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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Too close for comfort?

April 25, 2009
Thana Dharmarajah, Guelph Mercury

An outspoken Taser use critic wants the Guelph Police Services Board to examine its conflict-of-interest polices because of a private company started by a city police officer.

Patti Gillman, a Belleville resident and creator of the Truth Not Tasers blog, said she's concerned about a firm started by Guelph Police Const. Gary Mulder because the company bears similarities to a like-sounding American firm with corporate links to Taser International.

Mulder's firm is called the Canadian Centre for the Prevention of In-Custody Deaths Inc. The American firm Gillman is comparing it to is the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Deaths.

Mulder denies any link between his company and the U.S. firm or Taser International. He has been cleared of any conflict of interest in this endeavour by Guelph's chief of police and the Guelph Police Services Board.

Both of the Prevention of In-Custody Deaths companies offer front-line police officers and others training in recognizing potentially dangerous in-custody circumstances and in offering strategies to attempt to reduce the risk of fatalities in such cases.

Likewise both also tout the existence of a condition called excited delirium and offer training on recognizing it and how it should be handled if it's suspected.

Excited delirium is a controversial label that describes an alleged state of mind and body in individuals where they have been described as being in a delirious state, with extreme strength and incoherent speech.

It has been frequently cited by some police sources as a medical condition of subjects encountered who were subsequently shocked by Tasers.

It is not, however, listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association, a guide for professional psychologists and psychiatrists.

Gillman -- whose anti-Taser advocacy developed after the death of her brother Robert Bagnell in 2004 after he received at least two electrical shocks from police Tasers -- is among those voices in the debate that questions the existence of excited delirium.

"It only seems to be cited when someone has been Tasered," Gillman said.

She said she is troubled by an excited delirium conference being staged next month by Mulder's company -- a two-day Niagara Falls event that will see a workshop led by a founder of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Deaths.

John Peters, the American firm's founder who is to appear at the Canadian company's event, started his firm with a corporate lawyer for Taser.

Attempts to arrange an interview with Peters weren't successful.

But Taser International spokesperson Steve Tuttle confirmed it gave setup grants to Peters' firm and has paid for Peters to speak about excited delirium and to do training about the subject at its Arizona headquarters as well as at various U.S. law-enforcement agencies.

Mulder said he wasn't aware of Peters previously receiving Taser International funding to speak about excited delirium and that isn't the case this time.

He said he will pay Peters and other speakers personally for their full speaking fees and recoup that expense from conference registration revenue. Tuttle confirmed Taser International isn't funding Peters to speak in Niagara Falls.

The conference will feature a session called Conducted Energy Devices: Are They Safe Options?

But Mulder said Taser International isn't sponsoring anything at the conference and no company will be advertising at it.

Further, Mulder said his company has never received funding from either Taser International or the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Deaths.

In an email this week, he said his firm benefited from "some co-operation between the Canadian Centre and IPICD, Inc. regarding initial startup concerns and general business practices."

But in the same message, he added: "I can assure you that the Canadian Centre ultimately operates independently from the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Deaths, Inc. or any other company."

Tuttle confirmed Taser International has no links or past funding relationship with Mulder or his firm.

"It's honestly and truly not my intention to have any association with Taser at all," Mulder said. "I am 100 per cent the owner (of this company). I have complete control over the company."

Guelph Police Chief Rob Davis said he doesn't see Mulder's personal business as a conflict of interest. Mulder signed a contract with the Guelph Police Service that his company wouldn't have any affiliation with it. "I'm satisfied that he's followed the proper protocol," Davis said.

As for the conference, Davis said he sees nothing wrong with Mulder educating others about the knowledge the officer has obtained in his policing career.

Mulder is an 18-year police veteran and has been assigned to the Guelph Police Service's training unit as a certified use of force instructor since 2003.

After fielding inquiries related to this story, Guelph Police Services Board chair Dave Clark asked at this month's board meeting whether the firm followed all Police Services Act requirements.

Davis responded at that session that it did and the matter was left at that.

Mulder said he believes in excited delirium and that he wants to educate emergency personnel about behaviours associated with it so they can act as a team when they encounter it.

"It's something that happens very fast and deteriorates very quickly and everybody's abilities and actions are being questioned," he said. "What I want to do is to provide the information so people can be informed to make the best decision under duress."

Gillman said the fact that Mulder is actively drawing attention privately to a condition that has gone "hand in hand" with Tasers in so many cases warrants a thorough police board review.

She said she is pondering a written request to that effect to the board.

In 2005, she complained to the Victoria Police Department about the involvement of one of its officers with Taser International. The officer had done a variety of paid work for Taser during the period of his employment with that police service. The department began modifying its conflict-of-interest policies after she raised that matter.

Gillman's brother died after an encounter with Vancouver police in June 2004. The 44-year-old was the subject of a 911 call to the downtown hotel where he lived and had smashed things in a common washroom.

A 2007 inquest jury found that being Tasered played no role in his death. It concluded his death resulted from "restraint associated cardiac arrest" arising from cocaine intoxication and psychosis. The jury offered no recommendations.

Gillman has said publicly she wants a moratorium on Taser use until there is more independent research on their use and possible connection to deaths that have followed their deployment.

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