how many times the Taser was deployed.

The report also showed that cops used their firearms and their batons less frequently last year compared to 2006.

Taser inquiry hears about lack of stats on weapon's use and no common policy

May 24, 2008
The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER — An inquiry into Taser use heard from police, academics, scientists and lawyers with a common theme emerging for retired judge Thomas Braidwood to address in his report - the lack of statistics on Taser use, limited knowledge of their effects and an absence of a common policy on their deployment.

The president of the B.C. Association of Municipal Police Chiefs summed up for Braidwood what is almost certainly to be addressed in one of his recommendations: the absence of a uniform policy among municipal police forces in British Columbia on the use of the Taser.

Bob Rich, who is also deputy chief of the Vancouver Police Department, said steps are being taken to address that, but that currently policies on the use of force are left to each municipal department.

"The lack of clarity, the lack of a provincial policy, and different opinions is something that has made it more difficult and I look forward to the process of making it clear for our officers what we actually expect them to do," Rich told the inquiry during the second week of its three-week duration.

The inquiry's first of two phases concluded Friday, with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association also noting the lack of police governance regulation.

"The (association) submits that there has been an utter failure, indeed an abdication, of government control over the evaluation, approval and regulation of Taser use by police forces in B.C. and Canada," association executive director Murray Mollard said in the inquiry's final submission.

Braidwood will also have to deal with a multitude of calls for a moratorium on Taser use until its effects are better understood.

The mother of deceased would-be Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski made a tearful plea for a moratorium during her appearance at the inquiry.

Its first phase examined the use of Tasers in a general sense. The second phase, which has not yet been scheduled, will look at the stun gun's use in connection with Dziekanski's death last fall at the Vancouver airport.

Dziekanski died after RCMP stunned him twice with a Taser after they were summoned by airport security.

A call for a moratorium also came from the civil liberties association and other group.

Although the inquiry's terms of reference were directed only at municipal forces in B.C., the RCMP made a submission and also noted the lack of standardized training procedures.

RCMP training, the inquiry also heard, teaches officers that the weapon is "not without risk" but does not mention that its use might result in cardiac arrest and death.

Another police spokesman also told Braidwood that trainees are told the Taser is not without risk but that they're not told a jolt may cause death.

Police presenters and others told the inquiry that the training conducted by police forces is supplied by the manufacturer, Taser International, whose position is that the Taser does not cause death.

The inquiry had no subpoena powers and could do nothing when the Metro Vancouver transit police declined to show up.

They were eventually ordered to give a submission by the province's solicitor general, and the much-maligned force informed the inquiry that it had changed its Taser policy.

The transit force altered its stun gun policy after it was revealed some fare-evading transit users had been zapped. The initial policy on Taser indicated the weapon could be used on "non compliant" transit users but transit force deputy chief Ken Allen said there were problems with that term. The transit police board later approved the removal of non compliance and replaced it with "actively resistant."

The RCMP also changed their wording on Taser use to "actively resistant" from "combative behaviour."

Police vehemently defended the use of the weapon, saying it reduces injuries to officers and suspects and that in most circumstances is far preferable to a bullet.

Even a heart surgeon and cardiologist who told the inquiry that a Taser jolt can lead to cardiac arrest in some cases agreed that the weapon is preferable to lethal force.

The bluntest submission at the inquiry came from a psychologist and former RCMP member who now works as a consultant to police forces on crisis management.

Mike Webster told the commission that he was embarrassed to be associated with police who use Tasers on "sick old men" and "confused immigrants." His first reference was to a recent incident involving an elderly Kamloops man who was laying in his hospital bed and hit with the stun gun after he became delirious and pulled a pen knife from his pocket. The second reference was to Dziekanski, who'd wandered around the secure arrivals area of the airport for hours while his mother waited for him nearby, unable to get any information about her son.

Webster also tore a strip off Taser International, the weapon maker, for what he suggested was the "brainwashing" of police organizations. The company, he said, has conducted a "brilliant marketing scheme and created a lucrative business" based on selling Tasers as a necessary tool when confronted with a disorder known as "excited delirium."

But "excited delirium" as a medical condition is not recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, he said, an opinion that was also reiterated by several medical experts.

Braidwood will have to deal with a plethora of confusing and incomplete data and information on how widespread is the Taser's use and what connection, if any, it has to a sudden death after its application.

Dr. Zian Tseng, a San Francisco cardiologist and electrophysiologist, said any normal, healthy person could die from a jolt of the conducted energy weapon if the shock was given in the right area of the chest and during the vulnerable point in the beating of the heart.

He said the risk of death is far greater if there is adrenaline or illicit drugs coursing through the body or if the person has a history of heart or other medical issues - an opinion that was also shared to varying degrees by other medical experts.

Perhaps the inquiry's star presenter - and the man who attracted the largest attendance - was the chairman of Taser International, Tom Smith.

Smith conceded his product is not risk free, is designed to incapacitate and the term "non lethal" does not mean safe. But he also wanted the inquiry to be clear that there's a big distinction between a Taser jolt being the cause of a death and it being a contributing factor. "I would never say never," he replied when commission counsel Art Vertlieb asked if a jolt could result in a death.

Vertlieb told the inquiry statistics indicate more than 300 people - including about 20 in Canada - have had Taser use noted as a contributing factor in their deaths.

Smith said 350,000 police officers carry the weapons in 40 countries.

Taser studies flawed, epidemiologist says

May 24, 2008
Neal Hall, Vancouver Sun

The studies that have been done to determine the risks of the Taser stun gun are flawed, a Vancouver epidemiologist told a provincial Taser inquiry Friday.

"I don't think you can extrapolate the results to the real world," said Dr. Keith Chambers.

He recommended that until more research is done to resolve the many unanswered questions about the risks and benefits of the weapon, limits on its use, with standardized guidelines, should be put in place.

