February 3, 2009
By Linda Nguyen, Canwest News Service
The father of a 14-year-old girl who was Tasered while inside a jail cell with two Ontario Provincial Police officers last summer has launched a $500,000 lawsuit against the province’s police force.
The girl, who is identified in court papers only as Jane Doe, was hit once in the leg “for three to five seconds” with a Taser inside the OPP detachment in Sioux Lookout, Ont., about 400 kilometres north of Thunder Bay.
The family’s lawyer, Jeff Roberts, told Canwest News Service on Monday that the girl was taken to the hospital for burn marks after the incident on July 10, 2008. The lawsuit claims that the girl was “left traumatized” when her leg went numb for a month.
More information was expected at a news conference scheduled for Tuesday.
Roberts said the two officers used the conductive energy device after the girl had been “sporadically peeling paint from the walls of her jail cell.” The lawsuit said she “remained motionless for nearly an hour.”
The girl, who is from the nearby Lac Seul First Nation, had initially been arrested the previous night for being drunk and disorderly. She eventually pleaded guilty to the charge.
“Police describe her as a dangerous girl. It’s not true.” Roberts said. “She has a cognitive impairment and her emotional responses have been stunted. She’s not a bad kid.”
The lawsuit claims police used unnecessary force to subdue the girl, after giving her only one warning.
It’s seeking $250,000 in response to negligence, assault and battery allegations. It’s also seeking $250,000 for punitive damages, an opportunity for the courts “to send a message,” Roberts said. It also is calling for an order to ban the weapon from being used on minors, except in life-threatening situations.
The lawsuit lists the OPP and the two officers - Mark Zappitelli and Andrew Hampson - as defendants.
None of the allegations has been proven in court.
OPP spokesman Insp. Dave Ross said Monday the force was not contesting that the girl had been Tasered, but that the OPP’s professional-standards bureau completed an investigation in December 2008 and cleared the officers of any wrongdoing.
“The OPP investigation was a result of a public complaint,” he said from OPP headquarters in Orillia, Ont. “The matter was unsubstantiated. The complainants are able to appeal the decision to the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services. I’m not sure whether they have done that.”
Ross said Tasers were only used by specially trained officers in situations “dealing with a dangerous or unstable individual.”
The conductive energy devices were only deployed in the interest of public safety, the safety of the officers, or the person in police custody, he added.
“As you recognize, conductive energy weapons are an intermediate form of force,” Ross said. “The use of force is a last resort.”
But Roberts called the subsequent police investigation “insulting and bizarre.”
“This is not a matter of us being anti-cop because we know that most cops do a great service for us every day,” he said. “This tool is something that is to be used only in emergency situations, and now it is being used frequently. I don’t understand why they feel the need to apply an electric shock to a 14-year-old girl presenting no danger to herself or anyone.”
Roberts said a surveillance video taken in the jail cell that has been viewed by the girl’s father and the native band chief allegedly showed the girl scream as she was pinned down and Tasered for three seconds by the officers. He said police have refused to turn over the video to him.
Tasers have been under intense scrutiny in recent years after the use of the weapons resulted in civilian deaths, including that of Robert Dziekanski. The Polish immigrant died of cardiac arrest at the Vancouver International Airport in October 2007, after being Tasered five times. An inquiry is now being held to investigate the circumstances surrounding his death.
Late last year, the RCMP and several municipal police forces in B.C., Alberta and Ontario pulled several X26 model Tasers for testing under claims that some may have been generating more power than regulated.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
February 3, 2009