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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Review held on use of stun gun during NS medical emergency

September 24, 2008
The Canadian Press

HALIFAX — Paramedics were discussing a glucose injection to calm a struggling diabetic when police in Amherst, N.S., caught them off guard by jolting their patient with a stun gun, the director of the province's emergency services said Tuesday.

Dr. Andrew Travers, the medical director of Emergency Health Services, said the paramedics would have advised against using a stun gun on the man if local police had asked. "The paramedics would come back and say there's other ways we can approach this," he said in an interview.

Details of the incident on Sept. 14 emerged Tuesday after the man's wife told the Amherst Daily News that she grew concerned for her husband when she couldn't wake him up, so she checked his blood sugar and found it was low. She called 911 when the 34-year-old man started coughing and was having difficulty breathing. As he awoke, he wouldn't let the paramedics administer an intravenous, so they asked police officers who had been sent to the home to help.

"I left the room because it was very crowded and I was upset," the woman, whose name was withheld, told the Amherst Daily News. "All of a sudden I heard the officers telling him they were going to Tase him. I ran down the hall yelling to them, 'He doesn't understand,' but they zapped him anyway. "I told them to get out of my house. They stood in the hallway for a while and then left. After that an IV was put in."

Travers said that the two paramedics called the emergency medical centre in Halifax to indicate the 220-pound man was difficult to approach. The centre sent a team of three officers to assist.

Deputy chief Ian Naylor of the Amherst police force said when the officers arrived, the man wouldn't allow the paramedics to apply the IV, so two officers held his arms and a third sat on his legs. When he struggled, one of the officers fired the stun gun for one second into the man's abdomen, said Naylor.

The police decision to use the device came moments after the paramedics said they were giving up on the IV, said Travers. "They couldn't put an intravenous in because he was moving around too much. So the paramedics said, 'Can we give this alternative therapy?' and as they were saying this the police made the decision to Taser the patient," Travers said.

They decided to use a needle to treat the man instead, he added. "When they realized that an IV wasn't going to work, the paramedics had realized that an injection by a small needle might reverse the process." After the needle was administered, the man's blood sugars rose, and he calmed down, said Travers.

The paramedics then provided the man with several tablets to raise his blood sugar levels and they stayed with him for about an hour. He decided not to go to the hospital.

Naylor said a full internal review will be completed on the incident and the statements by the paramedics will be taken into account. "I'm not aware of that specific information, but part of our internal review of the process would be to obtain information from the Emergency Medical Service they might have," he said.

Naylor said officers only applied the stun gun when they felt he was a danger to himself or others. "The officers did apply physical restraint. That included three police officers. There was one officer at each shoulder and one on the legs," he said. "Because of the man size and strength they couldn't control him. The third officer on the officer's legs was literally picked up in the air."

Naylor said the officers considered other options, and decided the one-second "touch stun" would be the most effective. Naylor said every incident involving a stun gun is reviewed.

Meanwhile, the man's wife said her husband bit off part of his tongue during the incident and couldn't walk for three days. "I am very upset and feel he was Tasered for no reason. It was cruel for them to do that considering the state he was in," she said. The woman said her husband is a big man but is not a risk to anyone. "The scream that came out of my husband when he was Tasered was the worst thing I have heard in my life."

Dr. Mark Kroll, the head of the medical advisory committee at Taser corporation, said the use of the device by the police may have been the best choice. "If somebody has significantly low blood sugar, and its so low they're not functioning, they need to be taken under control so their life can be saved," he said in a telephone interview.

Kroll noted that using a Taser wouldn't have any impact on the diabetes itself.

"The alternatives are clubbing, pepper spraying and wrestling. ... It would appear to me that the electronic control device would be the safer approach because it resolves the conflict most quickly."

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