Chambers said the "genie is already out of the bag," meaning it may be too late to conduct proper controlled trials of the weapon. But outcomes could be tracked with better systems of data collection.

He said one of the problems with existing research studies is that the circumstances in them don't occur in the real world. Most of the people on whom Tasers were tested were healthy volunteers who received a single five-second electrical jolt, which incapacitates a person by contracting muscles.

The earliest Taser research involved testing on pigs.

"Animal studies and volunteer studies don't support the real world and don't measure the magnitude of the harms and benefits," said Chambers, an epidemiologist who designs medical research studies. "In my mind, we have no idea of the relative risk in a large population due to Taser use."

In the studies that have been done, the sample sizes were too small to obtain reliable results, he said. For example, one study used only 66 people. "It's a huge problem, the sample size," he told inquiry commissioner Thomas Braidwood, a retired judge.

He noted that there have been seven Taser-related deaths in B.C., a relatively small number, given the growing use of the weapon by police. "You've got to have large numbers [of people tested] because the event rate is so low," he said. He suggested a proper sample size for a study would be 50,000 subjects.

The inquiry heard from a number of municipal police chiefs and RCMP commanding officers who support the use of the Taser. They said that, used properly, it can save lives and reduce injury to officers and suspects.

More than 300 people in North America, including 19 in Canada and seven in B.C., have died after being jolted by a Taser.

Tom Smith, chair of Taser International, the weapon manufacturer, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., told the inquiry that Tasers are like air bags: They save lives but occasionally contribute to a death.

"Are Tasers risk-free? No, they cause people to fall down," Smith told the inquiry, pointing out that Tasers save 70 lives for every life lost.

But several presenters at the inquiry called for a moratorium on Tasers pending further independent research. One was Murray Mollard, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

He said Friday that government control over Taser use by police in B.C. has been an "utter failure," since "police forces sold the technology to [their] political masters and the general public as a weapon that would be used as a substitute for the use of firearms, thus saving lives."

Back in 2000, when Tasers were first used in B.C., the civil liberties association supported their use based on the premise that they would be an alternative to deadly force. Since then, Mollard observed, the weapon has become "the most controversial use-of-force tool employed by police."

His organization is urging the provincial and federal governments to commission new independent research to determine the risks of using Tasers on people with heart disease and mental illness, and the risks of multiple shocks from the stun gun.

He suggested there be standardized regulations on when Tasers can be deployed, as well as uniform training.

He would also like to see the B.C. government publish detailed annual statistics on Taser use "to provide the public with a meaningful ability to understand the circumstances and justification" for the use of the weapon.

The second phase of the inquiry, expected to take place in the fall, will focus on the events surrounding the death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport on Oct. 14, 2007.

After a long flight from Poland, the 40-year-old man wandered around a secure area of the airport for seven hours, looking for his mother, who lives in Kamloops. He appeared tired and disoriented and began behaving erratically.

Dziekanski, who spoke no English, was eventually confronted by police, shocked twice with a Taser and restrained by RCMP officers. He died minutes later.

The B.C. government ordered the Braidwood inquiry to probe Taser use after the Dziekanski incident.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Public sold a phony story on taser safety, use

May 21, 2008
PAUL WILLCOCKS, Special to The [Prince George] Citizen

VICTORIA -- Two things have jumped out from the provincial inquiry into Taser use.

First, the public has been misled at best, lied to at worst, about the safety of Tasers and the way they would be used.

And second, that civilian oversight of police is a myth in B.C. Government's claims that it sets policy on Taser use and most other police activities are empty.

I was an advocate for Tasers after a pilot project here in Victoria in 1999. They were pitched as a great tool that could make things safer for police and public.

At the end of a six-month trial, one of the officers enthusiastically cited examples from the nine times the Taser was used zap someone.

One case involved a naked, crazed man coming at officers with a long metal spike and deer antlers. If the Taser hadn't been available, he might have been shot. Another involved a deranged man determined to leap up the window in his 12th-floor apartment. Police tasered him in the nick of time. (The officer who provided the examples and pushed to have the weapon approved received stock options from Taser International two years later for his work on a holster design.)

The police convinced me the weapon offered a safer alternative than other options in some cases. The claims were always about taking down armed attackers or dealing at a safe distance with suicidal or dangerous people, something not possible with pepper spray.

More importantly, they convinced then attorney general Ujjal Dosanjh. But Dosanjh told the inquiry this month he was misled about the way police would use Tasers.

Kevin Begg, assistant deputy minister in the Solicitor General's Ministry, referred to "slippage" in Taser use. Instead of taking the time to de-escalate a situation, police are just zapping people who don't co-operate. Begg isn't an armchair quarterback; he was an RCMP officer for 23 years. And he, too, was an initial supporter, describing the Taser as "a very valuable alternative to shooting someone with a firearm" when the pilot project was launched.

But that's now how the Taser has been used. The provincial inquiry was ordered after the death of Robert Dzienkanski at Vancouver's airport. Video evidence showed police made no effort to defuse the situation.

Earlier this month police zapped an 82-year-old man, who needs oxygen just to walk, as he lay in a Kamloops hospital bed. He was delusional because he couldn't catch his breath and refused to drop a knife with a three-inch blade. But he wasn't enough of a danger to prevent an RCMP officer from approaching close enough to press the Taser against his stomach and zap him three times.

And Vancouver's transit police have tasered people, including fare evaders, for being "non-compliant." That policy, changed last week, highlights the underlying problem.

As the death toll mounted, B.C.'s Police Complaints Commissioner did a review of Taser use and recommended clear limits. People had to be "actively resisting" officers before they could be hit with the electric charge. The Solicitor General's Ministry claimed the new policy was in place. But all it did was send a one-page letter to police chiefs. As the transit police confirmed, the policy was widely and blatantly ignored. (Transit police even ignored a call to testify at the public inquiry until Solicitor General John van Dongen ordered the force to appear.)

