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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

'How do I tell my kids they have no dad?'

November 5, 2008
Stephane Massinon, Calgary Herald

Gordon Walker Bowe had packed his bags, called his loved ones and was supposed to be leaving Calgary on a bus Saturday night bound for his home in Castelgar, B.C.

It was the last time they would ever hear his voice.

Today, Bowe's family is in Calgary trying to figure out what happened in the hours between that phone call and his unexplained death after he was arrested by police, who used a Taser.

They want to know what role the officers played in his death, regardless of whether the stun gun was to blame.

"It doesn't make any sense," said Zoya Chernenkoff, 23, who lived with Bowe for three years, raising two children together. "How do I tell my kids they have no dad?"

On Saturday, police were called to investigate a break and enter in southeast Calgary. They found a suspect, later identified as Bowe, in an unoccupied basement on 42nd Street S.E.

A Taser was deployed once, though it is not clear if it delivered a charge.

Bowe was arrested after a struggle with officers. When police noticed he was in medical distress, he was rushed to hospital. He died Sunday afternoon.

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team is investigating the incident.

Although the case has garnered attention because of the controversy over Tasers, Chernenkoff and her father, John Chernenkoff, don't think that is what lead to his demise.

From what they've heard from doctors and the serious incident investigators, what they know of Bowe and what they've seen in hospital, they believe an inappropriate use of force by police is to blame.

The Chernenkoffs noticed significant bruising on Bowe's face, neck, legs, feet and inside his hands.

"Investigators said when police got on scene, Gordon was co-operative and submissive," said John.

He alleges the police did something to change that.

"Gordon has no defensive wounds, no bruising on his hands. If he was in a scuffle with police, there would have been some bruising," he claimed.

The Chernenkoffs allege it was police action that caused his death.

Bowe had no medical conditions that may have played a role, Zoya said.

Doctors told them there was no sign of contact with a Taser, she noted. They were also told there were trace amounts of marijuana and another, unspecified drug in his system.

The Calgary Police Service said it is unable to comment on these allegations because the matter is under investigation by an independent organization.

Calgary Police Association president John Dooks said the officers issued verbal warnings to the man, tried and failed with the Taser and then had to confront him in the vacant basement.

"There is no question, the police were forced to engage in a violent, physical struggle with this individual who, as I as a lay person describe, (was) in a state of delirium," said Dooks.

"It's unfortunate there was a struggle (but) there was an attempt for a lesser use of force was used. However, that failed and officers did have to engage in hand-to-hand combat with a person who was actively, forcefully resisting," he said.

Dooks said there would be injuries and bruising and he was told by the officers involved that Bowe was actively resisting arrest. Police said it seemed he was trying to escape, he said.

Clifton Purvis, director of the Serious Incident Response Team, said the autopsy was scheduled for Tuesday. The results, including toxicology tests, will take weeks, he added.

"It would be inappropriate to comment on the actions of police officers at this time," said Purvis. "That's what our goal is, to examine the actions of the police officers and determine what their conduct was, whether it was appropriate or inappropriate."

He said the team is made up of civilian investigators and seconded police officers who report to him, not their police chiefs.

"I can tell you it will be independent because I'm heading the investigation, reviewing the investigation, and I'm the one deciding whether charges should be laid against police officers or not," said Purvis. "I'm not a police officer. I'm a lawyer with the prosecution service and I'm not beholden to anybody," he said.

Zoya and her father say Bowe may have occasionally used drugs and had trouble with the law in the past.

Zoya did not want to elaborate on the legal troubles, but John said investigators told him about Bowe's behaviour during past arrests.

"Investigators said they looked at his previous records and this is not common for him. Whenever he was confronted before, he was always co-operative and it wasn't a problem," he said.

The pair hope for an unbiased investigation and that charges will be laid if appropriate. They are looking for a lawyer for possible legal action.

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