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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Boy, 17, died in taser incident

July 23, 2008
Winnipeg Sun

The person who died in a Taser-related incident in Winnipeg's inner-city was a 17-year-old boy who police said stole something from a vehicle moments earlier.

It's still not known what killed the unidentified boy. An autopsy is being performed today to determine the cause of death.

It's the first such fatality in Winnipeg.

Police said two people who watched the theft, which happened in the 1100 block of Notre Dame Avenue, followed the boy up Arlington Street to William Avenue, where they flagged down a passing police car.

The officers approached the boy, who police said was armed with a knife, in the alley behind the 800 block of William Avenue, next to the national microbiology lab.

Police said the boy refused the officers' demands to drop the knife, so one of the officers fired his Taser. Police would not say where the probes struck the boy or if he was zapped more than once.

The boy fell to the ground and was unresponsive, so the officers requested paramedics and tried to revive him. The boy was taken by ambulance to Health Sciences Centre, where he was pronounced dead shortly after the 4 p.m. incident.

The officers, members of general patrol in downtown Division 11, are on administrative leave.

Police said the homicide unit is investigating, which is standard protocol in an officer-involved shooting or fatality. Once complete, their investigation will be given to an outside police agency for review and then to Manitoba Justice.

A provincial inquest is mandatory in these cases and will be held at some point in the future, a justice official said.

Police use the X26 Taser model.

At this point, the city, province and police service are awaiting the outcome of the police investigation before determining whether reviews of police Taser-use in Winnipeg and Manitoba are necessary.

The head of a city hall committee overseeing police matters says his confidence in Tasers has not wavered in the wake of yesterday's incident.

Coun. Gord Steeves, chair of the protection and community services committee, said Tasers remain a valuable tool for city police officers and alternative to firearms in volatile situations.

"We only hope that at the end of the day it comes out that our people followed protocol and did what was reasonable in the circumstances, and this comes out to be a tragedy but an accidental tragedy," Steeves said today.

Following a Taser-related death at Vancouver's airport last fall, city hall's protection committee had the police service review its Taser policy. The report was released in March and found nothing abnormal or alarming about Taser use or the policy.

Steeves said Taser use by Winnipeg police is consistent with police in other major cities in Canada.

City police deployed their Tasers 173 times last year and, as of June 25, 63 times in 2008.

It's believed there has never been a substantiated allegation of misuse or abuse of force.

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