Anyway, the policy is irrelevant for most British Columbians. About 70 per cent of them are policed by some 8,000 RCMP officers. The force does not accept any civilian oversight and refuses to allow the provincial government to set policies.

The Taser is still a potentially valuable tool. But seven people have died in B.C. after being the weapon was used on them; more than 300 in North America. Police continue to insist there is no risk, and use it accordingly. Many continue to reject the notion of civilian control or oversight.

It's a dangerous combination.

Footnote: Taser International continues to insist the only risk from using the weapon is that the victim might fall and be injured and tells police to use it on that basis. This week, two cardiologists told the inquiry the stun guns could "almost certainly" cause heart attacks.

RCMP in B.C. used tasers 496 times last year, taser inquiry told

May 23, 2008
The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER — The RCMP learned much from the incident last fall at Vancouver airport where a Polish immigrant died after being Tasered by RCMP and the force will "answer to what happened on that day," the force's assistant commissioner said Thursday.

"It was tough for us, very tough," Asst. Commissioner Al Macintyre told reporters after he gave a submission to a public inquiry looking at Taser use.

"We learned a lot about information management on such an issue, public communications, and we're (still) learning from it."

Macintyre began his presentation by expressing condolences to the Dziekanski family and was asked about it again by reporters.

"Certainly, it wasn't one of our better days in terms of the way we were portrayed in the media and publicly for that matter.

"We will answer to what happened on that day in a court of law at a public inquest, and our officers will give their evidence under oath. We'll hear the truth."

Dziekanski had arrived at the airport after a long flight from Poland. For reasons still not clear, he spent many hours in the customs area. When four police officers arrived late in the evening, an amateur video showed him appearing to be agitated and confused.

He was struck twice with a Taser and died.

The RCMP presentation was also handled by Cpl. Gregg Gillis, a use-of-force expert, and Insp. Troy Lightfoot from RCMP headquarters in Ottawa.

Commission counsel Patrick McGowan asked about the RCMP policy, which uses the term "actively resistant" as a criterion for use by officers instead of the term "combative behaviour" that has been adopted by the B.C. Association of Municipal Chiefs of Police.

The RCMP training, the inquiry also heard, tells officers that the weapon is "not without risk" but does not mention that an irregular heartbeat known as ventricular fibrillation may lead to cardiac arrest and death after a Taser jolt.

"We will look at that as well," said Macintyre. "We're willing to change our policy and our training and our utilization of the device.

It was suggested that Dziekanski showed no active resistance at the airport and was hit with a Taser twice almost immediately after four RCMP officers arrived.

Gillis said the policy is more than just the term "actively resistant."

"It's not just based on behaviours, it's based on situational factors as well."

Gillis declined to answer whether he thought Dziekanski was being "actively resistant."

"There is an ongoing investigation and I can't really get into that," said Gillis.

The inquiry heard the RCMP in British Columbia used Tasers 496 times last year.

Macintyre said RCMP in the province started using Tasers in 2000 and now have 1,154 of the weapons in 53 detachments.

He said 3,153 RCMP officers in the province are trained to use the weapons.

Gillis said in 2007 Tasers were used 496 times in B.C. and so far this year they've been used 148 times.

The initial phase of the inquiry is looking in the use of Tasers in general but the second phase will look specifically at the death of Dziekanski.

There is a lack of data on Taser-related deaths and heart diseases in medical literature but a biomechanical engineer told the inquiry Thursday that he is convinced heart disease increases the probability of death after the stun gun shock.

Pierre Savard, of Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique, told the public inquiry via video conference that he became interested in the subject of Tasers after watching the now-infamous video of Dziekanski falling to the ground and eventually dying.

A subsequent statement by Taser International that the weapon was not responsible for Dziekanski's death piqued Savard's interest, he told inquiry commissioner Thomas Braidwood, a retired B.C. Supreme Court judge.

In addition to concluding that heart disease increases the probability of death after a Taser shock, Savard also said studies - conducted by police agencies and other researchers - on healthy humans or healthy animals are insufficient to conclude that the Taser is "entirely safe."

His first conclusion, he said, is in accordance with product warnings issued by Taser International.

Company literature says there is a risk of injury or death due to "individual susceptibilities" that Savard said included coronary heart disease, arrhythmia-prone susceptibility and aneurysm.

Other heart experts have told the inquiry that Taser shocks may cause heart problems.

Savard said a study by two University of Washington researchers in 2006 looked at "unexplained fatalities" over a four-year period.

They eventually examined 75 cases - all males from age 15 to 50, of which almost 37 had autopsy reports available for review.

Coronary disease was detected in 54 per cent of the 37 victims; 78 per cent had an illegal substance in their bodies. In 27 per cent of the cases, the researchers concluded that the Taser was a "potential or contributory cause of death."

In his submission, Vancouver lawyer Cameron Ward told the commission that he has an outstanding civil case involving a Taser-related death and that he has become an "activist" on the subject.

Like Dziekanski's mother, who gave a submission earlier and called for a moratorium on Taser use until further study, Ward said use of the weapon should cease until there is a rigorous scientific evaluation of its effects.

He said his own research into deaths that followed a Taser jolt uncovered 344 "unexplained deaths" in North America.

Ward said Dziekanski's death was the 301st and there have been 43 since.

Ward said he wants the Taser used on Dziekanski tested to see if its electrical output is the same as specified by Taser International when it sells the weapon.

He also said the commission should consider recommending all Tasers be certified and approved by the Canadian Standards Association, which tests and certifies other electrical products.

49% back taser ban: Poll

May 23, 2008

Almost half of Canadians want a ban on cops using Tasers, a new study has found.

The Angus Reid Strategies poll of 1,006 Canadians across the country found that 49% favour a moratorium on police usage of the controversial stun guns.

And nearly three in four Canadians -- 74% -- are against the civilian use of Tasers for personal safety, according to the poll.

