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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Tasering of mom with baby 'necessary,' police say

September 27, 2008
Gerry Bellett, Vancouver Sun

VANCOUVER - Vancouver police are defending a decision by officers to Taser a 16-year-old mother who wouldn't hand her baby over to social workers last Monday, saying the officers were afraid to engage in a tug of war with the mother for what they said was a critically ill baby.

However, the great-grandmother of one-month-old Taige said Friday the baby boy was not critically ill.

Doreen Duncan said she saw the baby and his parents -- her grandson Scott Michell, 17, and Misha Peterson, 16, -- the night before the Taser incident.

"They came to my house and I fed the baby and Misha burped him and they were real happy," Duncan said.

"The baby was born with a minor brain condition and they'd checked him out the week before, and the baby was fine. They were told that a scan would be done when the baby gets older and other than that, everything was normal," she said.

Police spokeswoman Const. Jana McGuinness said social workers had come to apprehend the child so he could be taken to hospital and called for police assistance when the mother refused to give the baby up.

"Our members found it necessary to Taser a mentally distraught teenager to save the life of her baby," McGuinness said.

"They felt it was critical for them to intervene as they were afraid the child might be smothered, and they applied the Taser to her arm and upper back and she released the child," she said.

"We couldn't risk a tug of war or a physical struggle with the mother over the child," McGuinness said, adding that the officers were afraid such a struggle would injure the baby.

Duncan said Michell and Peterson had known each other for three years and that Peterson was living in a Vancouver group home. Michell had quit school after the baby was born and had found a job, she said.

It appears that when Peterson didn't report back to the group home with the baby Sunday evening, social workers and the police came looking for her, Duncan said.

"They phoned me and said it was a missing persons case and I told them that everything was fine and that they would likely be at Scott's place," she said.

"Then Scott called later and told me they'd Tasered Misha. They had told him to leave the room and Misha had asked him not to because she was afraid they were going to take the baby. She's never been separated from the baby since it was born," Duncan said.

Negotiations for release of the child had gone on for three hours when the officers intervened, McGuinness said.

"We're talking about a critically ill baby. The actions of the mother led us to believe the baby might be smothered," McGuinness said.

"This is a situation we never want to see -- a mother being separated from her child,"It's traumatic when we use force and we use care, especially when we are dealing with a distraught young mother. The last thing we want to do is use force on a child," she said.

"Some people might criticize our decision, but there was a child's life in the balance here."

But Duncan said the police were wrong to Taser the girl.

"She didn't want to let go of the baby. I don't know why they did that to her. She's a good mother and to get Tasered while she had the baby in her arms -- she's still got the marks on her neck," Duncan said.

Duncan said she saw the couple Thursday evening and both were withdrawn and upset.

"She's quiet and missing the baby. She wanted to know when she's getting the baby back and she's been told she'll only get it back when she earns it.

"How do you earn a baby? She's been told its coming up in court Monday, so now she's concerned they want to keep it," Duncan said.

The incident occurred at a time when police use of Tasers is being questioned across North America following a number of high-profile incidents in which the electrical device was used and victims died.

McGuinness said the incident will be the subject of an internal review.

"We do that on all incidents in which force has been used," she said.

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