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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Taser case mystery

July 24, 2008
Winnipeg Sun

Answers months away in what killed shocked teen

It may be months before authorities understand what killed a 17-year-old male who was shocked with a Taser by a Winnipeg police officer Tuesday, the province's chief medical examiner said yesterday.

An autopsy was done but additional tests will be required to try to determine a conclusive cause of death, said Dr. Thambirajah Balachandra.

Police spokeswoman Const. Jacqueline Chaput didn't know if the teen had an existing medical condition or was intoxicated.

The Taser-related fatality is the first in Manitoba.


The teen's family identified him as Michael Langan. His mother, Sharon Shymko, told CTV Winnipeg her son liked to box and wanted to become a cabinet maker.

"This shouldn't have happened," she said. Shymko said there should be a moratorium on police use of stun guns. "They might as well have just took a gun and shot my son right there instead of using the Taser," she said. "Basically it did the same thing."

Despite the incident, Winnipeg police are standing by the device. Const. Adam Cheadle, the service's use of force co-ordinator, said the device is safe and in the league of pepper spray or a baton, if used properly. All officers are trained to use them in circumstances, which unfold in seconds, when they or someone else is threatened, he said.

After a recent review, Chief Keith McCaskill said Tasers are an adequate intermediate weapon.

TASER International is standing by its products. "Until all the facts surrounding this tragic incident are known, it is inappropriate to jump to conclusions on the cause of death," the company said in a statement.

Chaput said the youth was shocked after he refused two officers' repeated demands to drop a knife. One of the officers fired his X26E model Taser, but police would not say where the probes struck the teen or how many times he was zapped.

Before the incident, he smashed the passenger side window of a Lexus car, parked at MWG Apparel Corp. at 1147 Notre Dame Ave., and stole something, police allege. Two witnesses followed the youth on foot to William Avenue and Arlington Street, where they flagged down officers.


The teen was holding a knife when the officers approached him in the alley between the 800-block of William Avenue and the national microbiology lab, Chaput said.

He was unresponsive on the ground after he was shocked, so the officers called for paramedics, Chaput said. He was taken by ambulance to Health Sciences Centre, just a few blocks away, where he was pronounced dead shortly after the 4 p.m. incident.

The two officers, with general patrol in downtown Division 11, are on paid administrative leave. Chaput said the homicide unit is investigating, which is standard protocol. Once complete, their investigation will be given to an outside police agency for review and then to Manitoba Justice. A provincial inquest is mandatory.

Representatives of the province have not said if it will do its own review of Tasers.

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