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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Taser victim died from heart attack

June 18, 2009
The Australian

A QUEENSLAND man shocked 28 times by a police officer with a 50,000-volt Taser died of a heart attack within minutes, an autopsy has confirmed.

Pathologists made the finding in a post-mortem report into last week's death of Antonio Galeano, as Queensland police yesterday corrected the public record after earlier claiming the amphetamine addict was shocked only three times.

That first claim was contradicted by data downloaded from the unnamed senior constable's stun gun.

The data, taken from the weapon within hours of Mr Galeano's death early last Friday, was not released publicly until an exclusive report yesterday in The Australian that revealed evidence he had been shocked repeatedly, each time for a duration of five seconds.

Mr Galeano, 39, eventually collapsed and died while in handcuffs.

The two officers involved in the incident at Brandon, south of Townsville, are now under police protection because of death threats, which police sources claim come from criminal associates of Mr Galeano.

Calls mounted yesterday for a criminal investigation into the use of the Taser on the man, who had earlier allegedly assaulted a woman and was wielding a metal bar when confronted by the officer and his partner, a first-year constable, at a unit at Brandon.

It can also be revealed that the Queensland Police ethical standards command, which is investigating on behalf of acting State Coroner Christine Clements, has questioned why Mr Galeano appeared to have been repeatedly hit by a Taser after being cornered in the bathroom of the unit.

Mr Galeano was initially targeted with the Taser through a broken window of the unit, before being sprayed with capsicum spray and then hit repeatedly with the stun gun after he backed into the bathroom.

Investigators are looking at whether the officer should have allowed Mr Galeano -- who had earlier been discharged from hospital where he had undergone a phsychiatric assessment -- to calm down after the first hit from the stun gun.

The post-mortem found that Mr Galeano had an existing heart condition.

The stun gun's US manufacturers have claimed the weapon cannot cause a heart attack. But a report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal last year said studies on pigs indicated that the weapon could cause an "adverse event" in the heart.

The senior constable who used the Taser is now on leave and has told investigators he only hit Mr Galeano several times.

Deputy Police Commissioner Ian Stewart yesterday said the investigation was also looking at whether the Taser malfunctioned and if the data recorded on the gun was incorrect.

"We are yet to understand exactly what those activations were -- whether they were being fired or whether it was ... placed against an object or person," Mr Stewart said.

But George Hateley, the exclusive distributor of Tasers in Australia, this week said a malfunction was unlikely.

"It is an outside possibility," he said. "And the data taken off the weapon is very accurate."

The data on the Taser prompted Police Minister Neil Roberts and Commissioner Bob Atkinson to this week freeze the rollout of a further 1300 Tasers, and to order a Crime and Misconduct Commission review of Taser policy and training in Queensland.

Both have refused to withdraw from service at least 1200 Tasers already being used by general duties officers since January.

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