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Monday, February 02, 2009

Province won't act on Taser recommendations

February 2, 2009

The province appears to have no plans to hand Tasers to more police officers despite a recommendation to do so by a jury in York Region.

More time and study is needed to delve into the safety of Tasers, a type of conducted energy device, both the governing Liberals and a local member of the opposition Progressive Conservatives said following recommendations Thursday by an inquest jury examining the 2005 death of Jeffrey George Black, 21, who was fatally shot by York Regional Police in Markham.

“With respect to expanding the use of conducted energy devices, at this time, we have no plans to either call a moratorium on Tasers or to extend their use,” said Laura Blondeau, spokesperson for Rick Bartolucci, the minister of community safety and correctional services. “Currently, we are reviewing the use of Tasers in general and that review is expected imminently.”

While recognizing the need for police officers to be adequately armed while performing their duties, Newmarket-Aurora MPP Frank Klees said there have been many instances that conducted energy device technology has been called into question.

“I believe there is a place for the Taser equipment,” he said. “I have serious concerns about the safety of that equipment. Tasers can kill if they are used under the wrong circumstances and used irresponsibly. I think everyone will agree with me: let us make the thing safe first and then issue the tool.”

The issuing of more Tasers to more officers should not be done until the provincial review is complete, Mr. Klees added.

The three-woman, two-man jury hearing the inquest into Mr. Black’s death recommended Thursday that the province amend laws, that currently restrict the use of conducted energy devices, such as Tasers, so only specialized police units such as tactical officers and supervising road sergeants can use them.

The jury also recommended the province fund police training and refresher courses for the devices and that all York police are permitted to carry Tasers.

The recommendations concluded the inquest, which took place at Aurora Town Hall and began Monday.

The jury followed the recommendations from Mr. Black’s father, Kenneth English.

Mr. English did not attend the hearing Thursday but in an interview with the York Region Media Group said he was happy the jury made recommendations to the province based on his suggestions.

“I am very thankful for that,” he said.

The Ontario government ordered the review of some Tasers to ensure their proper functioning in December, following an investigative report about a specific model of the device. There were concerns it discharged an electrical voltage higher than specified by Taser International, the manufacturer.

However, there has never been a death associated with Taser use by York police, the Black inquest heard.

Several inquest juries in Ontario, before the Black inquest, have made recommendations that front line officers be permitted to carry conducted energy devices.

York police, which permits only its tactical officers to carry the device, has 30 Tasers, Chief Armand La Barge said. Twenty-one Tasers were recently taken out of circulation for inspection but all were found to be in proper working order, he added.

York police want the province to permit front-line officers to carry Tasers, he said.

“We have used the Taser sparingly here,” Chief La Barge said.

“We give a front-line officer a gun and yet we do not seem to trust a front-line officers with a less-than-lethal force (option),” the chief said.

And, the resources, such as training time, needed to equip York supervisors with Tasers would be better directed to front-line officers who are often the first at scenes, Chief La Barge said.

The Black inquest heard Tasers cost $700 a piece and the cartridges used with the devices are $36.

On Oct. 17, 2005 at about 11:45 p.m., two York officers responded to an alarm call on Denison Street in south Markham. The officers spotted a dark van without its lights on as it drove out of the parking lot and accelerated onto Esna Park Drive, according to a case summary released in December 2005 by the province’s Special Investigations Unit.

The SIU is a civilian agency that investigates cases of serious injuries and deaths involving police.

When the van reached Esna Park and Alden, it slammed into another van entering the intersection, the SIU said.

Three men got out of the van and ran from the collision scene. One man was arrested and an officer chased Mr. Black, who ran behind an industrial complex, the SIU said.

The officer found Mr. Black in a parking lot, told him he was under arrest and ordered him to show his hands, according to the SIU.

The officer had his gun drawn, but put it away when he discovered Mr. Black was cornered between storage trailers. When the officer moved in, Mr. Black struck and punched the officer in the chest, according to the SIU.

After he was hit several times, the officer realized Mr. Black was armed with a knife and had been stabbing the officer’s bulletproof vest, the SIU said.

As the officer attempted to grasp Mr. Black’s hand, he stabbed the officer on the top of his head, according to the SIU.

Mr. Black then pulled away and “dared the officer to shoot him”, the SIU said. The officer pulled his gun and pepper-sprayed Mr. Black.

While the officer was dealing with Mr. Black, the York police helicopter flew over the scene and a call was put out for more police to respond.

A second officer arrived to find Mr. Black moving toward the injured officer. The officer had his firearm drawn and pointed at Mr. Black. When the injured officer called out that Mr. Black was carrying a knife, Mr. Black lunged toward the second officer, Const. Ryan Lidstone, and brought the knife down in a stabbing motion, according to reports from the scene.

Const. Jason Griffiths fired twice, striking Mr. Black in the abdomen.

Mr. Black died at Scarborough Hospital Grace Campus.

The inquest heard there was no front-line supervisor at the scene when Mr. Black was shot.

A provincial review of police action in connection with Mr. Black’s death found the shooting justified.

Both Const. Griffiths and Const. Lidstone were later recognized for their bravery.


• 2008: A jury in Brampton recommended the province consider authorizing all front-line police officers to carry a Taser or have access to a Taser, following an inquest into the 2004 death of Jerry Knight, 29, who died while in the custody of Peel Regional Police.

• 2006: A jury in Toronto recommended the province take the necessary steps to ensure all front-line or primary response police officers are authorized to carry a Taser, following an inquest into the 2000 death of Otto Vass, who died from injuries sustained while in the custody of Toronto police.

• 2005: A jury in London recommended the province take whatever steps are necessary to ensure all front-line officers are authorized to carry a Taser, following an inquest into the 2004 death of Peter Lamonday, 33, who died at a London hospital shortly after being arrested by London police.

— source: the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services

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