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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tasers too much trouble

December 17, 2008
Ryan Cormier, The Edmonton Journal

EDMONTON - Some Edmonton police officers have chosen not to carry Tasers because of the controversy the weapons attract, despite believing the devices are valuable tools.

While testifying as a witness in a disciplinary hearing for two other officers, Const. Mike Wasylyshen said he has stopped carrying a Taser because of past criticisms.

In April 2004, Wasylyshen helped arrest a suspect after a lengthy car chase. While two other officers face disciplinary charges for using their Tasers that night, Wasylyshen chose not to use his.

"I had some bad luck with a Taser incident in 2002, to be honest," the officer said when asked why he didn't draw the Taser he had that night. "Using it would have been practical, it would have been justified. I just didn't utilize it. It would be a hassle for me to use it."

Wasylyshen said he has since turned in his Taser and has not requested another one.

In October 2002, Wasylyshen used a Taser to wake up Randy Fryingpan, 16, who was passed out in a car. The incident was heavily criticized and a judge later threw out a charge against Fryingpan.

Const. Darryl Fox, one of the officers facing a disciplinary charge for using excessive force, said he agrees with his fellow officers' opinions, even though he supports the Taser itself. It is the debate after its use that makes him wary.

"The Taser is an effective, life-saving tool that is beneficial to law enforcement," Fox testified. "However, I concur with Const. Wasylyshen in that I will likely never carry one again."

The two officers are not alone. Others avoid carrying Tasers to eliminate possible public complaints or disciplinary hearings that can shadow an officer's career for years.

Det. Shawna Goodkey trained many current officers on Taser use and said Monday that other officers have made the same decision as Wasylyshen and Fox. "There have been officers who don't want to carry a Taser because they don't want to be placed in a controversial situation," she testified.

Some officers believe that every time a Taser is pulled, rightly or wrongly, an internal investigation into their conduct could follow, Goodkey said.

Fox and Const. Ryan Sparreboom are currently facing charges of unnecessary force for an October 2004 incident in which each fired a Taser at Hector Jara, who was standing next to a car he had stolen.

Jara has said he did not receive any major injury from the Taser strikes.

Last October, a national furor arose when Mounties used a Taser on Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, who was upset and confused at the Vancouver airport.

The incident was captured on video, and Dziekanski later died.

Last week, the Crown announced that the four RCMP officers involved will not be charged.

Since the EPS began using Tasers in 2001, four people have died after arrests that involved use of the weapon. In three of those, fatality inquiries determined the Taser did not directly contribute to the death.

The fourth case is still under investigation.

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