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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Language help came too late for taser victim

March 30, 2008
The Canadian Press

OTTAWA -- A border services officer who spoke a few words of Robert Dziekanski's native tongue may have come within minutes of helping avert the Polish immigrant's death, newly released documents show.

Dziekanski died in the wee hours of Oct. 14 after the RCMP zapped the 40-year-old with a Taser and pinned him to the floor of the Vancouver International Airport.

Police fired the stun gun less than 30 seconds after arriving on the scene of a sweaty, agitated Dziekanski tossing furniture in frustration following more than nine hours in the airport.

Internal documents and accompanying security camera video of Dziekanski provide fresh glimpses into the confusing sequence of events that led up to the tragedy.

Citing ongoing investigations into Dziekanski's death, the Canada Border Services Agency declined to be interviewed about what happened at the airport or to make employees who were present that night available for comment.

But the records, obtained from the CBSA by The Canadian Press and CBC under the Access to Information Act, help flesh out a series of encounters with several border staffers.

On the video, Dziekanski at first resembles any other first-time visitor to a foreign country. He can be seen calmly pulling his rollaway luggage through airport corridors -- a striking contrast with the turmoil that would soon ensue.

Officer's recollection

Border Services officer Adam Chapin was called upon to help Dziekanski about 90 minutes before the shooting as the befuddled newcomer, who spoke almost no English, tried to navigate his way through a maze of airport procedures.

"The client appeared dishevelled, his hair was uncombed and his shirt was untucked,'' Chapin wrote in a two-page account of his dealings with the Polish man.

Dziekanski had already spent several hours in the CBSA's arrival hall. He was unaware that his mother Sofia, who had travelled from Kamloops, could not enter the secure area to greet him.

She returned home after being unable to find her son.

Dziekanski eventually continued on through customs and to an immigration desk so his landing documents could be processed.

His dream of reuniting with family in a vast and mysterious country he had only read about appeared a step closer.

A phone message was left for his family in Kamloops, and there was a check of the public area to see if anyone was waiting for him. No interpreter was available. Chapin, who spoke a bit of Polish, helped a fellow officer approve Dziekanski's documents.

A short time later Chapin was handling passengers arriving from Mexico when he noticed Dziekanski sitting down. He approached the bewildered passenger and offered some help.

"I again explained to the subject that he was done and he could go. He said, `OK, good' (in Polish).''

Chapin noted that Dziekanski "did stumble at one point but was able to steady himself'' with his luggage cart and walk the remaining steps to the final customs checkpoint without difficulty.

He then helped the Polish man find his declaration card, which he had tucked inside a bag, and coded the card accordingly.

"I wished the subject goodnight and he wished me goodnight and said thank you,'' Chapin recalled.

"The client never exhibited any hostile or angry behaviour while I or any other officer dealt with him. The client was thankful for the help.''

Just after 2 a.m., Chapin was packing up for the night when he answered a call from Dziekanski's mother, looking for Robert from Poland. He assured Sofia he knew her son, that he was about to leave, and would look for him on the way out.

"I told her that if I did find him I would bring him to the immigration office so that he could call her back.''

Chapin began combing through the airport welcoming hall. When he saw no sign of him, he approached a Mountie.

"I told him I was trying to pass on a message. The RCMP officer then took me inside to get some details.

"It is at this point that I observed the subject on the floor by the visitors' booth being attended to by paramedics."

About 30 seconds later, they pronounced Dziekanski dead, Chapin wrote.

"I then assisted the RCMP in locating his documents from the subject's bags.''

An account prepared by the evening's acting superintendent said Dziekanski was "assisted beyond the normal level of client processing.''

He was given five or six glasses of water. His luggage was retrieved for him. Staff helped find his documents. Numerous attempts were made to contact his family. He was assisted to the exit. And once his family reached staff by phone, there was an effort to locate him.

CBSA review

In November, the CBSA announced several steps including a review of services to international travellers, installation of more cameras in the agency's area of the Vancouver airport, consideration of additional patrols and security checks, and changes to ensure people report for secondary examination within a reasonable time.

Walter Kosteckyj, a lawyer for the Dziekanski family, says the agency's efforts lacked overall co-ordination.

"Clearly here was a guy that was totally lost and no one decided to track someone down that could actually help him,'' Kosteckyj said.

"How is it that when you let a guy go, finally, and he is clearly lost and doesn't want to leave that there is no one you can turn him over to?

"There is nowhere to turn over a lost soul, because that is what he was.''

After speaking with Chapin, the RCMP did not call Dziekanski's mother to relay the awful news.

She returned to the Vancouver airport from Kamloops late the next morning. Upon hearing of Robert's death, she fell to the floor and cried.

Kosteckyj says the RCMP didn't tell her the whole story. She went back to Kamloops not knowing how her son died, later learning of the Taser shock from a television report.

Kosteckyj says five months after the terrible psychological blow, Sofia is not doing well.

"She is unable to work. And it appears from everything that I have seen so far, that it's very unlikely that she is going to recover.''

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Man dies in Indiana after police use taser on him

March 29, 2008

Henry O. Bryant, 35, unarmed

Friday, March 28, 2008

EDITORIAL: Trusting the use of tasers

March 28, 2008
Barrie Examiner

Whether Canadian police officers should have Tasers or not isn't the issue. The issue is how they are used. This question came to a head last year when a Polish man died after a Taser was used on him at Vancouver airport. A partial video of this incident convinced many Canadians that using a Taser was not required in this situation.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have since been criticized for removing details about Taser firings from their public reports - due to what has become an on-going controversy. Ontario Provincial Police say a report is filed every time a Taser is fired by an officer, but OPP won't release any statistics because they say it's an operational issue.

So the police, or at least the OPP and Mounties, aren't helping their cause by being secretive, even obstructive, about Taser use. And the public perception is that if it appears efforts are being made to hide information, then it is being hidden for a reason.

In this case, that reason would appear to be that the police don't want the public to know about how officers use their Tasers. But reality and perception are often different, and our police often have a way of keeping certain information close to the vest - even though releasing it would do them no harm.

It's also instructive to look at the Taser situation from a police perspective. When the Taser was introduced by police about four years ago, the explanation was that it would be used when a less-than-lethal dose of force is required. Police said (and presumably still say) that Tasers work better than pepper spray and/or police batons.

Suspects who are combative, emotionally disturbed or have been using alcohol or illegal drugs are examples of persons police may use Tasers against. The idea is that not only is using a Taser safer for police officers and any other nearby civilians during an incident, but safer for the suspect, as well.

A Taser fires two probes, attached by wires to a hand-held unit, which sends out a current that overpowers the body's normal electrical signals. This over-rides the central nervous system and causes an involuntary muscle contraction, causing the suspect to collapse.

Police say that in 95 per cent of cases, the suspect is incapacitated and on the ground in one second.

The Taser isn't supposed to cause heart problems or pacemaker failure, nerve or muscle damage. But there can be minor skin irritation, temporary blisters, redness or even minor bleeding, if the probes puncture skin. It is, however, a weapon for police. It is not unlike a gun, a baton or pepper spray. And as Barrie Police Chief Wayne Frechette says, "no weapon is without risk."

Like other police weapons, questions surround when it should be used. And it's an old question with police; just what is sufficient force during an arrest or to ensure public safety? There are always questions when a police weapon is used, especially a gun. And there always should be. If our police are to have weapons like Tasers, doesn't the public need to trust that officers will use them appropriately? Otherwise, take them away.

Toronto cops back tasers

March 28, 2008

Tasers are a safe, less deadly way to deal with violent suspects, a Toronto police union official told commissioners after opponents yesterday sought a ban or reduced use of the electric stun guns. "Contrary to the media hype and disinformation, Tasers are a safe and effective direct use of force," George Tucker told the Toronto Police Services Board.

The Toronto Police Association director said there has been "not one single death in Canada from the direct use of a Taser."

After public lobbyists and several board members queried why zappings ranged from "pain compliance" to stun mode, Tucker told the Sun use of force is a last resort, depending on circumstances. Tasers are fired either in response to obvious danger or after efforts to calm a suspect fail and they become agitated, posing a physical threat to themselves or others including police, he said in an interview. Most people don't realize if the ETF is called, "the scene has already escalated to very serious."

Defenders have insisted deaths from a Taser would be instantaneous and those who died had other conditions.

Opponents told the board fears increased after the death of a man the RCMP zapped in October at Vancouver airport.

"There is a lot of confusion about what it is and the circumstances of their use," said Tan Goossen, of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations. "What is the criteria for officers to use them?"

Graeme Norton, of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, demanded an independent body review of all stun gun use plus restrictions for their use only to stop "serious, imminent threat and peril to life." In a letter, Andrew Buxton, head of the local Amnesty International branch, demanded "a moratorium on Taser use."

Since their introduction here and elsewhere, Buxton said police shootings have dropped, but Taser use has risen as officers get into the "habit" of using them.

Blair wants the province to change regulations to permit Tasers for all front-line officers. It has 454 of the 50,000 volt, hand-held devices, which are issued only to trained supervisors and Emergency Task Force (ETF) officers, he told the board. "They are always trained to use the use-of-force option that is ... less lethal."

Tasers were used in 368 cases last year -- the largest number 52 times in Parkdale and 43 in downtown Toronto. Scarborough ranked highest as a district for Taser use.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

11-year-old girl tasered in Florida

March 27, 2008
ABC News

ORLANDO -- An Orange County deputy tasered an 11-year-old girl after she punched the deputy in the nose. It happened Thursday at Moss Park Elementary School in Orlando.

