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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

[Braidwood] Inquiry becomes a lightning rod for complaints of taser abuse

June 4, 2008
The Canadian Pre4ss

VANCOUVER — Germain Quesnel sat in an RCMP cell for an hour, believing he was having a heart attack.

He had just received two blasts from a police Taser to his chest because Staff Sgt. Lorne Malkoske said he wouldn't move away from the cell door. Quesnel, who had had two previous heart attacks, asked for his nitroglycerin medication but officers believed he was just trying to get out of jail.

An hour later he was taken to hospital where doctors confirmed he'd had a heart attack.

The report of Quesnel's Tasering is given in RCMP and complaints commission documents submitted to a B.C. public inquiry into the use of Tasers.

"I sincerely apologize to you for his actions. Your concerns were raised with (Malkoske) and he was told that his conduct was not acceptable. He has assured me this will not reoccur," said a letter sent to Quesnel from a senior RCMP officer about the March 2003 incident.

That letter is now among dozens of submissions to the B.C. inquiry. It was submitted by another man who says the same staff sergeant assaulted him with a Taser two months later.

In his submission, Phil Spicer admits he was drunk when police squeezed his 6' 5", 275-pound frame into the back of a police car.

But it was the way the Richmond, B.C., RCMP staff sergeant attempted to get Spicer, 58, out of the vehicle that set off Spicer's four-year crusade over alleged police misuse of Tasers.

With his hands cuffed behind his back, Spicer was shocked eight times while lodged in the back of a police cruiser by Malkoske.

"In view of my client's size and inability to get into the small back seat ... it would have been prudent to call a paddy wagon to transport him," explained Spicer's lawyer Wayne Guinn in a letter to Richmond RCMP.

"The problem arose when officers tried to fit too big an object into too small a place ... they created the trouble."

Spicer's lengthy submission includes police reports, a letter from the RCMP Public Complaints Commission and his allegations of excessive force in a B.C. Supreme Court lawsuit, as well as details of Quesnel's ordeal.

His story is among about three dozen sent to the Taser inquiry in B.C. from people who feel police abused their authority by using the weapon as a compliance device.

Neither Malkoske nor Quesnel could be located for comment.

Former B.C. Appeal Court justice Thomas Braidwood is conducting a two-part inquiry at the behest of the B.C. government following the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver Airport last October.

Braidwood has already held public hearings for the first phase of his inquiry and a report is expected later this year. The second phase of the inquiry, looking specifically at Dziekanski's death, will begin when other investigations are complete.

Some 2,800 Tasers are being used by more than 9,100 RCMP members across the country. Municipal and provincial police forces, correctional officers and, in the case of Vancouver, transit police, also use conductive energy weapons.

Mounties have wielded the electronic guns over 3,000 times since their introduction in December 2001. Dziekanski was the 18th person in Canada to die following a Taser strike.

Lorraine McLeod of Edmonton wrote to the inquiry about her nephew.

"I believe the Taser weapon is in the hands of police officers who are not trained to its lethal force," she said.

Taser International maintains that the weapon itself is not lethal. The question is one that will be examined by the commission.

McLeod's nephew Jason Doan, 28, stopped breathing after he was shocked three times by a Taser by Red Deer RCMP in August 2006. He died a few weeks later in hospital.

"This tragedy with my nephew Jason happened to a man who needed help not death," she stated.

Police responded to a report of a man smashing car windows and said they used the Taser after an officer was it with the wooden handle from a pitchfork.

Alison Beil wrote to the commission to say her son was "tortured" when the University of Victoria student was awoken by Saanich Police in his home and jolted five times.

And Margaret Hantuik told the commission that she called Victoria police herself when she was worried her son could hurt himself. The Grade 12 student, who has Asperger's Syndrome, a highly functioning form of autism, was stressed from exams and in a manic state.

The slight, 125-pound teen was already in the hospital when police officers used the Taser.

"I strongly believe my son was Tasered for expediency. The officers wanted to get on their way," she wrote to the commission.

"How could three strong, middle-aged officers not have held a slight, terrified lad, calmed him a bit and then shut the door?" she asked.

RCMP have come under fire almost as much for their handling of complaints about Taser use as they have for the deployment of the weapons.

According to the documents provided to the inquiry, Spicer's lawyer attempted to get the information off the Taser that would indicate when and how many times it was used.

But police said the battery had malfunctioned for the recorded information in the Taser and the data wasn't available.

A police video tape of the incident shows Spicer right up to the moments before he was shocked, then the video turns to snow. RCMP said there was a camera breakdown.

"I find Staff Sergeant Malkoske did not use excessive force when dealing with you and therefore cannot support your complaint," RCMP Supt. Ward Clapham concluded in a letter to Spicer submitted to the inquiry.

Brooke McNabb, a vice-chairman of the RCMP Public Complaints Commission, disagreed.

"I found that Staff Sgt. Malkoske did use excessive force in applying the Taser to Mr. Spicer," his letter stated.

He recommended Malkoske be provided with "operational guidance relating to RCMP policy on conducted energy weapons," and that he apologize to Spicer.

Almost four years after the incident, Beverley Busson, who went on to become a commissioner of the RCMP, sent a letter to Spicer saying Malkoske had retired and apologizing on his behalf.

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