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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Multiple-jolt Taser use by Sask. RCMP spiked in 2007, analysis shows

April 8, 2009
CBC News

RCMP in Saskatchewan delivered multiple jolts from their Taser devices in 23 separate cases in 2007, the highest annual tally of such deployments in the province within the period of 2004 to 2008, a joint CBC News and Canadian Press analysis shows.

In other years, the number of incidents in which multiple discharges (three jolts or more) were used was as low as six in 2008 and between 14 and 17 for the years 2004 to 2006, inclusive.

The figures come from a database of RCMP Taser reports created by CBC News and the Canadian Press. According to the database, 2007 also saw two remarkable Taser incidents in which a stun gun was discharged 15 times on unco-operative subjects.

One of the Taser incidents recorded that year involved Jake Sopkow, a Saskatchewan man from Kamsack. Sopkow, now 21, had a run-in with RCMP following a rodeo dance one Saturday night in late September 2007. Sopkow estimated he had drunk nine or 10 beers on that occasion. He admits that it was not wise of him to struggle with police when they tried to arrest him for allegedly causing a disturbance but feels the officers had the upper hand.

"I'm only 150 pounds," Sopkow said. "I had four officers on me, which were damn near 200 pounds each. So, they're taking the wind right out of me, [and] I was struggling to get out of their grip so I can get some breath back into my lungs."

Sopkow said that it was during that struggle that one of the officers applied the Taser. "Then ... out of nowhere I got a Taser," Sopkow said. "And … they kept on Tasering me." Sopkow said he was surprised that officers reached for the device so quickly. "I thought Tasers … [were used] to deal with people with weapons or someone fighting back or something." Sopkow said. "All I did, basically, was pull my arm away from [an officer's] grip because he was being pretty physical."

Sopkow said he was placed in a jail cell and then shocked again. When he was released the next day, he did not feel right, he said.

"Two hours after release, my heart felt like it was racing like no tomorrow," Sopkow said. "So, I took myself to the hospital, and … they kept me in overnight. They had me on monitors. My heart [rate] was probably double the rate it should have been."

Medical reports indicated that his pulse rate was 134 beats per minute at around 3:30 p.m. CT. The doctor who saw Sopkow also noted 10 burn marks, concentrated on his back near the shoulder and on his left thigh.

Ultimately, RCMP charged Sopkow with two counts of assault and with causing a disturbance. He was convicted of one count of assault.

While many details of the incidents recorded in the RCMP Taser reports were masked, the documents do include a reference to a Kamsack subject who was, according to the report "causing a disturbance" and "became combative and assaulted a police officer" in 2007.

The report says a Taser was deployed three times as an alternative to the use of lethal force to avoid a threat of injury. It also notes that four officers were present.

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