Deputies say the girl pushed another student into oncoming traffic. A teacher approached the girl, but she walked away. In homeroom, the girl became violent, yelling and spitting at other teachers, according to reports. A school resource officer was called in to remove the student, who punched her in the face, causing her nose to bleed. The deputy fought back by shocking the girl with her Taser gun.

The sheriff's office says the deputy may have suffered a broken nose.

The girl was taken to a juvenille detention center and faces charges of battery on a law enforcement officer, disrupting a school function, and resisting with violence.

Liberal MP says Mounties should speed up taser document review

March 27, 2008
The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — The Liberal public safety critic says the RCMP should accelerate its plan to consider releasing more information about Taser use. The Mounties have launched a review, expected to take two weeks, to see if additional information, gleaned from forms detailing use of the electronic weapons, can be publicly disclosed.

Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh called on the Mounties to fix their "colossal mistake" more quickly.

A joint investigation by The Canadian Press and CBC found the Mounties are now censoring key elements that must be recorded each time officers draw their stun guns.

The force no longer reveals whether the people targeted were armed or not, the precise dates of firings, and whether the device caused any burns, cuts or bruises.

The RCMP, stung by accusations of undue secrecy, revisited its decision to strip Taser reports of crucial information after Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day demanded the police force take a second look.

A spokesman for Day said late Wednesday the minister, whose chief-of-staff spoke with Mountie Commissioner William Elliott, "has asked for and received assurances from the commissioner that the RCMP will further review the matter."

11-Year-Old Girl Tasered At School After Punching Officer In Face

March 27, 2008

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. -- An Orange County deputy said she had no choice but to shock an 11-year-old girl with a Taser on Thursday morning in an elementary school classroom. Deputies said it was to stop a violent temper tantrum.

The girl at Moss Park Elementary punched the deputy in the nose so hard the deputy went to the hospital. While an 11-year-old shocked by a Taser sounds extreme to some parents, other parents told Eyewitness News the girl deserved it.

Eyewitness News talked to several parents Thursday who said that Thaliamar Jimenez has caused trouble before. Most of those parents are coming down firmly on the side of the deputy.

Meanwhile, the mother of the fourth grader is having a hard time understanding how another day at school turned into her daughter going to jail.

"The school knows pretty well that my daughter is like a 5-year-old," explained the girl's mother, Sandra Garcia.

Garcia told Eyewitness News that her 11-year-old daughter has a learning disability and when she was approached by the deputy Thursday morning in class she was simply scared to death.

According to the arrest report, before school Thursday morning, another student told teachers at Moss Park that Thaliamar pushed a boy into the street. When teachers tried to talk to the girl she became combative, started pushing her desk and chair and even spit at the teachers.

The school resource officer, Orange County Deputy Donna Hudepohl, tried to take Thaliamar to the principal's office and that's when the child started swinging, hitting the officer in the nose. Hudepohl was transported to Florida East Hospital. She sustained severe bruising to the nasal cavity as a result of the injury.

"My daughter told me, 'Mommy, you know I wouldn't hit nobody! If I hit her in the nose, it was by mistake. I didn't hit her intentionally. I didn't do that!'" Garcia said.

"She actually spoke to the student, told her multiple times to come. Even after the student punched her, she still continued to try and make the arrest without having to taze her. And that obviously wasn't working," explained Corporal Susan Soto, Orange County Sheriff's Office.

Outside the school, many of the parents Eyewitness News talked to question the use of a Taser on an 11-year-old child.

"I just don't know if that's necessary," one parent said.

Many other parents are standing by the woman they call "their deputy."

"She had it coming. She assaulted an officer. You can't let that go," said parent Shanna Herrick.

Those same parents Eyewitness News talked to said that, to their knowledge, it was the first time an incident like this has taken place at the school.

Jimenez was transported to Florida East Hospital to have the Taser prongs removed, but she had no other injuries. She was arrested and charged with battery on a law enforcement officer, disrupting a school function as well as resisting with violence.

The Orange County Sheriff's Office policy allows deputies to use Tasers when there is "active resistance" from a suspect. There is no rule against using Tasers on children, but in 2005 a Florida lawmaker tried to make it illegal for any officer to shock children with Tasers. The proposal was stalled because there is no scientific research showing what Tasers can do to kids medically.

RCMP reviews decision to censor taser reports

March 26, 2008
CBC News

The RCMP is re-examining its decision to strip crucial information from the Taser reports it recently made public. RCMP Commissioner William Elliott said late Wednesday that he's ordered a review that will determine whether more details should have been released. "It is anticipated that this review can be completed within two weeks," Elliott said in a statement.

The reports, released to the CBC and the Canadian Press last week through the Access to Information Act, chronicled details about how often RCMP officers are using their stun guns, known as Tasers.

But the documents did not include details about whether the people police were stunning were armed or suffering from mental illness. The records were also stripped of information about the precise date of each incident, the actions the officer took before using the Taser, and whether the stun gun caused any injuries.

RCMP forms released between 2002 and 2005 included those details.

The RCMP announced the review of the censoring only hours after it insisted the decision to censor was the right one. Sgt. Sylvie Tremblay said early Wednesday that the Mounties had released all the information they could. "The RCMP is committed to respecting the public's right to know while upholding the law and protecting the privacy rights of individuals," Tremblay said in an interview.

The decision to censor the information had critics accusing the RCMP of secrecy all week. Even Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day asked for a review and was assured one was coming, a spokesman for Day said Wednesday.

Advocates for more openness say that revealing more information won't violate people's rights, as the RCMP already blocks the names and addresses of the people hit by Taser guns.

"I think the RCMP, by doing this, is losing a lot of credibility on the way they handle the Taser," said Bloc Québécois MP Serge Ménard. "It makes us more suspicious."

The reports released by the RCMP last week show that Mounties across the country drew or threatened to draw their Tasers more than 1,400 times last year, compared with 597 times in 2005.

Since 2003, at least 20 people died in Canada after being hit by a police officer's Taser. Manufacturer Taser International says its device has never been directly blamed for a death, although it has been cited as a contributing factor in several cases.

Amnesty International is among observers who have called for a suspension of Taser use pending an independent, comprehensive study of risks and benefits.

The weapon is hugely popular with police who say it's a much safer and efficient alternative to the handgun, baton or pepper spray.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Deadly taser use demands thorough, open investigation

March 26, 2008
News-Record, Greensboro, North Carolina

A police officer doesn't use a Taser when deadly force is needed. So when a stun gun kills, as it did last week in Charlotte, something went wrong. There must be a thorough and transparent investigation to find out why.

The victim was Darryl Wayne Turner, only 17. He was having an angry argument with his supervisor at a grocery store when police were called. An officer arrived, and a "highly agitated" Turner "advanced" at the officer, refusing commands to stop, police said. The officer responded with the Taser. Turned collapsed and was taken to a hospital, where he died.

The Taser is a legitimate tool for police officers who need to subdue someone without using a firearm. It's not considered life-threatening -- yet it obviously has the potential to kill. For that reason, officers faced with the choice of using a Taser or not must consider the worst possibility and make absolutely certain of the necessity.

Officers who assume a weapon won't cause serious harm might be too quick to use it. But that's not a safe assumption about a Taser.

An investigation must determine whether there were medical factors or other circumstances that contributed to Turner's death. It also must review the events that led to the officer's decision. Would some other action have been better? These questions have to be answered openly.

Tasers are employed widely by law-enforcement agencies. They're carried by officers on some Guilford County school campuses. Parents, and the general public, deserve to know about the lethal potential of these weapons, and they need to be satisfied that well-trained officers will use them only when absolutely required.

When someone dies, particularly a young person, it's critical to know why it happened and how it could have been avoided.

See also:
Witness vs. police on taser death
Teen who died after taser shot had pot

Doubts on taser China sales

March 26, 2008
Associated Press - Forbes.com

NEW YORK - Shares of stun-gun maker Taser International were little changed Wednesday after an analyst threw cold water on what he described as a false rumor of Taser sales to the Chinese government.

The Scottsdale, Ariz., company's stock rose 3.4 percent Tuesday. Merriman Curhan Ford analyst Eric Wold said reports circulated that China would order Taser products to deal with Tibet-related protests and security for the upcoming summer Olympics. But Wold thinks those sales are prohibited by U.S. law.

The sale of military technology to China and Iran is illegal, he said. Wold believes Taser products would be considered military technology, and he said the company's representatives backed his view.

Taser International (nasdaq: TASR - news - people ) Inc. shares rose 6 cents to $10.21.

The survey says ...

The results (thus far) speak loud and clear in a poll on the Winnipeg Free Press website today:

Should the RCMP be forced to remove the lid of secrecy they have placed on reports of Taser use?
Yes 74%
No 26%
Total Votes: 1375

RCMP defends censoring of taser reports as critics slam secrecy

March 26, 2008
The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — The RCMP fended off increasing attacks Wednesday, blaming federal information and privacy laws for its move to strip public Taser reports of crucial details.

Sgt. Sylvie Tremblay says the Mounties released "all the information that could be provided" under the Access to Information Act when it disclosed newly reclassified and heavily censored records last week.

"The RCMP is committed to respecting the public's right to know while upholding the law and protecting the privacy rights of individuals," Tremblay said in an interview. "Requesters may challenge the RCMP's application of various exemptions . . . should they be dissatisfied with the processing of their request."

Critics say that's a lame excuse for shielding details - including whether zapped suspects were armed or injured - that were once routinely disclosed.

A joint investigation by The Canadian Press and CBC found the Mounties are now censoring key elements that must be recorded each time officers draw their electronic weapons. As a result, Canadians know much less about who is being hit with the contentious 50,000-volt guns and under what circumstances.

