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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

BC coroner's inquest into RCMP shooting recommends taser training

June 10, 2008
The Canadian Press

WILLIAMS LAKE, B.C. — Jurors at a B.C. coroner's inquest into an RCMP shooting death of an American man on the run from immigration authorities are recommending all officers be issued and trained in the use of Tasers.

Donald Dwayne Lewis, 43, died of a gunshot wound to his chest on Aug. 13, 2006 near McLeese Lake, B.C., in an altercation with an RCMP officer investigating a complaint of a man camping in the woods.

Const. Cole Brewer told the inquest he shot Lewis during a violent struggle after the man fled arrest.

Lewis was found handcuffed to a tree in the forest, where Brewer testified he had to leave him, still struggling, as he ran to find a radio signal and get help.

The inquest heard that Lewis, who had a reputation as a recluse, was camping in the woods where he was gathering firewood that he was planning to sell before winter.

After almost six hours of deliberations, the coroner's jury came back Monday evening with six recommendations, including that when responding to an area in questionable radio reception, all police vehicles should be equipped with radio repeaters.

"Availability of handheld communication is critical in rural areas," said the jury report. They recommended that policies should be amended to allow for a second RCMP officer to attend when a call comes from an area where back-up is not immediately available. When checking the registered owner of a vehicle, police should do cross-checks to identify any possible people of interest to the RCMP, the jurors recommended. The jury recommended that all officers should carry audio recorders to ensure an accurate account of events.

And they recommended training in use of the controversial Tasers. The shock weapons have come under greater scrutiny since the death of a man at Vancouver's airport last fall after being hit with an RCMP Taser.

A B.C. public inquiry is currently under way, looking first at the general use of Tasers by law enforcement and later, specifically at the death of Robert Dziekanski at the airport last October.

"The Taser, I'm a little worried about," said Linda Bush, whose son, Ian, was shot to death by a Mountie during a struggle at the RCMP detachment at Houston, B.C., located about three hours north of Prince George.

"The Taser in this case may have saved Don's life, but in other cases it causes deaths, so I think that if they are going to be issued in general the training needs to be beefed up a lot and the (Taser) company should have nothing to do with the training."

The company that makes the Taser insists there is no conclusive proof that the device has directly caused a death.

Const. Annie Linteau, an RCMP spokeswoman, said from Vancouver that the jury's recommendations will be examined. "We'll carefully review them and figure out what the next course of action should be," she said in a telephone interview from Vancouver. "We need to take the time to review all of these recommendations."

Jurors heard from 21 witnesses over six days, including Lewis's wife, Sarah.

Sarah Lewis said that the couple was in the process of getting Lewis, a U.S. citizen, legal status in Canada when he died. She described her husband as a gentle man and questioned how things escalated so quickly out of control in the rural campsite where he died. Others said Lewis had temper issues at times and would take out his anger on objects as opposed to people.

Sarah Lewis was joined in the hearing room by Linda Bush, who attended the entire inquest, which started June 2. Her son died in October 2005 after being arrested outside the Houston ice arena for holding an open bottle of beer. He was shot during a struggle with an RCMP officer in a cell at the Houston detachment. A coroner's inquest into Bush's death cleared Const. Paul Koester of wrongdoing.

Also attending the Lewis inquest was Delores Young, whose son Kevin St. Arnaud was shot in December 2004 while being chased by Mounties in Vanderhoof, located about 600 kilometres west of Prince George, B.C. Arnaud, 29, was not armed but the RCMP officer involved was cleared of wrongdoing.

Sarah Lewis did not attend the final day of the inquest. At the conclusion of the inquest, Bush left a message at Lewis's home informing her of the recommendations. She said Lewis was at a school function with one of her children in Pemberton, located just north of Whistler.

"This would have been a really difficult day for her," said Bush. "I'm rather glad she didn't come." Bush said she still firmly believes there needs to be a more independent process to investigate incidents that involve police and civilians.

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