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Wednesday, June 11, 2008


June 11, 2008
The Canadian Press and CBC

See CBC Report: RCMP firing Tasers multiple times at subjects, probe reveals

OTTAWA — The RCMP has repeatedly zapped people with Tasers in a steadily rising percentage of multiple-stun cases despite an internal policy that warns numerous jolts may be hazardous.

A Canadian Press CBC-Radio-Canada investigation of more than 3,200 incidents in which Mounties fired the powerful stun guns in the last six years shows that officers used the Taser multiple times in almost 43 per cent of cases.

In about one out of six incidents, the RCMP applied the stun gun three times.

In 31 cases, the suspect was zapped seven or more times.

The electronic devices can be fired from a distance and cycled repeatedly once steel probes puncture a suspect's skin or clothing. The guns can also be used multiple times in up-close stun mode, a sensation likened to leaning on a hot stove.

The findings, the most extensive public analysis of RCMP Taser use to date, come as the national police faces growing pressure to resort to the 50,000-volt weapons only when defusing serious clashes with truly violent or armed suspects.

Paul Kennedy, commissioner for complaints against the RCMP, will release a report Thursday expected to pointedly reiterate his interim call late last year for a much tighter rein on Mountie Taser use. An imminent Commons committee report is likely to echo the recommendation.

Kennedy's probe is among a flurry of investigations following public outrage over the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, who died after being stunned twice with an RCMP Taser and pinned to the floor of the Vancouver International Airport.

Dziekanski was one of more than 1,375 people the Mounties zapped repeatedly in confrontations from 2002 through 2007, the analysis shows.

In almost two-thirds of these cases, the suspect was unarmed.

About a dozen red sores covered Curtis Wasylenko's back and buttocks after he was stunned by the Mounties several times - he lost count - one night in Kelowna, B.C. A heated spat with cab company employees in November 2004 led to a parking lot confrontation. Wasylenko, then 21, says he was only defending himself from attack. When police showed up they demanded he stop struggling and threatened to Taser him.

Don't even think about it, Wasylenko told the RCMP officer.

"And the second I finished that sentence he shot me with the Taser," he recalls.

"The feeling of it, was I literally couldn't fight the shock anymore and I felt my heart boom boom, you know, all I could feel was my heart all of a sudden and it just started to slow down. It felt like I had the wind knocked right out of me, I couldn't breathe.

Wasylenko says the officer continued to Taser him as he wailed in pain. A second officer zapped him as he lay on the ground.

"I thought they were going to kill me."

The Canadian Press and CBC/Radio-Canada compiled figures from standard forms RCMP officers must file each time they pull a Taser out of its holster. Thousands of heavily censored pages - stripped of names and other identifying details - were obtained under the Access to Information Act.

The percentage of cases in which RCMP officers fired their Tasers more than once rose to a high of more than 45 per cent last year, up from 31 per cent in 2002. The pattern of increase continued even after a mid-2005 policy bulletin to Mounties that said multiple zaps from the electronic gun "may be hazardous to a subject."

Officers were advised not to cycle the Taser repeatedly against a person unless "situational factors dictate otherwise" under the force's overall policy on use of force.

The six-level police force continuum begins with officer presence and builds in intensity to verbal commands; empty-hand control techniques; use of pepper spray, batons or Tasers; less-lethal force such as weapons that fire bean bags or rubber bullets; and finally deadly force.

The RCMP had no comment on the force's increasing reliance on multiple stuns.

"At this point, there is nobody available to speak to this," said Sgt. Nathalie Deschenes, an RCMP spokeswoman.

A request last week to interview RCMP Commissioner William Elliott was refused.

In March, the force said it was confident that officers were using Tasers appropriately. The Mounties plan to issue quarterly statistical reports on stun gun firings, but have yet to do so.

Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International, said the latest findings should "be of real concern to the RCMP" due to the dangers of repeated stuns. "We have very serious concerns, because it is multiple use of a Taser which is clearly going to have the greatest possibility of leading to death or serious injury of a suspect," Neve said.

"It is therefore quite shocking to see these numbers that demonstrate that Tasers are being used multiple times on numerous occasions."

Dr. Stanley Nattel, a cardiologist at the Montreal Heart Institute, questioned whether the repeated stuns were necessary. "The longer the shocks continue the greater the direct risk of capturing the heart and causing irregular and dangerous heart rhythms," he said. "In addition, if there's an accumulation of toxic materials in the blood from the severe muscle contraction, that also can interfere with the heart's rhythm and cause problems."

Twenty people in Canada have died after being Tasered.

Manufacturer Taser International stresses that the weapons have never been directly blamed for a death, though they have been cited as contributing factors.

Dozens of Canadian police forces use the stun guns, touting them as a safer alternative to the lethal force of a conventional firearm. Critics have called for a moratorium on the electronic weapons until sufficient independent research has been completed.

Simmering controversy prompted Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day to ask Kennedy, an independent watchdog over the force, to study the RCMP's Taser use.

In an interim report last December, Kennedy cited a pattern of "usage creep" and said Tasers should be deemed impact weapons, used only when suspects are "combative" or pose a risk of "death or grievous bodily harm."

The RCMP has resisted such restrictions.

Though the RCMP forms paint an unprecedented picture of Taser use in Canada, the many deletions - to shield the privacy of those stunned and protect details of police investigations - make it difficult to clearly assess many of the incidents.

The Canadian Press and CBC complained to Information Commissioner Robert Marleau about the censored forms in late February. Marleau, struggling with a large backlog of files, has not begun looking into the complaint.

In April, the RCMP yielded to pressure from critics and disclosed more details about Taser incidents. However, the police force continues to withhold descriptive summaries of events, precise dates of firings, injuries suffered by those zapped and whether the person hit was experiencing a mental health crisis.

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