Advocates of more openness point out the names and addresses of Tasered people are already struck from the forms, making further deletions unnecessary. "The leadership of the RCMP appears to have a tin ear for what the public wants in relation to Taser use," says Frank Addario, president of the Criminal Lawyers' Association. "It seems obvious that the public wants transparency in relation to the training and circumstances in which this . . . device is used, limitations on its use after any apparent threat to public or officer safety is managed and, above all, thorough training of police officers in advance of using these devices."

Another RCMP spokesman, Troy Lightfoot, has said internal analysis of Taser reports concluded the painful weapons were being used correctly.

Newspaper editorials and opposition critics and newspaper editorials say that amounts to a "just-trust-us" approach.

Opposition MPs on an all-party Commons committee studying Tasers say the force must be held to account. "I think the RCMP, by doing this, is losing a lot of credibility on the way they handle the Taser," says Bloc Quebecois MP Serge Menard. "It makes us more suspicious. One thing is for sure, we're going to examine the documents that you've got, and we'll see if we can get some more ourselves."

The Mounties say they correctly withheld information on the forms under provisions of the information law related to personal privacy and police investigations. Tremblay had no comment when asked if the RCMP broke the law by previously releasing details that it now insists must be protected.

A Canadian Press analysis last November of 563 cases between 2002 and 2005 found three in four suspects Tasered by the RCMP were unarmed.

Several of those reports suggested a pattern of stun-gun use as a convenient means of keeping drunk or rowdy people in line, rather than to defuse major clashes.

Addario says it's time for Stockwell Day, the federal minister responsible for the Mounties, to step in. "I think the minister's passive attitude toward the RCMP has to end. He needs to take ownership of this problem, take charge of the RCMP's behaviour and step up the scrutiny of the force - not only in this area, but in all the areas they've been found to be lacking in the last several years." Day was travelling in the Middle East and unavailable for comment.

Nineteen people in Canada have died soon after being Tasered. Manufacturer Taser International stresses that its device has never been directly blamed for a death, although it has been cited as a contributing factor in several cases.

Amnesty International is among observers who've called for a suspension of Taser use pending an independent, comprehensive study of risks and benefits. The weapon is hugely popular with police who say it's a much safer and efficient alternative to the baton, pepper spray and gun.

EDITORIAL: No reason to trust

March 26th, 2008
Times & Transcript (Moncton, NB)

The RCMP is saying "trust us" when it comes to the use of electric stun guns, or tasers. It says that taser use has been appropriate and the public should just take their word rather than be given the relevant facts to independently judge for ourselves. The RCMP stand doesn't cut it. Privacy concerns, as cited, have nothing to do with it. Rather this is an attempt to avoid accountability so the RCMP can use tasers any time, anywhere, and under any circumstances without answering to anybody. That is the way of a police state. By refusing to provide relevant information, the RCMP demonstrates it cannot be trusted.

The New Brunswick government must create specific guidelines for taser use. These should make tasers a line of true defence for police, not just a convenient way to subdue someone. There are legitimate concerns about tasers that must be addressed. Their use is rising dramatically and evidence suggests tasers are being used inappropriately for convenience, not necessity. Given the dangers (19 people have died in Canada in seven years after being tasered), this is unacceptable. So too is withholding information that indicates whether the police are following acceptable use policy or not. The RCMP must prove it can be trusted.


March 26, 2008
Sault Star (Sault Ste Marie, Ontario)

The Mounties are part of a large group of civil servants who just don't get it.

What they don't get is that they work for us. We are ultimately their bosses.

According to a recent Canadian Press story: "The RCMP now strips crucial details about Taser firings from public reports as use of the controversial stun guns skyrockets across the country."

The Mounties now hide items such as related injuries, duration of shocks, whether the individual was armed, what police tried before resorting to the stun gun, and precise dates of firings. They do so under the bogus pretence of privacy. This is not acceptable.

You'd think that an institution, which has been recently humiliated by a variety of scandals, would be committed to more openness. Well, think again.

Liberal Public Safety critic Ujjal Dosanjh says revelations of an RCMP clampdown on Taser data is another blow to the national police force's battered reputation.

The government must step in and tell the force this counterproductive secrecy must stop. Most police officers on the beat will tell you that if there's nothing to hide, don't hide.

EDITORIAL: RCMP fails on taser data

March 26, 2008
Chronicle Herald (Halifax)

WHAT is the RCMP hiding?

In response to a request from the Canadian Press and CBC, the Mounties delayed – for 15 months, leading to an official complaint – making public thousands of incident reports on police Taser use over the last seven years. The RCMP also removed nearly all details on the reports, including whether the suspect was armed, measures the officer may have taken before using the Taser and injuries to the suspect as a result of being stunned.

All these data were previously available to the public.

The RCMP’s explanation for the censorship – details were removed because of privacy concerns and due to ongoing investigations – is laughable. As Liberal public safety critic Ujjal Dosanjh put it bluntly: "That’s hogwash."

How is an unnamed person’s privacy involved in knowing what an officer did to try to defuse a situation before using a Taser? How is privacy connected to whether someone Tasered had a weapon?

The answer is: It isn’t. What seems more likely is the RCMP, stung by criticism of their use of Tasers in the past, opted to avoid public scrutiny. For example, a previous media review of Taser reports, when details were available, had showed three of four people Tasered by police were unarmed.

Even as the RCMP seemed to try to hide data from the public, the reports revealed Taser use has more than doubled in recent years. That troubling rise makes the need to scrutinize Tasers more pressing, not less.

An RCMP spokesman argued other accountability systems are already in place to oversee police actions, such as the courts, coroners’ inquests and the complaint process. But why should the public have to go to court, wait for an inquiry or lodge a complaint to find out if Mounties are using Tasers appropriately?

Canadians far too often hear about questionable uses of Tasers by police forces in this country. RCMP assurances that internal reviews of the data show the weapons are being used properly offer no comfort. Police often claim Tasers have saved 4,000 lives since being introduced in Canada in 1999. But such statistics themselves seem doubtful. That number – 4,000 – is almost as many people as were actually murdered in that period. Where is the evidence for the police claim? We also note Taser International, the manufacturer, has cited the same statistic in the U.S.

The RCMP should release the data about Tasers or be ordered to do so by its political masters.

Toronto taser use doubles, report shows

March 26, 2008
Robyn Doolittle, Toronto Star

Police officers used Tasers 404 times during 368 incidents on Toronto streets last year, a new report shows. That number has more than doubled since 2006, but so has the number of officers armed with the electroshock weapons.

Two years ago, 88 officers were armed with Tasers and the controversial weapons were used 174 times in 156 incidents. In the same year, the Toronto Police Service launched its Taser pilot project. It was deemed a success, and the police services board approved Taser use for all front-line supervisors. By the end of 2007, 454 front-line supervisors and Emergency Task Force officers were armed with the device.

The report also breaks down the way in which Tasers were used. Last year, Tasers were fully deployed – meaning police fired darts – 46 per cent of the time, compared to 37 per cent of the time in 2006. A Taser is considered used if it is pulled from its holster.

"What's not in the report, but is becoming apparent in speaking to officers who are authorized to use Tasers, they are seeing many cases where they don't have to use them," said police spokesperson Mark Pugash. "The mere fact that someone knows the officer has it acts as a de-escalating factor."

But John Sewell of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, a community watchdog group, says something else is not in the report. "I'm very concerned. It obviously means they're using the Taser an awful lot more, more than twice as often," he said. "We're going down the road of other police services that have had Tasers – the RCMP and police in the States."

Records recently released to the CBC and The Canadian Press indicate that Taser use by Mounties has more than doubled since 2005. Throughout the country, RCMP officers drew the weapons more than 1,400 times in 2007. That's up from 597 in 2005.

"The issue is in this service we have very clear guidelines on when and where the Taser is to be used," Pugash said. "Certainly, the question people are entitled to ask is: Are your policies and procedures being followed. The answer is overwhelmingly – yes."

The report, prepared by Chief Bill Blair, will be presented to the police services board tomorrow.

94% of situations effectively de-escalated in 2006
90% of situations effectively de-escalated in 2007
270 of 352 subjects perceived to be in crisis in 2007 report
77 subjects perceived to have a mental disorder in 2007 report
52 incidents – most incidents of Taser use (by 14 Division)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Mounties zap details from taser reports as firings soar across Canada

March 24, 2008
Canadian Press and CBC

OTTAWA — The RCMP is stripping crucial details about Taser firings from public reports as use of the controversial stun guns skyrockets across the country.

A joint investigation by The Canadian Press and CBC found the Mounties are now refusing to divulge key information that must be recorded each time they draw their electronic weapons.

As a result, Canadians will know much less about who is being hit with the 50,000-volt guns, whether they were armed, why they were fired on and whether they were injured.

Taser report forms obtained under the Access to Information Act show the Mounties have used the powerful weapons more than 4,000 times since introducing them seven years ago.

Incidents have increased dramatically, topping 1,000 annually in each of the last two years compared with about 600 in 2005. The overwhelming majority of firings took place in Western Canada, where the national force often leads front-line policing.

As Taser use escalates, however, the RCMP has tightened the lid of secrecy. Information stripped from the forms includes details of several Taser cases the Mounties previously made public under the access law. In effect, the RCMP is reclassifying details of Taser use - including some telling facts that raised pointed questions about how often the stun guns are fired and why.

A Canadian Press analysis last November of 563 incidents between 2002 and 2005 found three in four suspects Tasered by the RCMP were unarmed. Several of those reports suggested a pattern of stun-gun use as a handy tool to keep drunk or rowdy suspects in line, rather than to defuse major threats.

