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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Taser not to blame in suspect's death: MD

June 4, 2008
Michele Henry, Toronto Star

A Taser probably did not kill a boxer who "went crazy" in the foyer of a Brampton motel, Ontario's chief forensic pathologist said yesterday during the GTA's first inquest into a death linked to the device.

Within minutes of taking the stand, Dr. Michael Pollanen said there isn't much weight to the theory that Jerry Knight's heart stopped beating because an officer pressed a Taser to his back.

"I don't believe there's good evidence to support Tasers as a primary cause of death here," he said. "We need more research."

Pollanen, the only expert witness to testify on the inquest's first day, told a five-member jury Knight most likely died on July 17, 2004, from a lethal combination of being hogtied, face-down, on the ground while suffering from excited delirium.

Knight, 19, was found to have no vital signs only 26 minutes after he burst into the tiny foyer of the White Knight Motel, on Dixie Rd., acting erratically, pulling the fire alarm, smashing items and sending the clerk cowering into a corner.

Despite widespread controversy over use of the term, Pollanen believes excited delirium is an accurate description of Knight's frenzied mental state when he used his fists and teeth to resist arrest by up to 20 officers. People with ED exhibit extreme agitation, superhuman strength, paranoia and resistance to pain, he said. In Knight's case, neither pepper spray nor a Taser blast could subdue him.

Research and anecdotal evidence suggest that when people suffering from ED die in the care of police, Pollanen said, it is usually while they are restrained in a prone position with pressure on their chest that restricts breathing.

Evidence that suggests Knight's sudden death could have occurred without the Taser included pinpoint hemorrhaging in the whites of his eyes, caused when pressure is applied to the chest or neck; bruises; a fractured tooth; cocaine, known to cause ED, in his blood; and marks on his wrists and ankles.

Pollanen suggested that changing a restrained suspect's position, from prone to tipped on their side, might reduce the risk of death.

Crown attorney Michael Blain said police are expected to testify at the inquest about how officers are trained to use Tasers.

The inquest continues today.

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