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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Police chief to discuss taser-related death

July 24, 2008
Winnipeg Free Press

Winnipeg Police Chief Ken McCaskill is slated to discuss the Taser-related death of a 17-year-old boy at a 5:15 p.m. news conference.

The Free Press is there and will report McCaskill's statement on winnipegfreepress.com.

The youth was shocked by the stun gun in a back lane behind 871 William Ave. late Tuesday afternoon. He was rushed to nearby Health Sciences Centre in critical condition and was pronounced dead.

A spokesman with Amnesty International says Langan is believed to be the youngest Canadian to die after being Tasered since 2003 -- the year the agency recorded the first death linked to the device. The group says at least 21 people in the country have died after being hit by a police Taser.

It's not known if Langan had a pre-existing medical condition or was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time. The provincial medical examiner will perform an autopsy to determine why Langan died after police shot him with a Taser.

Langan is the first person to die in Manitoba after being Tasered by a police officer.

His mother is calling for a moratorium on the weapons in the wake of her son's death. In a brief telephone interview, his aunt, Connie Langan, burst immediately into tears, saying the family has been through a lot in recent years and that her nephew's death was too much to bear. She would only say that she'll remember Michael as a "good kid" and a "good student."

Langan was joined in her St. James apartment by Langan's mother, Sharon Shymko. Shymko told CTV Winnipeg her son liked to box and dreamed of becoming a cabinet maker. "This should not have happened. My son's not here... and there's nothing else I can say," she said.

While it's not yet known whether the shock from the Taser contributed to the teen's death, Shymko said there should be a moratorium on the stun guns. "They should have just taken a gun and shot my son right there instead of using the Taser," Shymko said. "Basically it did the same thing."

Police said Wednesday the youth had been brandishing a knife in the back lane, and refused to comply with orders from two front-line officers to put it down after they encountered him.

Police elected to use their Tasers to subdue him as he posed a risk to officer and public safety. A police source said Langan also suffered a head injury in the incident. Police would not say how many Taser jolts Langan received at the hands of officers.

"They repeatedly requested that he disarm himself, and that he drop the knife -- (Langan) refused to comply with that request and at that point the electronic control device was deployed," said Const. Jacqueline Chaput.

City police did not release the youth's name. Police said a youth was identified as a suspect who allegedly stole property from a car parked at MWG Apparel at 1147 Notre Dame Ave. and fled on foot, heading northeast. The car was parked at the business Tuesday with the passenger-side window smashed out. Remnants of police fingerprinting powder remained on sections of the vehicle.

Plainclothes detectives were seen visiting businesses with security cameras along Winnipeg Avenue Wednesday afternoon, trying to map out the youth's route as he made his way toward the spot where police Tasered him.

It's believed the owner of the Lexus and a friend saw the theft taking place and followed Langan as he made his way up toward Arlington Street and William Avenue.

Witnesses said Tuesday that the teen walked through the lot of a service station on the southwest corner of the intersection and crossed the street heading east. Witnesses said the teen turned around after crossing the street and gave the occupants of the Lexus the finger as they slowly followed after him. It's believed he then cut through the backyard of 871 William Ave. where police encountered him.

Moments later, Langan was said to have brandished the knife, refused to comply with police orders to drop it, and was Tasered.

There's no question that Langan was also involved in the theft from the car, Chaput said. "Our officers are satisfied it was the same person that was involved," Chaput said.

Langan was not involved in the city's auto-theft subculture, police said. A Manitoba Justice source said Langan's court record contained four citations under the Intoxicated Persons Detention Act and he had no other criminal history.

The two officers involved in the incident are on administrative leave as detectives continue to investigate.

They are looking into the possibility that video cameras on the nearby virology lab on Arlington may have captured the incident as it unfolded.

Const. Adam Cheadle of the officer safety unit said the choice to use Tasers over a gun was the officers' decision to make based on the training they have received. "The officer would respond due to any number of things -- their perception of the incident, or threat level to themselves or another individual," he said.

The stun-gun devices carry a 50,000-volt charge, but the "peak voltage" charge, spread throughout a suspect's body, is "considerably less," Cheadle added.

It's too early in the investigation into Langan's death to determine if police policy or procedures need to be altered in any way, police said. Police use their Tasers in one of three ways: as a "coercive device" where the threat of being shocked is enough to have a suspect stand down, in a "drive stun" mode where the weapon is touched to a suspect's body to cause "pain compliance," or by "shooting" a person with the weapons, causing electrodes to contact a person and shock him or her.

In 2007, city police used their Tasers 173 times, with just under half the total being incidents where the weapon was not fired or used to shock a person. From Jan. 1 to Jun. 25 of this year, the total is 63. Again, just under half the times Tasers were used, they were used only to coerce suspects, and not deployed.

Because Langan's death was an officer-involved fatality, homicide investigators are leading the probe. Their findings will be turned over to an outside police agency for review, which will report back to Manitoba's attorney general. A mandatory inquest will then be held.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This news story mentions the usual red herrings:

"It's not known if Langan had a pre-existing medical condition or was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time. The provincial medical examiner will perform an autopsy to determine why Langan died after police shot him with a Taser."

1) If a taser is "safer then Tylenol", and 'cannot possibly affect the heart in any conceivable manner', then a pre-existing medical condition (if such a thing is found) should have no bearing.

2) If the taser is not safe for those under the influence of drugs or alcohol, then it is not safe period.

3) An autopsy cannot prove the taser to cardiac death link. There is nothing to find. The weapon would leave no significant internal signs.

Interested readers may search the blog at www.Excited-Delirium.com for more information on these topics.