But the Mounties are now censoring Taser report forms to conceal related injuries, duration of shocks, whether the individual was armed, what police tried before resorting to the stun gun, and precise dates of firings.

In fact, Canadians now know more about the Tasering of dogs than humans. One of the most detailed new reports describes how a pooch named Princess was zapped with a stun gun in Maple Ridge, B.C., as five officers carried out a search warrant. Princess was not given the standard warning: "Police! Stop or you will be hit with 50,000 volts of electricity!" There was little point, the report goes on to note: "Subject would not have understood the command, as subject was a dog."

The RCMP cites the need to protect privacy and continuing investigations to justify why it removed such basic details from other reports.

Liberal public safety critic Ujjal Dosanjh scoffed at the explanation. "That's hogwash. That's absolute nonsense," the former attorney general for British Columbia said in an interview. "Whether or not someone was armed ... how does that violate privacy?"

Dosanjh noted that names and addresses are already removed from the forms.

"The RCMP is a public police force. They are accountable to Canadians. They have to provide that information so that people can judge for themselves whether or not their police force is acting appropriately."

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day was travelling Monday and was not immediately available for comment.

Insp. Troy Lightfoot, who helps oversee RCMP Taser use, would not speculate on why the reporting changes were made. But he stressed there are still ways to monitor stun guns and other uses of force. "I can tell you that there are many accountability systems in place with regards to police actions. You have the courts, you have coroners' inquests, you have a multitude of oversight bodies," he said. "There is a complaints process that can be followed."

Paul Kennedy, head of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, said the decision to withhold details of Taser firings amounts to a self-defeating lack of transparency that bucks widespread calls for more - not less - public reporting. "There seems to be something that is touching a chord with Canadians when they see the Taser. Now, it may be because the person is just reduced to a squirming ball of flesh on the ground, that it seems to be used against men and women, it is used against young people, it is used against old people. There is the issue as to whether or not deaths are associated with it." The RCMP should be making public as much Taser data as possible, Kennedy said. "There is nothing more important to the police than maintaining and restoring public confidence. How do you do that? You do that by getting your story out."

Stun guns have swiftly become the go-to weapon for scores of police and correctional officers across Canada. The RCMP has more than 2,800 Tasers and some 9,100 Mounties are trained to use them.

They can be fired from a distance, laying suspects low with high-voltage bursts that override the central nervous system. They can also be used up close in touch-stun mode, which has been likened to leaning on a hot stove.

The potent devices are hugely popular with officers who say they're a safer, more efficient option than pepper spray or batons. But a rash of recent headlines has raised questions about the extent to which painful Taser jolts are used much like cattle prods on unarmed, non-violent suspects.

RCMP reports previously released to The Canadian Press also detailed several head injuries when suspects struck the floor, along with burns caused by stuns and lacerations from sharp Taser probes.

Public wariness about the weapons turned to full-blown anger last fall when amateur video showing the death of Robert Dziekanski was released. RCMP were called last October when the Polish immigrant became agitated at Vancouver International Airport after spending hours in a secure section while his mother tried in vain to contact him from the public side.

Although Dziekanski appears more confused than threatening on the video, the officers waited less than 30 seconds before they zapped the 40-year-old with a Taser and pinned him to the floor as he wailed in pain. Within minutes, he was dead.

It took 15 months and an official complaint before the RCMP would release thousands of pages recording more than 4,000 Taser incidents. There are stark differences between the newly released forms and earlier versions filed about the same confrontations.

For example, the original report on a March 7, 2004, case in northern Manitoba revealed that an unarmed detainee in a Pukatawagan RCMP cell was Tasered after only oral intervention. There was no attempt to subdue the inmate through physical force before the officer warned: "Let me introduce you to the Taser. It is able to produce 50,000 volts of electricity. Co-operate with us and you will not be stunned."

The new form says only that the confrontation occurred in 2004, with no precise date. The section entitled Weapons Carried or Immediately Available by Subject is blank. And there is no longer any description of verbal commands or other police response before the Taser was fired.

"It certainly isn't helpful to be in the midst of greater debate with less and less information," says Hilary Homes of Amnesty International Canada. "In general, it's a problem across Canada that we don't have the same accountability system throughout the many forces that use the Taser."

Amnesty International wants the devices suspended pending an independent, comprehensive study of risks and benefits.

Dziekanski was recorded as the 18th person in Canada to die after being hit by a Taser since police started carrying them in 2001. The tally has since risen to 19. Amnesty says at least 280 people have died in the United States following a Taser zap in the last seven years.

Arizona-based manufacturer Taser International stresses the device has never been directly blamed for a death. It has, however, been cited repeatedly as a contributing factor.

Kennedy referred to "usage creep" in an interim report on Tasers last December that urged the Mounties to drastically restrict reliance on the stun guns. The weapons should only be used in touch-stun or full firing mode when suspects are "combative" or pose a risk of "death or grievous bodily harm," he said.

Lightfoot, however, said the cases he has recently analyzed indicate the Taser was used acceptably. "It is an appropriate device for law-enforcement use, and it does enhance police and public safety. And it is one of the least injurious means that we have available to take people into police custody."

Kennedy devoted a whole section of his report to the need for more and better documentation of Taser use. He recommended the RCMP produce quarterly and annual reports detailing the number and nature of firings, how often medical care was needed, and the number of Mounties and instructors who passed or failed related training.

Lightfoot said the force plans to produce regular reports on Taser use, but could not say whether they would be made public.

Britain's Home Office publishes statistics quarterly on Taser firings in England and Wales, citing a need for a "rigorous and measured approach" to introducing the weapons in the United Kingdom.

Dosanjh says revelations of an RCMP clampdown on Taser data is another blow to the national police force's battered reputation. It comes as the federal government moves to overhaul an iconic institution that has seen more than its share of major gaffes in recent years - from the Maher Arar torture affair to claims by rank-and-file Mounties of high-level meddling in RCMP pension and insurance plans.

"I'm actually embarrassed," said Dosanjh. "I dealt with the RCMP ... in British Columbia when I was the attorney general. I was proud of that. But the more I look at how they function, the more I see the lack of transparency and accountability, I am flabbergasted. I don't know whether the red serge is any more a symbol that we should be so proud of."

The RCMP requires its officers to file a written report each time a Taser is fired, or even removed from its holster. The Canadian Press and CBC obtained more than 4,000 such reports for the period from 2001 to 2007. Some statistics on the number of reports filed, by year and by region:

2001: 2; 2002: 84; 2003: 559; 2004: 240; 2005: 597; 2006: 1,119; 2007: 1,414

(Note: The RCMP suspended mandatory reporting in 2004, reinstating the requirement in 2005.)

2007 reports

Newfoundland and Labrador: 24

Nova Scotia: 53

Prince Edward Island: 16

New Brunswick: 81

Quebec: 0

Ontario (including Ottawa HQ): 2

Manitoba: 129

Saskatchewan: 108

Alberta: 371

British Columbia: 496

Yukon: 36

Northwest Territories: 53

Nunavut: 45

(Note: The RCMP does minimal front-line policing in Ontario and Quebec.)

Source: RCMP

Use of RCMP tasers rises dramatically, records show

March 24, 2008
CBC News

The number of incidents involving RCMP stun guns has more than doubled since 2005, according to records obtained by CBC News.

Statistics prepared by RCMP officers on the use of stun guns, or Tasers, show Mounties across the country drew or threatened to draw their Tasers more than 1,400 times last year — a dramatic rise in incidents, compared with 597 in 2005.

The spike was greatest in jurisdictions such as British Columbia, where the number of Taser incidents rose from 218 in 2005 to 496 in 2007, and in Alberta, where it grew from 89 to 371 over the same period.

But while reliance on stun guns has increased sharply since the force began using them in 2001, documents obtained under the federal Access to Information Act indicate that record-keeping about Taser incidents has either become less comprehensive or that the RCMP is unwilling to share all the details of the cases with the public.

More than 2,800 Tasers are in use across the country by the 9,100-plus RCMP officers trained to use them. The RCMP forms that are supposed to be filled out every time an officer even threatens to use a Taser formerly included details such as whether the person encountered by police was armed or suffering from a mental illness. That data that was previously disclosed under the Access to Information Act in RCMP Taser reports from 2002 to 2005.

But records recently released to the CBC and the Canadian Press have been stripped of this information, as well as the precise date of each incident, actions taken by the officer before resorting to the Taser, and whether the stun gun caused any injuries — leading some to criticize the RCMP for a lack of transparency.

"The RCMP is a public police force. They are accountable to Canadians," Liberal public safety critic Ujjal Dosanjh told CBC News. "They have to be on the up and up, they have to be transparent, they have to be accountable. They have to provide that information so that people can judge for themselves whether or not their police force is acting appropriately."

"The more I look at how [the RCMP] function, the more I see the lack of transparency and lack of accountability. I am flabbergasted," said Dosanjh, who was the attorney general in B.C. when Tasers were introduced there.

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day was travelling in the Middle East and wasn't immediately available for comment.

RCMP spokesperson Insp. Troy Lightfoot declined to comment on the missing information, while officials in the RCMP access to information office say the incident reports were censored to protect the privacy of people who were stunned with the Tasers.

The head of the Commission for Complaints Against the RCMP, Paul Kennedy, said the RCMP is contradicting itself by not providing the additional information at the same time that it seeks to assure the public that police are being responsive to concerns about Tasers.

"A more mature response, I think, would be one where they would make their best effort to make as much information available as possible," he said.

Vancouver airport Taser incident was a watershed moment

Kennedy said the death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport last October was a watershed moment for public interest in police use of the Taser.