The poll was released Wed -nesday, the same day Toronto Police tactical officers used a Taser on a 30-year-old Scarborough man who allegedly stabbed another man in the chest three times.

Sgt. Rob Tobin said Emergency Task Force officers were called to a Reidmount Ave. condo building near Sheppard Ave. and Kennedy Rd., where they found a man armed with a knife and a 36-year-old victim.

The alleged stabber was jolted with a Taser before he was arrested and charged with attempted murder. The victim was recovering in hospital with non-life threatening injuries yesterday.

"It just debilitates people from doing any harm to themselves or to us," Tobin said. "It's a very effective tool."

The poll also found 57% of respondents in B.C. favoured a moratorium on Taser use by law officers. In Ontario, about 46% supported the same. About 10% of Ontario residents were unsure while 45% opposed a ban. A total of 43% of Canadians opposed a ban, while 8% were unsure.

Across the country, only 23% of respondents think stun guns should be allowed for civilian use. In Ontario, 78% oppose the idea of average citizens being allowed to carry the weapon.

Last year, according to Toronto Police, local cops deployed Tasers 404 times and fired the weapon 187 times.

While Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair wants 3,500 frontline officers equipped with Tasers at a cost of nearly $9 million, not everybody is convinced it should be a part of every cop's arsenal.

Former Toronto mayor John Sewell, a member of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, said the video of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, who died after being Tasered by Mounties at Vancouver Airport, has caused the Canadian public to become apprehensive about the high-voltage weapons.

RCMP has new taser policy, inquiry told

May 23, 2008
Neal Hall, Vancouver Sun

VANCOUVER - The RCMP has changed its Taser policy and now trains officers only to use the weapon when a person exhibits "active resistance" to arrest or police commands, a provincial Taser inquiry was told Thursday.

The RCMP's national use-of-force coordinator from Ottawa, Insp. Troy Lightfoot, told the inquiry the RCMP changed its policy from "passive resistance" to "active resistance" to adhere to recommendations about Taser use made last December by Paul Kennedy, head of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP.

Lightfoot said the RCMP has also changed the re-certification training period for Taser use to every year from every three years after the initial two-day training session that teaches officers how to deploy Tasers.

Patrick McGowan, counsel for the Thomas Braid inquiry probing the use of Tasers in B.C., asked why the RCMP didn't adopt Kennedy's recommendation that Tasers be reclassified as an impact weapon only to be used in situations where a suspect exhibits "combative behaviour."

"It's a misunderstanding of the lexicon and definition," Lightfoot replied. "I don't think we're far off."

RCMP Assistant Commissioner Al Macintyre, the officer in charge of criminal operations in B.C., began the RCMP presentation by expressing his condolences to the mother of Robert Dziekanski, the 40-year-old Polish man who was jolted twice with a Taser at Vancouver International Airport by RCMP last Oct. 14.

"The unfortunate tragic events that occurred last Oct. 14 were not what anyone would have ever wished," the senior Mountie told the inquiry. "They cannot be undone but the RCMP is determined to learn what we can from this tragedy and to make improvements for the future."

Macintyre said an investigation of the airport incident is still being conducted by members of the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team, which will eventually forward a report to Crown for a decision on whether charges are warranted.

He said the RCMP looks forward to the results of the inquiry in order to make improvements to safeguard public safety.

Macintyre said Taser use by the RCMP has increased dramatically since it was first introduced in 2000, when there were 4,392 Mounties working in B.C., compared to about 6,500 now.

He suggested the increase in the number of Tasers and the number of officers trained to use the devices has caused usage to shoot up in recent years -- there were 496 Taser incidents in B.C. last year, up from 218 in 2005.

Nationally, the RCMP reported 1,119 Taser incidents in 2006 and 1,414 in 2007, compared with 597 incidents in 2005.

He told the inquiry that trainers teach that the Taser weapon is not risk-free, but nothing is taught about the possibility of causing death. He said that's because there is no medical research to prove Tasers cause death -- a controversial point frequently discussed at the inquiry by several independent medical experts.

Earlier in the day, a Montreal biomedical engineer told the inquiry that Taser jolts involving a person with heart disease increase the probability of death.

"There is a strong statistical association between Taser-related deaths and heart diseases," said Pierre Savard.

He also said the current studies on healthy people or healthy animals are insufficient to conclude that the Taser weapon is completely safe.

Savard, a professor at the Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal, said the placement of Taser darts within 1.6 centimetres of the heart could stimulate heart tissue and lead to ventricular fibrillation, which causes the heart to quiver, desynchronizing the pumping action of the heart chambers and causing a drop in blood pressure.

Such an occurrence requires the use of a defibrillator to get the heart to return to its normal rhythm, he said.

The Taser delivers short pulses of electrical current through electrodes over the surface of the body, causing automatic muscle contraction and incapacitation.

Savard said the electrical current is insufficient to cause heart tissue damage in a normal person, but could affect a person with heart disease and cardiac scar tissue.

He said a Taser shock causes the heart rate to jump to 137 beats per minute (72 beats is normal).

Savard said he began researching the issue after the death of Dziekanski. An amateur video of the incident, posted on the Internet, caused an international public outcry and led the B.C. government to order the inquiry.

Senior B.C. Mounties defend use of tasers

May 23, 2008
Suzanne Fournier, The Province

Three RCMP officers faced the Braidwood inquiry on Tasers yesterday to express "condolences" for the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, but also to insist the Taser is a valuable tool they plan to keep using.

RCMP Assistant Commissioner Al Macintyre, head of E division in B.C., said he wanted to "express my sincere condolences to the Dziekanski family and especially to Zofia Cisowski on the death of her loved one."

But Macintyre also said the "RCMP continues to believe the Conducted Energy Weapon is a valuable tool . . . that when used properly can save lives and reduce injury to officers and to the public."

