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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Winnipeg police chief calls youth's death a 'tragedy'

July 24, 2008
CTV.ca News Staff

Winnipeg Police Chief Keith McCaskill says it's tragic a 17-year-old died shortly after being shocked with a Taser, but cautioned the circumstances around the incident are still being investigated.

"It's a very tragic, tragic event. You've got a young person who lost his life. It's something we're all concerned about," he told reporters at a press conference Thursday afternoon.

"We're anxiously awaiting the results of an autopsy. We don't have that yet. We don't know what caused the death."

Michael Langan, a Metis, may be the youngest person to die in Canada after being Tasered, according to Amnesty International. The group says at least 21 people have died after being shocked by the device since 2003.

Although autopsy results are pending, Langan's mother, Sharon Shymko, blamed the Taser on his death and called for a ban.

"He is gone. And he is gone because of that machine," she told CTV News on Wednesday.

The boy's father, Brian Minchin, said his son had a troubled life and had recently bought a knife for protection. "He used to say he wasn't going to live long, that he was going to die soon," he said. But doubted his son would have posed any threat to police officers.

The incident occurred shortly before 3:50 p.m. Tuesday when two citizens alleged they saw Langan take property from inside a car. They phoned 911 and flagged down two uniformed police officers, who confronted the youth in an alleyway.

According to McCaskill, Langan was wielding a knife at the time. Officers warned Langan several times to drop his knife before shooting him with the electronic stun gun.

An ambulance was called immediately. The boy was taken to hospital in critical condition and later died.

McCaskill said all of his officers are trained to "act appropriately using various use-of-force options," depending on the circumstances. "We have procedures and policies for activating (Tasers). It's when a suspect is acting in a violent manner perhaps, or perhaps having a weapon, or perhaps endangering himself or others," he told reporters. "There are specific rules on when those devices can be activated."

David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Metis Federation, said he was worried officers may have reacted differently because the youth was Metis.

"Excessive force seems to be used a lot more on aboriginal people than not, so that's starting to concern me," he told CTV News. "If the boy was not a Metis Nation member, would they have used the Taser?"

But McCaskill said the officers were directed to the youth after the bystanders waved them over, and likely had little time to make any such racial distinction. "I think it's too early to make any suggestions of any nature. I have respect for Mr. Chartrand, but I think we have to wait until the investigation unfolds," he said.

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