The electric shock weapons — which unleash 50,000 volts of electricity and are designed to incapacitate a person — have come under intense international scrutiny since Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant, died shortly after RCMP officers repeatedly shocked him with a Taser and pinned him down in the airport's arrivals area.

Statistics from the human rights organization Amnesty International indicate there have been 19 Taser-related deaths in Canada since 2001. While "excited delirium" — a heart-pounding state of agitation — has been cited as one possible cause of death following a Taser shock, Amnesty International has repeatedly called for a moratorium on Taser use pending an independent, comprehensive study of their effects.

An analysis of 563 incidents by the Canadian Press last year found that three in four suspects shot with a Taser by the RCMP between 2002 and 2005 were unarmed.

In an interim report released last December, the Commission for Complaints Against the RCMP criticized the force for allowing the use of Tasers to grow over the past six years. Authored by Kennedy, it noted that Taser use "has expanded to include subduing resistant subjects who do not pose a threat of grievous bodily harm or death and on whom the use of lethal force would not be an option."

The House of Commons public safety committee is also studying the growing use of stun guns in Canada. It will hear testimony from RCMP officers, customs officials and airport workers before drafting a report to Parliament.

Arizona-based manufacturer Taser International Inc. argues that the device has never been directly blamed for a death, though it acknowledges it has been cited repeatedly as a contributing factor.

For their part, Canadian police say Tasers have saved 4,000 lives since police forces started using them.

The RCMP's Lightfoot, who is part of an internal group analyzing police use of Tasers, said the majority of cases he's studied have shown Tasers were used appropriately.

"It is an appropriate device for law-enforcement use, and it does enhance police and public safety," he said. "And it is one of the least injurious means that we have available to take people into police custody."

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Florida man dies after taser jolts

March 22, 2008

James Garland, 41

North Carolina teen dies after police taser him

March 21, 2008

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A Charlotte teenager has died after being shocked with a Taser during a confrontation with police at the grocery store where he worked.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said 17-year-old Darryl Wayne died Thursday. An autopsy is pending.

The Charlotte Observer reported Friday that officers responded to a call at a Food Lion and saw Turner throwing something at a store manager.

Police said Turner appeared agitated, refused their commands and advanced toward an officer before the Taser was used.

Turner's mother, Tammy Fontenot, said her son told her earlier in the day that he had stolen Hot Pockets from the store and feared disciplinary action. Fontenot said she told him to go back to the store to face what happened.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Dziekanski coroner's inquest postponed

March 21, 2008
Vancouver Sun

An inquest into the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski -- who died after being Tasered by RCMP officers last year at Vancouver International Airport -- has been postponed.

The delay is to wait for police to finish their investigation, a press release from the office of B.C.'s chief coroner said. Crown counsel and other participants in the inquest will need time to review the police report after it is completed, the release said.

The inquest had been set to start May 5. The release also gave no indication of when police might finish their work nor did it explain why the inquest is waiting for the completion of the police investigation.

The provincial government also has announced a two-phase public inquiry into the Oct. 14 death of Dziekanski. The first phase of the inquiry, to examine the use of Tasers, is expected to be completed by June 30, while the second phase will look at the circumstances surrounding Dziekanski's death.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Chicago man dies after police taser him

Roberto Gonzales, 24, unarmed - died on March 18, 2008

Swiss Parliament Approves Use of tasers in Deportations

March 19, 2008
Agence France Presse

BERN - Switzerland’s parliament on Tuesday approved the use by police of Taser stun guns when forcibly deporting foreigners from the country, Swiss news agency ATS reported.

Police will be allowed to use the electronic stun guns as a last resort, along with handcuffs and dogs.The Taser packs a 50,000-volt punch that can paralyse targets from up to 10 metres away.

Tasers have been mired in controversy after a series of fatal shootings in the US and Canada last year, with a United Nations committee denouncing them as a form of torture.

In one notorious case last year, a Polish man died at Vancouver airport after being tasered by Canadian police.

The man, Robert Dziekanski, 40, fell to the ground and died after the police officers piled on top of him. A passenger captured the attack on film and the incident revived debate about the guns’ safety.

The company that makes the weapons has said that similar deaths have been shown by medical science and forensic analysis to be “attributable to other factors and not the low-energy electrical discharge of the Taser”.

The Swiss decision was sharply criticised by rights group Amnesty International.

“This is a deplorable law … it puts people’s lives at risk,” said Amnesty’s Swiss head Daniel Bolomey.

Amnesty Switzerland said it “believes Parliament’s decision to allow the use of Tasers when deporting foreigners as scandalous and unworthy of our country”.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Tasering violated man's rights, Toronto judge rules

March 18, 2008
Betsy Powell, Toronto Star

A Toronto police emergency task force officer used "unnecessary force" when he fired his Taser at a man "lying face down on the floor, handcuffed ... fully restrained and compliant," an Ontario Superior Court Justice ruled yesterday.

Justice David Brown also found the officer fired his Taser at the man's back almost two minutes after another ETF officer had fired his stun gun at the man.

Police denied the allegations but Brown said he rejected their evidence and was staying the cocaine trafficking charge against Francis Walcott, 41. The large man seemed surprised and bowed his head yesterday as the judge read excerpts from his 44-page ruling.

"We review our policies to see whether they need to be changed and if any action needs to be taken in the wake of this decision we will do that," said police spokesperson Mark Pugash.

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair is a proponent of Tasers and wants all his frontline officers to be equipped with them. In Ontario, only tactical units, hostage rescue teams and qualified frontline supervisors may use Tasers.

Walcott has been in custody at the Toronto (Don) Jail since his arrest almost a year ago. Brown said in his ruling the infringement of Walcott's Charter rights outweighed the "legitimate societal interest" in prosecuting the drug offence.

"Officer (Michael) Fonseca deployed his Taser well after Mr. Walcott had been subdued and handcuffed," the judge concluded. "In addition, since the discharge of a Taser after a person has been restrained and controlled would have no other purpose than to punish the person ... I find that Officer Fonseca's discharge of his Taser on Mr. Walcott constituted cruel and unusual treatment."

Defence lawyer Adam Weisberg applied for a stay of proceedings on the ground that the ETF used an excessive amount of force, thereby infringing Walcott's Charter rights. "The judge is sending a clear message that if you're going to use force on an individual it better be done appropriately," Weisberg said after the decision. "He's upholding and protecting the rights of other people that may be subject to the inappropriate use of Tasers or other police weapons."

Last March 29, ETF officers along with other Toronto police officers executed a search warrant at a Parliament St. boarding house. When the officers entered a room they found Walcott naked with a woman. While making the arrest, the ETF officers fired their Tasers.

There was no dispute that Walcott was Tasered separately by Fonseca and officer Eric Reimer. At issue in proceedings before the trial began was the timing of when the Tasers were deployed. According to police witnesses, including Fonseca and Reimer, the Tasers were fired "almost simultaneously," as Walcott came towards them.

While a senior officer also testified that "firing sequence information contained on the Tasers' data chips showed a difference of about 2 1/2 minutes," there was also evidence submitted that the Taser clocks are subject to "drift" that could explain differences in firing times recorded on the two Tasers.

The ETF officers all testified that if a suspect was under control, restrained and cuffed, it would be inappropriate to deploy a Taser against him, Brown said, summarizing testimony heard over 10 days in February and early this month.

The Crown has 30 days in which to appeal.

Walcott, originally from St. Lucia, smiled broadly before he was handcuffed and led out of court. He remains in custody on an "immigration hold."

Monday, March 17, 2008

Ruling in cocaine-related taser deaths splits experts

March 17, 2008
By Mike Wereschagin, TRIBUNE-REVIEW

Traffic screeched to a halt on the Parkway West as Chad Cekas lay on his stomach in an inbound lane, disoriented and bleeding from his nose.

His legs didn't move. The 27-year-old Beechview man struggled weakly and unsuccessfully to rise on his elbows just outside the mouth of the Fort Pitt Tunnel. Headlights illuminated his wide and frightened eyes in the warmth of the late-summer night. A motorist knelt beside him, stroking his back and telling him the help he was pleading for was on its way.

Forty minutes later, at 9:23 p.m. Aug. 23, 2007, doctors at Mercy Hospital pronounced Cekas dead. Allegheny County Medical Examiner Dr. Karl Williams later would say a controversial syndrome and the cocaine in Cekas' blood -- not shocks delivered by a Pittsburgh police officer's Taser -- killed him.

"It says in the autopsy he was a healthy young man. All his organs were the right size. Everything was in good working condition," said Cekas' mother, Joanne Zekas, who uses the traditional Lithuanian spelling of their last name. "He shouldn't have died. There's no way he should have died," she said.

Controversial syndrome

Pathologists, police, stun-gun makers and civil liberties advocates differ on the merits and even the existence of Excited Delirium Syndrome, the cause of death listed for Cekas. Skeptics say the syndrome gets listed as a cause of death only when people die in the custody of police or medical personnel, and only when the person is forcibly restrained. Weapons such as stun guns or pepper spray frequently are involved.

Proponents list as proof the similarities in those who die from it -- erratic and violent behavior, cocaine or other stimulants in the person's blood, disorientation, surges of strength and a final period of calm before the person's heart stops beating.

As many as 1,000 people across the country die from it each year, said Michael Conner, a psychologist who serves as an expert witness in Excited Delirium cases. He added, however, that no one tracks all the deaths, so the number can only be estimated.

Neither the American Medical Association nor the American Psychiatric Association recognizes the syndrome. No physical evidence, such as lesions or microscopic tissue damage, exists to prove it as a cause of death, said former Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril H. Wecht.

