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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Castlegar family lashes out at police after taser death

November 4, 2008
Stephane Massinon, Canwest News Service

CALGARY - The family of a man who died after Calgary police used a Taser on him over the weekend say police shouldn't be using the controversial weapon. Gordon Walker Bowe, 30, of Castlegar, was the second person to die after being Tasered by police in Alberta in less than a week.

Despite that, the province's top police officer said he's confident Alberta has some of the strictest guidelines in Canada guarding how and when electric stun guns are used on the public.

Bowe died Sunday in hospital, less than a day after a confrontation with police.

Don Miscavitch, who identified himself as Bowe's stepfather, said the number of people who have died after being stunned with a Taser should be enough to end their use by police; however, the police union said the death was unrelated to the device.

"With their records on Tasers, cops would be better off using a 9-mm. At least if they're bad shots, they wound the person, not kill them," said Miscavitch from his home in Castlegar.

Bowe died after an incident Saturday night when police were called to investigate a suspicious person and a break-in. When police arrived, they found a man in an unoccupied basement and tried to arrest him. A struggle ensued and the Taser was deployed once, said Clifton Purvis, director of the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team. After the arrest, police said he was in medical distress and was taken to hospital, where he died Sunday. An investigation into the incident is underway.

The Calgary death comes four days after Trevor Grimolfson, 38, died in Edmonton after police twice used a Taser to try to subdue him after a fight near a city pawnshop. That death is also being investigated.

Miscavitch said he didn't expect much from the investigation into Bowe's death, saying previous police investigations have not curbed the use of the high-voltage device.

Bowe, who leaves behind common-law wife Zoya Chernenkoff, young son Dawson Bowe and a stepdaughter, had come to Calgary for work as a roofer, said Miscavitch.

John Dooks, president of the Calgary Police Association, said he has spoken with the officers involved and was told the death was unrelated to the Taser. The device never jolted the man because only one prong made contact, he said. "It's the offender's actions, and his own choice of substance abuse or criminal activity, that resulted in what happened here," said Dooks.

He said an autopsy will determine the cause of death.

Alberta Solicitor General Fred Lindsay said Monday he doesn't see any need to revisit provincial Taser guidelines, introduced last December, unless independent investigations into the two recent deaths determine otherwise.

Lindsay called the two deaths "disturbing." "It's unfortunate that two people have died when they were being apprehended by police," he said Monday. "We'll see what evidence comes forward in the investigation and go forward from there."

However, Liberal justice critic Kent Hehr said the Alberta government should undertake a comprehensive Taser review. Hehr contends guidelines adopted by municipal police forces in Alberta aren't as stringent as those recommended in a report from the RCMP's watchdog.

In June, RCMP public complaints commission chairman Paul Kennedy said Mounties should limit their use of Tasers to "combative" suspects and take the weapons out of the hands of inexperienced officers.

"This is becoming a public safety concern," said Hehr, a Calgary MLA. "I realize they're an effective way for police to do policing, but we have to make sure the public is safe. I'd like to see us do our due diligence on this and it doesn't appear that we have so far."

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