Macintyre noted RCMP appeared "voluntarily" at the Taser inquiry, which was set up by the B.C. government and has no jurisdiction over the federal force.

Outside the inquiry, Macintyre admitted that the worldwide attention garnered by a cellphone video of Dziekanski being Tasered last Oct. 14 at the Vancouver International Airport, and then dying within seconds "was tough for us, very tough."

He said Mounties will appear at the coroner's inquest into Dziekanski's death and are co-operating with ongoing criminal investigations by the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team and B.C. Crown counsel.

RCMP use-of-force trainer Cpl. Gregg Gillis said RCMP in B.C. used Tasers 496 times in 2007, and they've been used 148 times this year. A total of 3,153 RCMP officers in B.C. are trained to use the Taser in the event of "active resistance."

Earlier yesterday, biomedical engineer Pierre Savard, of Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique, said the effects of the Taser on the heart are similar to two major cardiac tests, but those tests are carried out only in a medical setting and only when there is a defibrillator present to bring a person back to life.

Taser International says its weapons can't kill, but Savard noted the company warns there is "a degree of risk that someone will get hurt or may even be killed due to . . . unforeseen circumstances and individual susceptibilities."

Vancouver lawyer Cameron Ward, representing the family of Robert Bagnell, who died after he was Tasered by Vancouver police in 2004, said he has compiled a list of 344 "unexplained deaths" in people who were Tasered.

Ward said one of the two Tasers used on Bagnell registered thousands of times the supposed 50,000-volt electrical output when tested by an independent lab and he recommended the Taser used on Dziekanski should also be tested.

The inquiry concludes its first phase today with a presentation by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

Commissioner Tom Braidwood, a retired judge, will look into Dziekanski's death in the fall.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

People with heart disease more vulnerable when tasered, inquiry told

May 22, 2008
Neal Hall, Vancouver Sun

VANCOUVER - Taser shocks of a person with heart disease increases the probability of death, a Montreal biomedical engineer told a provincial Taser inquiry today.

"There is a strong statistical association between Taser related deaths and heart diseases," Pierre Savard told inquiry commissioner Thomas Braidwood.

He also said the current studies on healthy people or healthy animals are insufficient to conclude that the Taser weapon is completely safe.

Savard pointed out the placement of Taser darts within 1.6 centimetres of the heart could stimulate heart tissue and lead to ventricular fibrillation, which causes the heart to quiver, desynchonizing the pumping action of the heart chambers, causing a drop in blood pressure. Such an occurrence, he said, requires the use of a defibrillator to get the heart to return to its normal rhythm.

"The known effects of the Taser on the heart rate are similar to those of two standard diagnostic tests used by cardiologists: the stress test and programmed electrical stimulation," explained Savard.

"These two tests necessitate the use of defibrillators because of their inherent risk" said the professor at the Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal.

He made his presentation via video conferencing and showed a number of diagrams to illustrate how heart disease can be affected by Taser shocks.

The Taser delivers short pulses of electrical current through electrodes over the surface of the body, causing automatic muscle contraction and incapacitation.

Savard said the current is insufficient to cause heart tissue damage in a normal person, but could affect a person with heart disease and cardiac scar tissue.

He said a Taser shock sends a message to the brain, which goes into a state of alarm and causes the automatic nervous system to prepare the body for a "fight or flight response."

The heart rate jumps to 137 beats per minute (72 beats per minute is normal), he said, pointing out that in subjects with coronary artery disease, the blood flow is insufficient to satisfy increased cardiac metabolic needs, which is known as ischemia.

"Some ischemic tissue may show abnormal automaticity and generate ventricular tachycardia, that can be followed by ventricular fibrillation," Savard said.

He explained he began researching the issue after the death last Oct. 14 of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, who was jolted twice with a Taser at Vancouver International Airport by RCMP. An amateur video of the incident, posted on the Internet, caused an international public outcry and led the B.C. government to order the inquiry.

The first stage of the inquiry is looking at Taser use in general. The second part, expected in the fall, will probe the circumstances surrounding the death of Dziekanski.

Dziekanski wandered around a secure area of the airport for seven hours, looking for his mother who had come from Kamloops to meet him. He appeared tired, disoriented and began behaving erratically. He was eventually confronted by police, shocked with a Taser and restrained by RCMP officers. He died minutes later.

Heart disease increases probability of death after taser shock: expert

May 22, 2008
The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER — A biomechanical engineer says heart disease increases the probability of death after a Taser shock.

Pierre Savard, of Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique, also told a public inquiry into Taser use today that studies on healthy animals are insufficient to conclude the Taser is entirely safe.

Savard appeared at the inquiry via video conference.

He said his conclusion is in accordance with the product warnings issued by Taser International.

Company literature says there is a risk of injury or death due to individual susceptibilities."

Other heart experts have told the inquiry this week that Taser shocks may cause heart problems.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Veteran pathologist says he believes tasers can contribute to sudden death

May 21, 2008
The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER — There are no obvious features on a body to indicate to a pathologist that a Taser has directly caused a death, a former chief coroner told a B.C. public inquiry Wednesday.

But Dr. John Butt, who was the former chief coroner in Alberta and the chief medical examiner in Nova Scotia, said he believes Tasers can contribute to a sudden death. "There is no specific pathology related to death by Taser," Butt told the inquiry into Taser use.

He told retired judge Thomas Braidwood that when the anatomical cause of death is elusive, a pathologist must turn to so-called "proximate" events, such as intoxication from alcohol or cocaine, heart disease, or the force involved in the takedown by police.

"Often there is no hard-core, pathological information from the autopsy," Butt told reporters after he delivered his submission. In terms of what you see with your naked eye, nothing there."

He was reminded that Taser International's opinion of its stun gun is that it does not kill.

Butt noted the company says the weapon doesn't kill "directly." "But when you have a pre-existing cardiac condition and you deploy the Taser and the death occurs instantly, then I don't think it's an easy thing to dodge the responsibility."