"There have got to be tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands (of cocaine users), who from time to time get excited or agitated when police aren't around," Wecht said. "How come there is not one case that I'm familiar with of anyone dying of Excited Delirium with cocaine toxicity in a situation that doesn't involve police?"

Using the word "delirium" causes further skepticism.

"You don't die of delirium. It's a symptom of what a person has," said Dr. William Narrow, director of research for the American Psychiatric Association.

Other cases

Three other deaths in the last year in Allegheny County could be attributed, at least partially, to Excited Delirium, said Williams, the Allegheny County medical examiner.

One involved a 39-year-old man with a history of seizures who died after a struggle with police in McKeesport. Police used a dog and pepper spray to subdue him, Williams said.

Another death involved a man who had a history of seizures and was taking psychiatric medicine. He died after being restrained in a psychiatric ward, Williams said. The third, a man who leaped out of a window and died of blunt-force trauma, might be partially attributable to the syndrome, he said.

Williams declined to release their names.

"I believe these are cases that represent some element of Excited Delirium, but I don't know right now whether that was listed as the immediate cause of death," Williams said. Cocaine intoxication or some other element of the syndrome sometimes is listed on death certificates instead of Excited Delirium, he said.

Williams said he understands criticism of the syndrome, especially in a death such as Cekas', where police used a stun gun. Still, he said, Excited Delirium is real.

"My gut reaction is you can't essentially electrocute somebody, even with low amperage and high voltage, without running the risk that you're going to have some adverse effects. But the case at hand is really different, (because of) the presence of really high levels of cocaine," Williams said. He declined to specify the amount of cocaine in Cekas' system.

Stun gun triggers?

No court, in the 66 lawsuits adjudicated so far, has ever found Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Taser International liable in a death or injury, said Steve Tuttle, the company's vice president of communications.

The electric current discharged from a Taser is designed specifically not to kill, Tuttle said. Measured in joules, the energy of a Taser shock is one five-thousandth as powerful as the defibrillators used to jump-start hearts, he said.

"If a shock were to kill somebody, does it kill them 20 minutes later? No," Tuttle said.

Medical researchers disagree whether stun guns can trigger heart problems. Tuttle said their safety has been "documented year after year in medical journals." But a study published in July, 2006, in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, said the weapons "may have cardiac risks."

"I have not made up my mind on the Taser aspect of (Excited Delirium), to tell you the truth," Williams said. "I note the fact that (Cekas) has been Tasered."

Excited Delirium began gaining credence with medical examiners in the late 1980s, as cocaine use became more prevalent, said Dr. Jeffrey Jentzen, president of the National Association of Medical Examiners.

The condition wasn't invented to shield police, he said. Research suggests drugs such as cocaine prompt the brain to grow more of a certain kind of neuroreceptor -- the kind that responds to adrenaline. When cocaine users get into a fight, their more-sensitive brains soak up too much adrenaline. They become overstimulated, their body temperatures rise rapidly and their hearts give out, he said.

"The more you push them, the more belligerent and paranoid they become," Jentzen said.

Cekas had a history with police and drugs. He was serving a year of probation after pleading guilty to drug possession about one year before he died. He pleaded guilty to simple assault in 1999 and theft and harassment charges two years later, getting probation both times. When he died, he was awaiting trial on charges of simple assault and making terroristic threats.

In 2006, county courts awarded custody of his daughter, Zarah, then 5, to her mother. The mother, in a protection-from-abuse order she filed against Cekas, alleged he threatened violence against anyone she dated.

"I'm not saying cocaine may not play a contributing role, in terms of a person's behavior or placing a greater demand on the coronary system," Wecht said. "I'm not saying cocaine (levels) are a finding that is to be ignored.

"But to attribute all this to Excited Delirium because you find a little bit of cocaine, when you have someone who has been Tasered, has been beaten, has been physically subdued -- I think, frankly, that is a cop-out."

Cekas incident unclear

Paula Shubock, the motorist who knelt beside Cekas the night he died, said Cekas showed no signs of violence. Why Cekas was lying on the road remains unclear. His car was found on a nearby overpass, but police declined to talk about their investigation into Cekas' death -- even to his mother, who said she still wonders how her son ended up bleeding and frightened at the mouth of the Fort Pitt Tunnel.

Four cars were between Shubock and Cekas when traffic stopped that night. She left her car and walked to him.

"He just kept saying, 'Please help me. Please help me,' " said Shubock of Forest Hills. Three men stood nearby as she stroked his back and told him an ambulance was on the way.

After waiting several minutes, Shubock said she got frustrated and walked back to her car to again call 911. While she was on the phone, she saw a police officer arrive. He and the men who'd been standing near her lifted Cekas and moved him off the highway, out of her sight.

Other witnesses later told police and the Tribune-Review they saw Cekas shaking violently.

The ambulance had not yet arrived, Shubock said.

She ran back toward Cekas and saw him slumped over, being supported by a police officer who was holding a Taser against his back.

Tasers incapacitate people by sending 50,000-volt electrical currents through two small darts. The darts can be fired into a person from as far away as 35 feet, or delivered by touching the stun gun to the person. A typical cycle of short electrical pulses lasts five seconds, according to Taser International's Web site.

"I said, 'What are you doing?' " Shubock said. Another officer warned her to stand back. "The kid wasn't moving. He was never standing up, as far as I could see. He didn't appear to be able to stand up."

It was about 8:44 p.m.

Police said the day after the incident they shocked Cekas several times because he was combative and endangering other motorists.

Williams said he believes Cekas wasn't shocked more than twice, though the autopsy report lists eight puncture wounds that could have been caused by Taser darts.

Police and the District Attorney's Office reviewed the case and found no wrongdoing on the part of police, said Zekas' attorney, Paul Giuffre, with the Downtown firm Meyers Kenrick Giuffre & Evans. Police won't release their report, however, and Giuffre said he's considering asking a court to force them to turn it over.

"The decision not to prosecute is probably correct," Giuffre said. "But why are they forcing a family who just wants to find out what happened to get a subpoena from the court?"

Friday, March 14, 2008

Taser death a collective failure - the systems we put in place to protect people led to man's demise

Yes, and the systems the police put in place to protect themselves lead to the demise of justice.

March 13, 2008
Les Leyne, Times Colonist

(Column nominated for 2007 National Newspaper Award)

Nov. 17, 2007 - There was something chillingly symbolic about one of the last gestures Robert Dziekanski made before his new life in Canada came to a brutal, abrupt end.

He picked up a computer, held it up with an air of desperation and then threw it to the floor. It was sadly appropriate, if you view it as a symbol of all the security systems that failed him so terribly.

Those are airport, customs and border security systems that make air travel such a dehumanizing, degrading experience. Those are the systems that contributed to his death as surely as that cold-blooded RCMP crew did.

It's hard to express what a monumental tragedy Dziekanski's death represents. It's not just the stupid, unnecessary death of a healthy young man. It's the fact that he came here to build a new life with his mother and in the space of a few hours all his hopes were snuffed out along with his life. Canada failed him callously and completely. There are very few times when I've been ashamed for my country. But watching the Taser video was one of those times.

The idea that a Polish immigrant keen to start a new life in Canada with his mother could get so entrapped in the airport's bureaucratic security maze that it wound up costing him his life is just incomprehensible.

Much of the attention is focused on the RCMP, of course. The force has been begging people to suspend judgment and wait for all the evidence before arriving at conclusions. But nothing will contradict the fact four officers Tasered him within a half-minute of their initial encounter, and possibly again when he was down and out. Nothing is coming up that will show any attempt to placate him, or just calm things down for a moment. There's no evidence that will erase the fact one officer had his knee on the man's neck for a considerable period of time.

But the clumsy brutal arrest is just what finished him off. It was the blind bureaucratic apparatus that treats everyone as cattle at best and as a suspect at worst that set him up for the kill.

The mazes, the processing and the constant watching are all designed to protect us, we're told. But every day, in ways large and small, they cost us our dignity. Vancouver airport, like all the others, is a massive security and surveillance operation that churns countless people through the mill.

"Take off your shoes."

"Undo your belt."

"Empty your pockets."

"Pour out your shampoo."

But the one time the system is called on to intervene and help an individual, rather than impose mindless orders on the multitude, it fails catastrophically. Dziekanski spent more than nine hours ensnared in that processing operation. No one noticed his constant passes in front of the cameras. No one noticed he was getting agitated. If they did, none of the officials apparently cared.

It's haunting to think of all those functionaries standing watch over the crowd, and all those robot cameras watching from every corner. The whole operation is supposedly to keep us safe. But when one lone, frightened passenger gets a little off the grid, he dies a horrible death.

It is chilling to watch Dziekanski's last few moments in that context. His death is far more than a case of suspected police brutality. It's about a collective failure of our entire security apparatus.

And you have to wonder how many thousand individuals passed by the upset man and did nothing. Have we been treated like cattle for so long that we're starting to act like them? Our travel security systems aren't just costing us our dignity. They're costing us our humanity.

In the several minutes of video evidence that show how Dziekanski's life ended, the only saving grace was the sight of one woman reaching out to help him. Unfazed by his erratic behaviour and agitated demeanor, she made an honest effort to reach him. To no avail.

There was a time when Canada was associated with virtues like generosity, friendliness and trust. What a shame that the elaborate security machine that now operates at our gateways apparently views those attitudes as liabilities. Dziekanski's experience in Canada consists of several hours of being ignored, then a brief, brutal encounter with one of our national symbols that was characterized by hostility, aggression and paranoia. And now he's dead.

