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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Australia: National taser review needed: civil libertarians

June 18, 2009
World News Australia

Civil libertarians say a national review of police use of Tasers is needed, following revelations a man who died after being tasered by police could have endured shocks for more than two minutes.

Thirty-nine-year-old Antonio Galeano died after he was shot with a 50,000 volt Taser during a violent confrontation with police at a unit in Brandon, near Townsville, on June 12.

Tasered for ‘up to two minutes’

Police initially said Mr Galeano was shot three times, but data recorded from the Taser has shown it operated on 28 separate cycles during the confrontation.

An average Taser shot lasts up to five seconds, meaning the man could have suffered millions of electric shocks for more than two minutes.

The incident, which involved two officers, is now being investigated by the Queensland coroner and the police service's ethical standards command, overseen by the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC).

The state's police service has also suspended the further roll-out of Tasers.

Calls for investigation into ‘overuse’

But civil liberties lawyer Terry O'Gorman said an independent investigation was needed.

"We are calling for an independent group of experts to review the use of Tasers Australia-wide," Mr O'Gorman said.

"There has already been two deaths from Tasers in the past two months, Queensland last week and one in the Northern Territory last month and the problems of Tasers being over used in everyday policing situations need to be addressed nationally."

Amnesty International says US authorities recommend one standard cycle of five seconds is more than enough to subdue someone.

"These devices are open to abuse, as they are easy to carry, easy to use, and can inflict severe pain at the push of a button, without leaving substantial marks," said Amnesty International spokeswoman Katie Wood.

Taser cap may be an option

The criticism came as one of Queensland's most senior officers, Deputy Police Commissioner Ian Stewart, admitted officers had no guidelines on how many times a Taser can be fired in the one incident.

He said the police service would look into whether there needed to be a cap on how many times a Taser should be fired.

"The review has three main elements - we are going to look at our policies in the use of the Tasers, we are going to look at the training we provide our officers, and we are looking at the monitoring of the use of Tasers by the police service," Mr Stewart said.

Assistant Commissioner Peter Martin, from the ethical standards command, says police are talking to the USA-based manufacturers Taser International.

Criminologist and RMIT Professor Julian Bondy says the incident raises questions over why Tasers are so powerful.

"What are we unleashing on the community?" Professor Bondy told AAP.

"We don't issue frontline police with firearms with a thousand bullets, we don't issue them with capsicum spray the size of fire extinguishers.

"Every other weapon they have is limited in its capacity but this one is out of proportion."

Queensland Police Union acting president Ian Leavers said he was also baffled by the new data in the Brandon incident.

Taser figure ‘baffling’

"At first it was believed the man was tasered three times, now this figure that's come out is baffling," Mr Leavers said.

"I say let's get cameras on Tasers so we can be certain - it's important we have the best available evidence when allegations of wrongdoing or excessive force are made."

The police review will be completed in four weeks but the release of the findings will depend on the timing of the coroner's findings.

Results of the autopsy have not yet been released.

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