Butt told the inquiry that he took it upon himself last year to try to become an expert in Tasers and has read on the subject widely. He said his research suggests Tasers are being used about 600 times a day in North America. "I would have concerns about the number of times it's deployed knowing that some of the rules for engagement are not sound."

The inquiry has already heard that police forces in B.C. don't have a uniform policy on Taser use and the training regimen varies from force to force, as do policies surrounding its deployment.

"The issue is rules of engagement," said Butt. "What are they? Are they the same for the Vancouver police department as they are for the RCMP?

"Have they been looked at as an ethical concern? I think one would want to look at them as an ethical concern knowing that there have been issues of sudden death associated with them."

Butt also expressed concern about the widespread marketing of the weapon, noting that it is being bought not only by more and more police forces but also by citizens for personal protection.

The inquiry heard Tuesday that the New Westminster police department has 20 Tasers and informs its trainees that injury or death could result. But it also provides no first-aid or cardiopulmonary resuscitation training.

Butt suggested that issue would come up in the second part of the Braidwood inquiry, which will look at Tasers and their connection in the death last fall of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver airport. Dziekanski had spent many hours in the airport and was agitated and throwing things. When four RCMP officers arrived to deal with him, he appeared confused and agitated. He was hit with a Taser almost immediately after police arrived and died shortly afterwards.

"I think you're going to hear a lot in the second part of the inquiry," said Butt. "I join with most of the people that they are very happy there is a video to look at (of Dziekanski' death) and I join most people in their concern if police don't have proper training in CPR."

Police need to know tasers can kill: MDs

May 21, 2008
Suzanne Fournier, The Province

Tasers can cause fatal cardiac arrest and are especially dangerous if the person being Tasered is agitated, stressed, dehydrated, exhausted or has heart disease, two top Vancouver heart specialists warned yesterday.

The Taser may be particularly dangerous if a dart hits close to a person's heart and is hazardous to any of the more than 35,000 British Columbians who have pacemakers or implanted defibrillators, the doctors told the Braidwood Inquiry into Taser use.

Police forces need to know the risks of using the Taser and be fully-trained in resuscitating heart-attack victims, the specialists said.

Dr. Michael Janusz, a heart surgeon at Vancouver General Hospital and a professor at the University of B.C., warned the inquiry that "Tasers must be regarded as being capable of causing cardiac arrest."

The Taser might be safer than a gun or club, said Janusz, but it can cause cardiac arrest and police should be "cognizant of this hazard. This will require a 'mindset' of providing immediate, thorough and meticulous care of critically-injured persons."

Janusz told commissioner Tom Braidwood, a retired B.C. judge, that the risk of dying after being Tasered is similar to the chances of dying during or after major heart surgery.

Janusz cited San Francisco cardiologist Dr. Zian Tseng's findings of about "1.4 per cent mortality for individuals subdued by police using a Taser, [which] is similar to the mortality risk of a coronary-artery bypass operation."

Dr. Charles Kerr, a cardiac electrophysiologist at St. Paul's and a UBC professor, warned that "the perception one gets is that the police officers do not seem to recognize that situations in which a Taser is used could lead to death."

Kerr said there may be a place in policing for the Taser and it is "better than a bullet," but he said it is essential that police understand "there is a potential for harm."

Kerr said although the possibility is low, it appears that even one dart of the dual-dart weapon hitting near the heart could trigger ventricular fibrillation, in which
the heart beats wildly and then stops.

People with "psychiatric disturbance" or who are on drugs are even more at risk, said Kerr.

Even "the pain inflicted by the Taser discharge" and the "extremely agitated state of most people receiving a Taser shock" increases the likelihood of ventricular fibrillation, he said.

As if to underscore the medical specialists' cause for concern, New Westminster police Staff-Sgt. Joe Spindor said later that most Taser training in B.C. is done by the manufacturer or by others like him who have been trained by Taser International.

"They stated the Taser is safe," said Spindor, explaining he was not told it could cause cardiac arrest.

Spindor said police in B.C. do not yet collect or share data on Taser use or its consequences.

Police do not carry defibrillators, said Spindor, who said the New Westminster police have used the Taser without incident since 2000.

Braidwood is inquiring into Taser use by municipal police, sheriffs and corrections officers.

Sadly, taser means no muss, no fuss, no hassle

May 21, 2008
Bernie O'Neill, Yorkregion.com

The Yale Book of Quotations came out with its most memorable quote of 2007 that, interestingly, is about an object of controversy in Canada.

The expression is ‘Don’t tase me, bro’, as uttered by a 21-year-old undergrad at a presidential hopeful’s address in Florida. At the end of the question and answer period, university police decided they didn’t like his questions (they weren’t really questions — more like accusations) and moved in.

You can sense both the indignation and the fear in the young man’s voice, if you’ve ever seen the clip. On the one hand, he is thinking, this — allegedly — is a free country and I have every right to make statements at a political event without being muzzled by force.

And, secondly, please don’t send thousands of volts of electricity through my body.

Ever put your tongue on both prongs of a 9-volt battery? I did when I was about 12 and just the memory of it gives me shivers.

If I was in student Andrew Meyer’s position, I would be saying the same thing. Please, please, please, do not tase me. (I might have left out the bro.)

You can actually buy a T-shirt bearing the words, ‘Don’t tase me, bro’ on a very cool website, bustedtees.com, that has a lot of other funny and politically relevant stuff on there, too — although mostly American. And you can see the clip on youtube.

What’s interesting is that, if you type in the word taser (that’s an electric stun gun, in case you haven’t gathered that at this point) in the youtube search, all kinds of crazy and questionable uses of the increasingly popular people zappers (just call it “shock and awe”).

You start to wonder if this whole taser thing has gone too far.

