May 7, 2008
Neal Hall, Vancouver Sun
The mother of a Vancouver man who was jolted by a police Taser about two months ago told an inquiry Tuesday that there should be a better understanding of the mentally ill.
Cathy Gallagher recalled her 37-year-old son Chris, who is bipolar, was off his medication and became psychotic before police were called to his Kitsilano home on Feb. 24.
Chris Gallagher wouldn't open his door, so police broke it down and ordered him to get down on the floor, she said, adding her son was given a Taser jolt when he didn't comply.
He was in his own home and he was psychotic," the mother told the inquiry looking into the controversial use of Tasers, officially known as conducted energy weapons (CEWs).
"When he's psychotic, he doesn't understand who I am," she added. "So how can police expect compliance?"
Gallagher said her son, who has a master's degree, has no history of violence. She suggested the proper response was to send Car 87, which has a nurse trained in mental health issues.
"It's systemic prejudice against the mentally disabled," said Joseph Gallagher, the father of Chris and a retired English professor at Simon Fraser University.
Cathy Gallagher said the Taser incident terrified her son, who is still under psychiatric care in hospital. "He had a period when he didn't speak, which is very strange because he talks a lot."
Outside the inquiry, she told reporters there should be a moratorium on the use of Tasers.
It was the first time the inquiry had heard from family members of a person who had been subjected to a Taser jolt by police.
Earlier in the day, Dr. Christine Hall, a Victoria emergency doctor who has a research interest in in-custody deaths, produced a chart showing that while Taser use by police in B.C. has shot up to about 650 incidents in 2006 from about 150 in 2004, the number of Taser-related deaths has remained relatively stable.
There have been seven Taser-related deaths in B.C. since 2003 -- two that year, two in 2004, one in 2005 and two last year.
Over the same period, there were 20 Taser-related deaths across Canada, so about one-third were in B.C.
The reason behind those numbers needs more study, Hall said.
She said there is an overwhelming similarity to the circumstances of in-custody deaths -- the subjects are usually violent, agitated and incoherent, and an unexpected death happens in minutes.
"An acutely agitated person may be a medical emergency manifesting itself as a police call," Hall told the inquiry.
She said police need to appreciate who they are dealing with and get the person medical attention "once the person is under physical control."
Victoria police Const. Mike Massine, who is in charge of the Taser program for the Victoria police department, told the inquiry that he's uncertain if Tasers cause death.
"I think I would be negligent if I stood up here and said they don't cause death," he told inquiry commissioner Thomas Braidwood, a retired B.C. Court of Appeal judge who is conducting the first public inquiry into the controversial use of Tasers.
The officer said Victoria police have been using CEWs since 1998 and the city has not experienced a CEW-related death.
"The weapons appear safe," Massine told the inquiry, adding there may be a variety of factors involved in CEW-related deaths, such as medical conditions and the behaviour of subjects.
Massine, who has a master's degree but works on street patrol and has used CEWs 50 times, said a common misconception is that the Taser is used as a substitute for deadly force.
The CEW is an intermediate weapon within the category of bean-bag guns, police batons and anti-riot weapons that fire rubber bullets, he said.
Such weapons are used when someone is actively resisting arrest or police commands, he added.
He said he believes police do not get enough training in control tactics -- Victoria police only get eight hours each year. Massine also said Tasers are not checked to make sure they are discharging electrical current to the manufacturer's specifications.
The inquiry, which started Monday and continues today, is in its first phase of public forums, which are scheduled until May 23.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
May 7, 2008