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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Hyde lawyer: Adopt Taser guidelines

July 25, 2009
By JEFFREY SIMPSON, Chronicle Herald

Recommendations for restricting the use of Tasers that came out of a public inquiry in British Columbia this week should be followed in Nova Scotia, says a lawyer representing the sister of a mentally ill man who died 30 hours after Halifax police fired one of the stun guns at him.

"They seem to make sense to me," Kevin MacDonald said Friday.

"I do think that they should be adopted."

Mr. MacDonald said he agreed with former judge Thomas Braidwood’s report ordering all police, sheriffs and corrections officers in that province to use Tasers only when someone is causing — or about to cause — bodily harm.

The judge stopped short of calling for a ban on the weapons because he determined they’re a useful tool that can be better than guns.

"If it comes down to a choice between using (lethal) force — shooting someone — or using a Taser, then I think that the Taser has a place," Mr. MacDonald said.

"My concern though is that the Taser is being used as a compliance tool. It’s not appropriate to use it in that way."

Mr. Braidwood found that 25 Canadians have died after being Tasered. He criticized the introduction of the weapons to police forces without any government safety testing.

Mr. Hyde was arrested by police for hitting his wife with a telephone at their Dartmouth apartment shortly after midnight on Nov. 21, 2007.

Video from a surveillance camera and testimony at the inquiry into his death have shown that he was co-operative until officers tried to cut the drawstring out of his shorts while booking him at police headquarters.

After struggling for a few seconds to get away from three officers — all of whom stood over six feet tall and weighed more than 200 pounds — the short and stocky Mr. Hyde was Tasered.

Mr. MacDonald said police decided were too hasty in deciding to use such force.

"I do think that was too quick," Mr. MacDonald said. "As the evidence showed, it was just a matter of seconds. In fact, it may have been before that. My theory (for when police decided to use the Taser) is that it was formulated in that fingerprint room. I think it was pre-struggle."

An audio recording from the surveillance camera picks up a voice while two officers are off screen with Mr. Hyde in the fingerprinting room, where they were trying to cut the drawstring.

"You’re going to be doing the f---ing dance next," a voice can be heard saying. Mr. MacDonald has alleged the voice belongs to one of the officers there, who both deny saying such a thing.

Mr. Braidwood said in his report that using a Taser on an emotionally disturbed person is the "worst possible response" and urged crisis intervention training for all officers.

"I do agree that people with a mental illness, they should not be Tased unless there are extenuating circumstances, unless they’re an immediate harm to themselves . . . or to cause someone else death or serious injury," Mr. MacDonald said.

Mr. MacDonald was also critical of Halifax police guidelines for using the stun guns, advising against firing the weapons at people such as the elderly or disabled.

"The preamble to that section says, ‘Use good judgment before you use the Taser on these people,’ " Mr. MacDonald said. "It doesn’t say you cannot use it on these people. It doesn’t say in relation to everyone else that you have to use good judgment."

Mr. MacDonald said government should issue guidelines for Taser use, instead of police forces relying on the manufacturer.

Justice Minister Ross Landry said Friday night that his department will review the report and bring it to Nova Scotia police administrators and other stakeholders before any decisions are made about whether to incorporate its recommendations.

"To react to the report would be premature at this time," he said.

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