It certainly seems to have in Canada. Last year, a Polish man who had become agitated and disoriented at the Vancouver airport was zapped with a taser by RCMP officers and died. He was tasered within minutes of them coming upon the scene.

More recently, a senior citizen in B.C. who had become confused and was holding a pocket knife was tasered by police. The man is 82. He was zapped three times with a stun gun while lying in his hospital bed, according to reports.

I mention his age because, before the advent of the taser, it would seem police had fewer options to subdue people. If the person represented an imminent threat to his life or someone else’s, they could shoot him, whack him with a billy club, wrestle him to the ground, maybe pepper spray him.

I would imagine before the advent of the taser, most 82-year-olds were simply talked to.

When I first heard left-leaning members of Toronto’s police services board waxing rhapsodically about tasers a few years back and how it would be so nice if police officers would just mildly electrocute people when trying to make an arrest or keep order instead of shooting them, I was skeptical.

Not because I suspected tasers would be used casually to zap any trouble maker. But because I never thought a police officer who felt his life or someone else’s was at risk was going to waste much time or take the chance of getting killed just to be a nice guy.

No, I suspect he would use the gun he was trained to use and had every right to use under the circumstances to save his own life or someone else’s. The taser? I thought it would end up left in the holster.

In fact, it seems to be the opposite. Use of the taser is not replacing use of the gun. It is replacing having to risk injury by tackling someone and wrestling them to the ground or calling for backup so a group of officers by sheer number could overpower someone.

It is being used to save time, as the comments would suggest from one officer in the zapping of the 82-year-old, a former heart bypass patient who needed oxygen to breathe. “We’ve got more important work to do,” he said. And that was that. Three zaps to the abdomen.

If you were tending to your lawn, it would be like someone inventing a weed whacker. There’s no more bending, tugging, sore backs or pulled muscles. It’s all done with this nifty electric gadget and it saves you a lot of time for other things.

It is one more weapon in the arsenal and, for now, they have the right to use it when they see fit.

Before we start equipping every police officer, security guard, bouncer and grade school hall monitor with tasers, perhaps we should be setting more clear guidelines about who can legally own them and how a taser can be legally fired.

If it was meant as a second-to-last resort, the final option before firing a gun at someone, it certainly is not being used that way. People’s lives, health and rights are being violated in the process.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tasers can cause cardiac arrest: heart surgeon

May 20, 2008

Taser International’s credibility was called into question by a leading heart surgeon at the Braidwood Inquiry yesterday.

Dr. Michael Janusz, a heart surgeon and clinical professor at UBC, told the inquiry that most physicians would conclude that Tasers are capable of causing heart problems under the right circumstances.

And he questioned Taser’s reluctance to support that view.

“It creates a problem with credibility with the company and can make it difficult to deal with the company regarding safety,” Janusz said. “Tasers must be regarded as being capable of causing cardiac arrest. The consequences are not trivial.”

Both Janusz and expert cardiologist Dr. Charles Kerr, who also made presentations at the inquiry yesterday, said police need to recognize the risks of using a Taser – no matter how small – and be prepared to deal with complications immediately.

Extremely agitated people are especially susceptible to heart problems because of their increased heart rate and other metabolic changes, according to Kerr.

“There should be a realization that the potential for sudden death does exist,” he said. “Policy should recognize that.”

Kerr says officers should be fully trained in resuscitation and have defibrillators within reach when a Taser is deployed.

160 new tasers for Manitoba RCMP

May 20, 2008

WINNIPEG - The RCMP in Manitoba is buying more Tasers for its officers.

The provincial division of the police force has spent about $160,000 to buy and ship 160 newer models of the controversial weapons, which will increase the number of Tasers it uses by about 10 per cent.

Documents about the purchase say 26 of the Tasers will "increase the inventory" of units that are in use, while the rest will replace older models.

The new Tasers will be smaller, which the documents say will make it easier for plainclothes or undercover officers to conceal.

The documents were released to the Winnipeg Free Press under the federal Access to Information Act.

Manitoba RCMP spokeswoman Sgt. Line Karpish says the new purchases mean there will be 237 Tasers in use among approximately 1,000 officers in the province.

While the documents say the new Taser is 60 per cent smaller and 60 per cent lighter than the current Taser used by the RCMP, they say it has the same peak of 50,000 volts.

Taser use is a controversial subject following the high-profile death last October of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport. The 40-year-old, who did not speak English, was videotaped by a bystander after he was shocked by RCMP officers and lay convulsing on the floor of the airport, later dying.

Last Thursday at an inquiry into the incident, Dziekanski's mother wept as she urged an end to Taser use.

Manitoba Mounties started using Tasers in 2003.

The weapons are made at Arizona-based Taser International, said Karpish, and then they're fired and tested, catalogued and inventoried by an armourer in Regina.

Karpish said that no additional training will be required for officers using the newer model of Taser, beyond a two-day session required for all officers using the weapons.

The report notes other Taser products "would require a major retraining initiative at significant cost to the RCMP."

Tasers could cause cardiac arrest, doctor says

May 20, 2008
Neal Hall, Vancouver Sun

The electrical shock from a Taser stun gun used by police could cause cardiac arrest, a Vancouver heart surgeon told a Taser inquiry today.

"One can conclude the risk of death from a Taser is small but not insignificant," said Dr. Michael Janusz, a heart surgeon at Vancouver General Hospital.

"Tasers must be regarded as being capable of causing cardiac arrest," he said. "The device appears to be safer for all concerned, including bystanders, than guns and clubs, but its consequences are not trivial," he added.

"Hearts don't simply stop," he told inquiry commissioner Thomas Braidwood.

Janusz said there has to be underlying heart disease or other contributing factors such as lack of oxygen due to asphyxia or massive blood loss or severe metabolic abnormalities such as acidosis or abnormal potassium levels.

He said first responders should be thoroughly trained in providing first aid and use of a defibrillator.