The other symbolic image from the video that sticks in my mind is the automatic glass door opening and closing repeatedly, as Dziekanski stands on the threshold. He'd been a landed immigrant for several hours by then. He could communicate with no one. The system was ignoring him completely. And the doors to what he thought was the land of opportunity just keep opening and closing mindlessly as he spends his last few moments on Earth driven to the brink of emotional collapse by a system that couldn't care less.

Shock treatment - Ontario policing standards committee latest body to examine use of stun weapons

March 14, 2008

The ministry that oversees policing in Ontario has launched a review into stun guns, the Sun has learned. The policing standards advisory committee, which falls under the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, has struck a working group to review police procedure, training and use of conducted energy devices, the most common of which is the Taser.

"The review is being conducted by the ministry and includes members of the policing standards advisory committee," ministry spokesman Anthony Brown said. Brown said the government has been taking a "studied approach" to the possible expansion of Taser use across Ontario's law enforcement agencies. The review is part of the government's "ongoing" examination of conducted energy devices, Brown said.

The working group will complete the review with the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, which also plans to strike its own sub-committee on stun guns.

Although discussions have been ongoing about a possible review of Taser use in Ontario, the ministry didn't decide on the formal study until a policing standards committee meeting on Feb. 20.


There was no immediate timeline for the review. The review is expected to identify current practices involving police use of stun guns. The ministry is also interested in learning what training has been provided to cops, in addition to collecting data on the frequency of the weapon's use.

The working group will come back with recommendations on how stun guns should be deployed in Ontario.

It's the latest review launched since Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, 40, died after RCMP used a Taser on him at Vancouver International Airport last October.

In December, the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP made a number of recommendations, which included restricting the use of Tasers to situations involving combative individuals or those who might pose a risk of serious injury or death to an officer.


The Canadian Police Research Centre announced a national review of conducted energy devices last November. B.C. will be holding a public inquiry, while Nova Scotia also reviewed the use of Tasers.

The "less-than-lethal" weapon is backed by Ottawa police brass.

Chief Vernon White has repeatedly defended the devices, even going as far as being zapped himself during a recent television broadcast. Ottawa police used Tasers 12 times in 2007. The force has used the weapon less than 20 times each year since 2000. Tasers are currently deployed to Ottawa police front-line supervisors and tactical officers.

The police chiefs association has been pushing the provincial government to allow all front-line cops to carry a Taser.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Jail staff knew tasered man was mentally ill, relative says

March 12, 2008
By BRIAN MEDEL and DAVENE JEFFREY, Halifax Chronicle

Justice officials won’t comment on a document that suggests staff at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Dartmouth were aware that Howard Hyde was mentally ill. Mr. Hyde, 45, died last Nov. 22 after struggling with guards at the jail. The previous day, Halifax Regional Police had Tasered him at about 2 a.m. as he became highly agitated when he was being booked after his arrest on a spousal assault complaint.

After he was shocked with the stun gun, possibly as many as four times, his face reportedly turned blue and he went into severe distress.

Click here to see the documents

When he was taken to hospital, an emergency room physician at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre observed he was psychotic and suffered from schizophrenia. The doctor agreed to release Mr. Hyde to attend court on condition that he be returned to the hospital, unless a judge ruled he should instead be sent to another medical facility for a forensic psychiatric assessment.

The hospital released him back into police custody shortly after 9 a.m., but Mr. Hyde was not called before a judge until so late in the afternoon that the court did not have time to deal with him that day. But instead of being returned to the hospital, Mr. Hyde was taken to jail, where he scuffled with guards the next morning when they tried to take him back to court. He collapsed and soon died.

In November, Fred Honsberger, the executive director for correctional services in Nova Scotia, said jail staff may have known, "only anecdotally," that Mr. Hyde suffered from schizophrenia. And on Tuesday, Justice Department spokeswoman Carla Grant said: "We wouldn’t want to discuss this particular case. We wouldn’t have anything further to add."

But a transfer document prepared at the jail when Mr. Hyde was rushed to Dartmouth General Hospital after collapsing clearly shows that jail staff knew Mr. Hyde was ill, said his brother-in-law, Dr. Hunter Blair. "Psychosis" and "schizophrenia" are both written on the form that confirms Mr. Hyde was in an unresponsive state with no pulse. The form describes the destination as "DGH," lists escorting officers by last name and says medical information is attached. CPR was begun and 911 called, the form states.

Deputy Chief Tony Burbridge of Halifax Regional Police said documents accompany all prisoners taken to hospital. "In Nova Scotia, when we take somebody to the hospital, there’s a form that we take . . . so everybody is aware or should be aware of what has happened to somebody," he said.

Mental illness often is not considered to be as serious as other types of conditions, said Dr. Blair, a Barrington Passage physician. "If I’m in jail and I complain of chest pain, they’re going to have me off to hospital so fast," he said. "But there is a prejudice against psychotic people."

Liberal justice critic Michel Samson said justice officials need to act now to prevent prisoners like Mr. Hyde from dying in custody. According to documents released to the Hyde family, doctors wanted Mr. Hyde in hospital. "How could (that) be overlooked?" Mr. Samson said. He said he is not demanding a full public inquiry into Mr. Hyde’s death but the Justice Department must review the case immediately.

"Somewhere along the way, information wasn’t shared and medical advice was not followed," Mr. Samson said. "The minister should be calling for a review so he has all the facts in front of him and has a full understanding of why the doctor’s advice was ignored. He has a responsibility to ensure everything is done to prevent this tragedy from happening again."

Mr. Samson is worried about any appearance of bias against the mentally ill in the legal system. "The real fear is that our justice system continues to not give appropriate consideration, not only to all accused, but certainly to accused who suffer from a mental illness," he said.

The Justice Department said it is waiting for two other reports before it decides what to do next. "At this point, it would be premature to consider a public inquiry into this matter in light of the fact that both the RCMP investigation and the chief medical examiner’s report have yet to be completed or have yet to come forward," Ms. Grant said.

The department was unsure when the medical examiner’s or RCMP reports would be finished, but RCMP spokesman Sgt. Mark Gallagher shed some light on the timeline. He said the RCMP cannot finish their work until they read the medical examiner’s report, but that is coming soon. "We’re hoping to have it by the end of the month," he said.

RCMP investigators will read that report and then make their recommendations, he said. NDP Leader Darrell Dexter has called for an inquiry under the Fatality Investigations Act that would cover the last few days of Mr. Hyde’s life.

Dziekanski lawyer says funding for inquest denied

March 12, 2008
Canadian Press/The Globe and Mail

Kamloops -- The lawyer representing the mother of a Polish man who died after being stunned by a police taser at Vancouver airport says he's been denied funding to participate in a coroner's inquest into the death.

Walter Kostecky says the B.C. Solicitor-General's Ministry has cited an existing policy of not providing financial assistance at coroner's inquests.

But Mr. Kostecky says the death of Robert Dziekanski is an extreme case with a profound public interest and where the other parties, including the RCMP and Canada Border Services, are well funded.

"Every other party that's involved in this is funded in some way through the public purse: the [Vancouver] airport authority, the Canadian Border Services and the RCMP," he said. "Certainly all of their lawyers are going to be paid."

Mr. Dziekanski died last October after Mounties used a taser on him when he became agitated after spending hours in the airport arrivals areas.

French taser seller loses lawsuit against Amnesty

PARIS, March 11, 2008

(Reuters) - The French distributor of Taser (TASR.O: Quote, Profile, Research) stun guns lost a suit it filed against human rights group Amnesty International on Tuesday, court documents showed.

A Paris court ordered SMP Technologies, which supplies the French police, to pay legal fees and 3,000 euros ($4,600) in fines to Amnesty for bringing an unwarranted suit against it over a paper the group published denouncing the Taser.

Amnesty said in May 2007 that 220 deaths had been linked to the gun, and that French police-model Tasers had been put up for sale at the online auction site eBay. They later retracted their statement about the police model.

"We have admitted that we were wrong about the X26 appearing on eBay, but our position regarding Taser deaths is clear," said Benoit Muracciole, arms control director for Amnesty France.

"Research we conducted for 2001 to 2006 shows that in around 220 cases in the United States and Canada, people have died after being hit by a Taser blast," he said.

Canada's national police force decided last December to restrict their use of the gun after a video of a dying Polish man hit by a police Taser provoked widespread outrage.

The Taser stun gun incapacitates people through a 50,000-volt jolt of electricity, and the same charge is used in sleeker civilian models. Police say they are a needed non-lethal alternative to firearms.

Taser says there is no scientific proof the gun has caused any deaths. The company had record revenue figures in February, after reporting revenues of more than $100 million in 2007.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Liberals demand immediate action on taser use reforms

March 11, 2008

OTTAWA – The RCMP and the Conservative government have failed to implement the two most important recommendations made in a critical report on Taser use by the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, Liberal Public Safety Critic Ujjal Dosanjh said today.

“This government says it takes seriously the report by Paul Kennedy, the Chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, but how can anyone believe that when there is absolutely no action on the two most crucial recommendations,” said Mr. Dosanjh, referring to Mr. Kennedy’s testimony last week at the Commons Committee on Public Safety and National Security.

On December 12, 2007, Mr. Kennedy released his interim Taser report to Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day. The first two recommendations, which he marks as requiring “immediate implementation” would re-classify Tasers as an "impact weapon" and would restrict their use to situations where an individual appears to be experiencing the condition(s) of excited delirium, when the behaviour is combative, or when there is a risk of death or grievous bodily harm to the officer, the individual or the general public.

