June 12, 2009
Christine Kellett, Brisbane Times
Civil libertarians say the death of a man shot three times with a Taser stun gun in north Queensland this morning "explodes the police myth that Tasers don't kill".
Opponents of the controversial electric shock weapons have called for the immediate suspension of their use by frontline officers until the conclusion of separate investigations into today's incident by the police, Crime and Misconduct Commission and the State Coroner.
A 39-year-old man was shot up to three times by police who were called to a house in Green Street at Brandon, near Ayr, after he allegedly ransacked the property and violently assaulted a woman before cutting himself about 3am.
It is believed he had earlier escaped from Townsville Hospital following a mental health assessment.
The Queensland Police Union said the officers involved were left with no choice but to Taser the naked man, who allegedly turned on police.
Police Minister Neil Roberts this morning ruled out a temporary suspension of Tasers, telling reporters the weapons had saved lives in the past.
But Terry O'Gorman, vice president of the Queensland Council of Civil Liberties, said the decision was irresponsible.
"The Minister knows full well it will be 12 to 18 months before this matter reaches coronial inquest. Are we going to risk the chance of another death in that time?" Mr O'Gorman said.
Criminal defence lawyer Jim Coburn, who has lobbied with other solicitors for the State Government to justify its decision to introduce Tasers with scientific evidence of their safety, said today's tragedy was "inevitable".
"This is the case we have feared since the fast-tracking of the Taser trial by the former Police Minister (Judy Spence) last year," Mr Coburn, of Brisbane firm Ryan and Bosscher, told brisbanetimes.com.au.
"We've warned about the introduction of Tasers in the first place and the potential for devastating effects. Now it has happened.
"It is a dereliction of the Minister's duty not to suspend their use immediately."
Mr Roberts said separate probes by the Police Ethical Standards Command, the Crime and Misconduct Commission and the coroner's office would examine the incident and whether the Taser had been used appropriately by police at the scene. He ruled out a ban on the weapons until that time.
"I don't think that's necessary at all. In fact the the evidence clearly shows that from the initial trial and indeed the general roll out of the Taser they have been used very appropriately by police," Mr Roberts told reporters.
"Every deployment of the Taser is investigated fully and reported. If there are any complaints about the use of a Taser, there is a higher level of investigation that is involved."
Frontline police were given Tasers by former Police Minister Judy Spence after a 12-month trial was cut to six months last year.
Mr Roberts today defended the weapon's use and said far from doing harm, they were in fact "saving people's lives".
"The evidence to date is showing the mere presentation of the Taser is actually diffusing situations.
"They are actually being deployed proportionally less than (during) the original trial.
"There are many other examples where the Taser has, I believe, actually saved people's lives. There have been people who are attempting to self harm and cause harm to others and the use of the Taser, rather than lethal force of a weapon, has diffused that situation immensely."
Police said the 39-year-old man, who had allegedly brandished an iron bar and broken glass, was shot three times with a Taser and had collapsed while being handcuffed. He died before ambulance officers arrived on the scene.
He said a coronial inquiry would likely prove the electric shock device was not to blame.
"Although a Taser was used by police, at this stage I believe that it is unlikely that this will ultimately emerge as the cause of death, due to other contributing factors," Mr Leavers said.
"I believe that the deceased had caused a number of injuries to his person prior to police arriving and whilst police were trying to apprehend him and it is possible that toxicology reports could also be helpful to the coroner."
Mr Leavers is flying to Townsville to speak with the officers involved. He said they were receiving support and counselling.
"It should also be noted that if the police officers did not have a Taser available in this case, they would certainly have had to resort to use of a firearm due to the level of danger that they were exposed to given that the deceased armed himself with a number of weapons.
"Any death in custody is a tragedy and all of our thoughts are with the family of the deceased as well as with the officers involved."
It is believed the man's death is the first in Queensland involving a Taser arrest.
A 39-year-old man died in Alice Springs after being Tasered by police last month, and in 2002, Gary Pearce, a violent, mentally-ill NSW 56-year-old, died about two weeks after being shot with a stun gun when he threatened police with a frying pan.
A joint inquest in Brisbane heard all four - James Henry Jacobs, 29, Thomas Dion Waite, 30, Mieng Huynh, 40, and James Michael Gear, 22 - had been in the throes of a psychotic episode and had become violent when they were gunned down either in their homes or in public.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Thursday, June 11, 2009
June 12, 2009