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Monday, November 03, 2008

Team called in to probe Taser use

November 3, 2008
Gwendolyn Richards, Calgary Herald

A provincial team of investigators is now examining a city Taser incident that left a break-in suspect in critical condition, as the head of Alberta's civil liberties organization calls for police to stop using the weapons.

Members of the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team were out Sunday morning at a duplex in the 500 block of 42nd Street S.E. as part of their investigation into the incident that unfolded Saturday night.

Around 8:15 that evening, a neighbour, who did not want her name published, said she noticed a stranger across the street. He ran toward the duplex, stopped and leaned on her husband's car to catch his breath.

He was incoherent when he tried to say something to her husband, who was outside their home, she said, adding she believed the stranger was high on drugs.

Her husband came inside, locked the door and called police, while the suspect went into the yard and tried to break into the family's shed.

"He was stuck in our backyard. He was trying to hide between our shed and fence," the woman said. "He wasn't interested in stealing, he was more interested in hiding away." As her husband was on the phone with police, she heard the sound of glass shattering. "He went busting through the basement window (of the other half of the duplex)," she said.

Officers found the man in the basement of the vacant home. He was reportedly agitated and not following commands, so a Taser was used. He was arrested, but then went into medical distress, said duty inspector Vic Trickett.

The man was last reported in critical condition after he was taken to hospital.

The witness said the suspect appeared to have been badly cut by the glass.

Neighbours said the family living there previously had sold the home and were preparing it for the new owners. No one was occupying the south half of the duplex at the time of the incident.

Robin Crane, who lives next door to the duplex, said she heard the sound of something dragging Saturday night, but didn't investigate.

She said the previous owners moved out at the end of August.

The Serious Incident Response Team is also investigating a Taser fatality in Edmonton last week. The team, which was launched by the province on Jan. 1, investigates incidents when the actions of officers may have seriously injured or killed a person.

On Wednesday, a 38-year-old Edmonton man died after police used a Taser on him to stop his rampage.

A Taser was fired twice, but Trevor Grimolfson continued to resist arrest before he was handcuffed and then lost consciousness, officials said. He was pronounced dead at hospital.

Calgary police officers have used Tasers since September 2005.

A report released this summer examining use-of-force showed batons cause the greatest injury, while Tasers "scored high" in safety for both officers and suspects.

The Canadian Police Research Centre report -- which examined 562 cases where Calgary police used pepper spray, batons, Tasers or other techniques against those resisting arrest -- found Tasers were used in nearly half of all resisting-arrest cases. However, only one per cent of suspects were hospitalized.

Some 87 per cent of suspects sustained minor injuries or were not injured at all.

Duty inspector Keith Cain said Taser usage is not unusual and there is a policy governing their use.

"If we have an assaultive person --they're either violent towards somebody or something, verbally indicate they're violent or do physically assault (someone) -- that's when this level of force is authorized."

The president of the Alberta Civil Liberties Association said officers should not be equipped with Tasers. "They're used as a shortcut," Stephen Jenuth said. "Too often, a Taser -- a weapon associated with serious injury or death -- is used in cases where someone is not obeying commands and co-operating."

Next month, a fatality inquiry will examine the events around the death of a Red Deer man who was shocked with a Taser in August 2006. Jason Doan, 28, died three weeks later of heart failure. The Doan family's lawyer will make submissions on how similar incidents can be prevented in the future.

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