“These important recommendations cannot be ignored any longer by this government. We have seen the use of Tasers creep up over the past few years and we have seen an increase in fatalities of individuals who were jolted by a Taser before their death. The Minister of Public Safety must take action now, pursuant to Section 5, sub-section 1 of the RCMP Act, and implement Mr. Kennedy’s recommendations to rein in these disturbing patterns,” said Mr. Dosanjh.

French Taser seller loses lawsuit against Amnesty

March 11, 2008

The French distributor of Taser stun guns lost a suit it filed against human rights group Amnesty International on Tuesday, court documents showed.

A Paris court ordered SMP Technologies, which supplies the French police, to pay legal fees and 3,000 euros ($4,600) in fines to Amnesty for bringing an unwarranted suit against it over a paper the group published denouncing the Taser.

Amnesty said in May 2007 that 220 deaths had been linked to the gun, and that French police-model Tasers had been put up for sale at the online auction site eBay. They later retracted their statement about the police model.

"We have admitted that we were wrong about the X26 appearing on eBay, but our position regarding Taser deaths is clear," said Benoit Muracciole, arms control director for Amnesty France.

"Research we conducted for 2001 to 2006 shows that in around 220 cases in the United States and Canada, people have died after being hit by a Taser blast," he said.

Canada’s national police force decided last December to restrict their use of the gun after a video of a dying Polish man hit by a police Taser provoked widespread outrage.

The Taser stun gun incapacitates people through a 50,000-volt jolt of electricity, and the same charge is used in sleeker civilian models. Police say they are a needed non-lethal alternative to firearms.

Taser says there is no scientific proof the gun has caused any deaths. The company had record revenue figures in February, after reporting revenues of more than $100 million in 2007.

A knee in the neck of excited delirium

March 11, 2008
Amanda Truscott
Canadian Medical Association Journal

Some call it an entirely manufactured psychological condition. The police believe it is not only legitimate, but potentially fatal.

The latter, though, may have a vested interest in perpetuating the notion that "excited delirium" is a valid medical condition, given the heat they've taken following last year's death of Polish citizen Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport after being shot by a taser, a hand-held weapon that uses compressed air to direct a jolt of electricity up to 10.6 metres away.

Did Dziekanski die from "excited delirium" or multiple taser shocks? And what about the officer's knee pressed into his neck?

Dziekanski touched down in Vancouver on Oct. 14, 2007, following a 13-hour flight from Poland and for 8 hours roamed the immigration lounge, steadfastly insisting that his mother would soon meet him. She, meanwhile, awaited his arrival in the baggage claims area, while airport officials did nothing to ensure the pair could connect. Lost, confused and unable to speak English, Dziekanski used office chairs to build a makeshift barricade between a pair of glass doors as if to ensure that no one could remove him from his meeting place with his mother. Obviously frustrated, he began to throw computer equipment onto the floor and against a glass wall. The police were summoned and in stunning sequence of events captured on video by an eyewitness's cell phone, Dziekanski was pinned the floor, shot by a taser and eventually died.

Public outrage prompted the federal government to call an investigation into officers' use of tasers. The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] released an interim report on Dec. 12, 2007, recommending restrictions on the weapon's use. A coroner's inquest will commence in May.

The RCMP claim excited delirium was the cause of death. Media and civil liberties groups are skeptical about both the cause, and the condition.

A controversial condition, "excited delirium" has been defined as being characterized by agitation, incoherence, bizarre behaviour, high temperature, superhuman strength, a high tolerance for pain — and sometimes, the compulsion to break or bang on glass. Those who study it say it can be brought on by drug use, alcohol withdrawal, low blood sugar, mental illness or extreme fatigue. It does not, however, appear in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

But "delirium" — minus the "excited"— does.

Dr. Ian Dawe, director of Psychiatric Emergency Services at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, explains delirium as "a fluctuating level of consciousness," a set of symptoms that stereotypically appear together as a result of intoxication or an underlying medical condition.

The DSM says most sufferers of delirium fully recover but some don't as "delirium may progress to stupor, coma, seizures, or death, particularly if the underlying cause is untreated."

Dawe says there are 2 kinds of delirium: active and hypoactive. People suffering from the former might behave more or less as Dziekanski did: they can be agitated, irrational, and hard to communicate with. The hypoactive form, meanwhile, makes people quiet and withdrawn.

Active delirium can increase risks associated with physical restraints, Dawe says. But when someone suffering from delirium dies, determining the cause is problematic. Was it delirium? The taser? Restraint? A complex interplay of all the above?

Dawe says "excited delirium" is a pop culture phenomenon and doesn't have much currency among psychiatrists, although police, coroners and forensic pathologists use it.

University of Miami Professor of Neurology Dr. Deborah Mash, who has studied the condition for 20 years, says "sudden death in the context of emotional stress is well-known. Just because there isn't something called 'agitated delirium' or 'excited delirium' — that vernacular is not in the DSM-IV — doesn't mean that the symptom set is not in the DSM, because it is. We have evidence to suggest it's a brain disease."

Mash argues the condition is the result of an interaction between genes and environment: the gene remains silent until triggered by something like alcohol, drugs, stress or sleep deprivation — anything that affects dopamine. "It's always the same. The presentation is the same, the behavioural syndrome is the same, the hyperthermia is there, and the phenomenon of sudden death is there. And it doesn't matter whether they were restrained, or hogtied, or pepper sprayed or tasered — it's the same."

"This is a condition where law enforcement doesn't have a lot of options ... now, if you just left someone with excited delirium in the woods, I mean, what would happen to them? We don't know the answer. We've had purported excited delirium deaths where there were no police involved."

Yet, here's the rub. Those who die of "excited delirium" usually do so while in police custody, often after having been tasered.

To be sure, it's not a disease invented by the RCMP. In fact, they are late to the adoption of "excited delirium" as a condition. As early as 1849, Dr. Luther Bell described the inexplicable sudden death of psychotic patients as "acute exhaustive mania," while Dr. Charles Wetli coined the term "excited delirium" in 1985 to explain sudden death in recreational cocaine users.

Yet, so convinced are police that "excited delirium" is a legitimate condition that PoliceOne.com, an international information website for police officers, includes a direct link to an excited delirium training video created by the Las Vegas Police Department. In the video, Sherriff Bill Young even asserts that excited delirium leads people to blame police for deaths they didn't cause.

The video explicitly recommends using tasers to override the central nervous system, incapacitating the suspect just long enough for officers to properly restrain him. In a dramatization, a handcuffed suspect lies on the ground, surrounded by 7 officers. They place no weight on him and eventually turn him on his back and sit him upright. Nothing is done that might constrain the suspect's breathing, a point PoliceOne.com is careful to caution against.

The latter is by no means moot — the link between restraint, excited delirium and oxygen supply has long been the subject of debate and concern.

A 1998 review of 21 cases of unexpected deaths in people in a state of excited delirum — 18 of which were people in police custody — found that all "suddenly lapsed into tranquility shortly after being restrained (CMAJ 1998:158[12]: 1603-07). In all 21 cases, the victims had been restrained either face-down or through pressure applied to their necks. In 12 cases, excited delirium was brought on by a psychiatric disorder. In 8 cases, cocaine was the culprit. In 8 cases, the victims suffered chest compression from the weight of 1–5 people.

The study concluded that "the possibility that positional asphyxia contributes to unexpected death in people in states of excited delirium cannot be ignored." Those suffering from excited delirium were in need of more than the usual amount of oxygen, yet the techniques used to restrain them could restrict their ability to breathe.

Dawe is sympathetic to people faced with the task of controlling situations like Dziekanski's. "I wouldn't want to lay blame on anyone." He'd like to enhance cooperation between police, paramedics and mental-health professionals, so that police could have "a broader range of options" when dealing with such cases. St. Michael's has partnered up with 2 downtown Toronto police divisions to create a "mobile crisis intervention team" — a constable and a mental-health nurse who deal with 911 dispatches involving emotionally disturbed people. The idea is to decriminalize mental health issues and reduce visits to the prison and the hospital.

"If something good can come out of tragedy, it's that perhaps we can develop a different approach to these situations," Dawe adds.

Video shows RCMP throwing man down, tasering him


A video has surfaced showing a 45-year-old disabled man being jolted by a Taser inside a Kamloops, B.C. RCMP detachment. The video shows John Dempsey, who suffered from a muscle disorder, being wrestled to the ground by two RCMP officers, who then used the conducted energy weapon on him while he was on the ground. In 2004, Dempsey, 45, was arrested for obstructing a police officer who had tried to intervene in the arrest of a friend he thought the Mounties were roughing up.

When officers led Dempsey to the booking room, police said he was combative. He put his foot on the door, and was wrestled to the ground by two officers. While he was on the ground, face down, hands handcuffed behind his back, Cpl. Macahonic pulled out his Taser, placed it on Dempsey's back, and pulled the trigger. "I wasn't resisting arrest, I calmly walked, he grabbed me, and said this will teach you not to [profanity] with you, that's what he said," Dempsey said later.

Dempsey launched a lawsuit accusing the RCMP of excessive force. He alleged he was not the only one who was Tasered unnecessarily -- he was punched in the face by the arresting officer. Dempsey died a few weeks ago after he was hit by a car on the Coquihalla Highway in an unrelated incident.

Only recently did the law firm who represented Dempsey get a hold of the video. RCMP Cpl. Annie Linteau said there was an internal investigation into whether officers used excessive force. In a statement of defence filed in court, the RCMP says the officer who Tasered Dempsey used only as much force as was necessary. "The continuing and increasing levels of combativeness and resistance elevated the level of intervention necessary to control him," said the filing.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association has called for a moratorium on Tasers. "We've got a systemic problem that demands an immediate answer," said Jason Gratl.