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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Front-line police should have taser: Ontario coroner's jury

June 13, 2008
Jordana Huber , Canwest News Service

Brampton, Ont. - Jurors at an Ontario coroner's inquest into the death of a 29-year-old man in police custody recommended Friday the provincial government consider authorizing all front-line officers either to carry or have access to a Taser.

Jerry Knight, a former amateur boxer, died in the summer of 2004 less than 30 minutes after police were called to a Mississauga motel lobby by a clerk reporting an unruly guest.

High on cocaine and acting erratically, officers used pepper spray and eventually a Taser to try and subdue Knight who died after loosing consciousness while lying on his stomach, hog-tied in handcuffs.

The five-person jury ruled Knight's death a homicide - a finding of fact rather than guilt, as coroner's inquests do not assign blame.

Knight died of restraint asphyxia with cocaine related "excited delirium," according to a coroner's report.

A highly controversial term, excited delirium is not recognized by the American Medical Association but has been listed by coroners as a cause of death in people restrained by police during an altercation - whether or not a Taser is used.

Associated with individuals who have taken drugs, alcohol or have a mental illness, it can trigger agitation, super-human strength and can lead to sudden death according to experts who testified during the two-week inquest.

Ron Ellis, a lawyer for Knight's family, said using a Taser to immediately subdue the 29-year-old may have prevented the ensuing melee that involved more than 20 officers.

Tasers are only carried in Ontario by police sergeants and emergency task force officers under current provincial legislation.

A spokeswoman for the province's minister of community safety and correctional services said there are no plans to amend the current rules to allow front-line officers to carry Tasers.

The jury recommended police reinforce through training the risk of death associated with hog-tying restraints which experts testified makes it difficult for a subject's diaphragm to move when they are lying on the ground.

They also recommended officers be trained to recognize the risk of death associated excited delirium and a dispatch code be created to alert officers and paramedics they are dealing with a suspected case.

Coroners' inquests in B.C. and Ontario have previously recommended Tasers for all officers as a non-lethal option to rapidly defuse volatile situations.

But critics charge research is still out on whether they are safe.

The debate was brought to the fore last fall when Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski died at Vancouver International Airport following an encounter with RCMP who used a Taser on him.

Several probes into the use of Tasers were launched following the incident, captured on video, including a coroner's inquest currently underway.

Paul Kennedy, chair of The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP is also expected to make public his final report on Tasers next week after delaying its release Thursday.

In an interim report released in December, Kennedy called on Mounties to immediately restrict - but not suspend - the use of Tasers citing concerns they were increasingly being deployed in situations where individuals were not being actively resistant or combative.

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