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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Statement of defence filed in case of girl tasered while in police custody

February 25, 2009
By Garett Williams
Miner and News (Kenora, Ontario)

OPP lawyers submitted a statement of defence in Kenora Tuesday requesting a $500,000 lawsuit be dismissed after a 14-year-old girl was shocked with a Taser while in custody in Sioux Lookout last summer.

The girl, who cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, was being held in custody in July 2008, awaiting a court appearance, when a Taser was used to bring her to compliance with officers’ orders to stop scratching paint off holding cell walls.

According to the initial claim, the girl has mental disabilities and was passing time, when officers warned her she would be charged with mischief if she didn’t stop picking at paint on the wall.

The youth was told she would be restrained in a prisoner’s belt to prevent further damage to the cell if she continued to pick at the wall.

Two officers entered the cell, one “lightly” taking hold of her arm to stand her up, when she began to fight back, the OPP defence said.

“The officers subsequently placed Jane Doe on the cell floor with minimal force in order to get physical control of her,” the defence said. “When Jane Doe continued to struggle and kick at the officers, the (officer) deployed a Taser drive for two to three seconds to her right thigh in order to gain compliance and have her cease the assault against the officers.”

The statement of claim alleges the youth was traumatized by the unlawful assault and battery, stating her leg “felt numb for a month.”

“The assault and battery on Jane Doe has led to considerable and ongoing mental distress,” the claim reads. “She does not understand why she was attacked by the police officers in such a manner or why a deadly weapon was used upon her without provocation. The assault and battery has left her anxious and distrustful of police and other authority figures.”

In August, the youth pled guilty to assaulting an officer and the provincial police deny she sustained the injuries, damages or losses alleged in the statement of claim and called the damages sought “excessive and remote.”

The case garnered attention from both the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth and Ontario NDP Leader Howard Hampton, who called for a moratorium on the use of Tasers on minors. A spokesperson for Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Rick Bartolucci said the government has no plans to restrict officers’ use of the device and front-line officers should have all law enforcement tools at their disposal.

The defence statement was submitted the same day the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the Canadian Police Association argued in Ottawa that Tasers save lives.

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