Another expert, Vancouver cardiolist Dr. Charles Kerr, made s similar submission.

Janusz also questioned the credibility of Taser International, the manufacturer of the Taser. The company maintains Tasers could not cause cardiac arrest.

"This creates a problem with respect to the credibility of the company and could lead to difficulty in dealing with the company in matters of safety standards and training requirements," he said.

Kerr, who practises in the field of electrophysiology and is current head of the Arrhythmia Management program at St. Paul's Hospital and the University of B.C, told the inquiry that a heart beats as the result of an electrical impulse.

Of most concern about the use of the Taser is the electrical function of the heart ventricles, the main pumping chambers of the heart.

Kerr said there is a potential for harm and cardiac arrest.

"It is my opinion that there is a small possibility that an electrical discharge from a Taser dart could directly induce ventricular fibrillation," he said.

Kerr said the pain inflicted by the Taser causes intense muscle contraction, an increase in heart rate and adrenaline-like chemicals and sympathetic nerve discharge.

"This coupled with subsequent physical restraint of the individual could also result in the inability to breath adequately and possibly a drop in oxygen levels and changes in the acid balance in the blood, which would make the patient more prone to ventricular arrhythmias."

While the Taser appears to be a much safer weapon than guns for both victims and police, police do not seem to recognize that Taser use could lead to death, Kerr said.

In such situations, he added, people should be ready to perform cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and use automatic external defibrillators.

"It would seem reasonable to recommend that an automatic defibrillator be readily available in such circumstances," Kerr said.

Cardiologist, heart surgeon tell Taser inquiry weapon can cause cardiac arrest

May 20, 2008
The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER — Two heart specialists told an inquiry into the use of Tasers on Tuesday that a jolt from the weapons can "almost certainly" cause heart problems and possibly even sudden cardiac arrest.

Dr. Michael Janusz, a heart surgeon and professor of surgery at the University of British Columbia, told the inquiry that based on his study of available literature on Taser use, "almost all physicians would conclude that Tasers can induce ventricular fibrillation."

The hearing was told ventricular fibrillation is an extremely rapid rhythm in the heart's lower chambers, leading to ineffective contractions of the heart.

"In summary, Tasers almost certainly can cause cardiac arrest in humans, particularly in people with underlying heart disease," Janusz said.

A spokesman for Taser International has told the inquiry that Tasers are not risk free and that the term "non-lethal" does not mean safe.

Taser International has maintained there's a big distinction between a Taser jolt being the cause of a death and it being a contributing factor.

Dr. Charles Kerr, another UBC professor and a heart surgeon, told the inquiry Tuesday that based on his reading of animal studies and the agitated state of most people who receive a Taser shock, he has concluded a Taser jolt could induce ventricular fibrillation.

"Whatever the cause of death in patients receiving Taser discharges, there does appear to be the potential of a cardiac arrest situation, as has been demonstrated on a number of occasions," Kerr said.

In a state of ventricular fibrillation, "the heart cannot pump blood and, unless it is interrupted quickly, sudden cardiac death will follow."

Both men also agreed outside the inquiry that the Taser may still be preferable to a firearm or a club.

Kerr was asked whether they should be used when many questions about their safety remain unanswered.

"My personal opinion is that they are probably better than a bullet but I think we need to have the understanding that the entire situation, whether it's the Taser or (Taser contribution) there is no question that there have been situations of sudden death," Kerr told reporters.

Janusz said each situation that a police officer uses a Taser has to be judged independently. "Certainly in many or most situations it's a safer alternative than a gun or a club. "But I believe the risks are there and you have to be cognitive of the risks and be prepared to deal with any consequence arising from it."

The current phase of the inquiry is looking at the use of the weapon in general and the next phase will look specifically at the death of Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver airport last fall, after he was hit with an RCMP Taser.

Victoria police board approves ‘pain compliance’ use of taser gun

May 16, 2008
By Keith Vass - Victoria News

The Victoria police board needed minimal discussion this week to approve a policy amendment that clears the way for police to use a 50,000-volt Taser shock for 'pain compliance.'

Last month, the Victoria News reported that the department's use-of-force policy governing Taser use was silent on the weapon's 'push stun' mode.

The written policy only endorsed the use of Tasers as a 'force presence' or for an officer to deploy the weapon's barbed probes to disrupt a subject's muscle control.

In push-stun mode, electrical contacts at the weapon's tip are placed directly against a subject.

According to training slides provided to the News by the Victoria Police Department's Taser program co-ordinator, Const. Mike Massine, "the push-stun mode affects the sensory nervous system ONLY, making it a pain compliance weapon that will not cause (loss of muscle control)."

The policy now contains a clause that reads "a push stun can be used to cause localized motor dysfunction or to gain compliance from a subject who is displaying active resistance." Police define 'active resistance' as any situation where a subject is refusing to comply with demands, including turning away or saying 'No.'

In a four-minute discussion at Tuesday's meeting, none of the board's seven members questioned the amendment or what differentiates push-stun use from probe deployment.

Before the board passed the amendment unanimously, provincial appointee Catherine Holt asked for clarity as to whether the terms 'push stun' and 'drive stun' are used interchangeably and was told they are.

Esquimalt Mayor Chris Clement questioned other sections of the policy. In response, interim Chief Bill Naughton said 120 of the force's 220 officers are trained in Taser use. He said the term 'lower lethality' used to describe the Taser indicates "the likelihood of death is remote but possible."

An analysis of 183 Victoria police incident reports from 2005 to 2007 revealed the device was used in push-stun in 57 per cent of all cases where police activated their Tasers. Often, it was used to get a subject already pinned to the ground to produce their hands for cuffing.

Naughton told the board that he expects the Taser policy will need to be amended again after the ongoing Braidwood inquiry into Taser use by police forces in B.C. Twelve other inquiries are ongoing or scheduled across Canada.