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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Jurors deliberate on Beamsville Taser death

July 14, 2009
KARENA WALTER, St. Catharine's Standard

Jurors at an inquest into the death of a Beamsville man high on cocaine who was Tasered several times are being asked to recommend that police be trained to identify excited delirium.

The lawyer for James Foldi’s family told jurors Tuesday it was clear the 39- year-old man was suffering extreme distress before he was tackled, Tasered and subsequently stopped breathing in a laneway July 1, 2005.

“It’s a shame that nobody tried to calm Mr. Foldi,” Ian Brisbin said in closing submissions to the jury in St. Catharines. “There is no evidence police officers took any steps whatsoever to calm him down.”

But the lawyer representing the Niagara Regional Police Service said officers are trained to detect excited delirium and there was no evidence they require more training.

Sara Premi asked jurors to consider what was happening the night Foldi was arrested: It was dark and he was unresponsive to police commands, was covered in blood and had been involved in a home invasion.

She said it was the job of police to get Foldi under control for the safety of neighbourhood residents.

“You would expect nothing less for your safety and your family’s safety.”

Lawyers finished their arguments Tuesday. Jurors will continue to deliberate on a cause of death and potential recommendations today.

Jurors have heard police were called to the Beamsville neighbourhood of Village Park Drive and Crescent Avenue around 2:30 a.m. after reports of a man breaking into homes and calling for help.

One officer who came face-to-face with Foldi said he was covered in blood and his eyes were wide, like “something out of a horror movie.”

Police caught up with Foldi after he ran into the bungalow of strangers and began yelling in a bedroom. One officer testified he told Foldi, “We’re trying to help you. Get down on the ground” but Foldi jumped out a open window.

Police then confronted Foldi in a garage where he was pounding on a car with his fists. Again Foldi ran and jumped out a window, this time through a pane of glass.

Police tried to Taser him twice with the gun in the probe mode and used pepper spray, but said Foldi kept running.

A violent struggle between officers and Foldi ensued next to the garage, where Foldi was taken to the ground and Tasered in the stun mode as he continued to struggle. Police said soon after he was handcuffed, he stopped breathing.

A pathologist found the cause of death was excited delirium from acute cocaine poisoning.

But Brisbin asked jurors to find that the cause of death was sudden cardiac death from ventricular fibrillation.

He also asked jurors to recommend that police not allow individuals to remain in the prone position longer than necessary and that police carry defibrillators in their vehicles.

Foldi, who was a large man, was Tasered several times and was lying handcuffed, face down with an officer’s foot between his shoulder blades, Brisbin said. He said that asking jurors to accept Foldi’s breathing wasn’t compromised would be asking them to ignore common sense.

But Premi said there was no evidence that positional asphyxia played a role in Foldi’s death. There was also no evidence that defibrillators were needed in cruisers, she said, adding police are not paramedics.

Lawyer David Pickering, representing the Niagara Region Police Association, said Foldi’s use of cocaine was the driving force that night.

“Don’t criticize police for responding, when you’ve caused the need for response,” he said.

Pickering said the abuse of cocaine affected Foldi’s mental state.

“It was his abuse of cocaine that caused the struggle,” he said. “You think officers wanted to struggle?”

Four other suggested recommendations were made to jurors jointly by all the lawyers.

They included that the NRP and Emergency Medical Services continue working together to get prompt ambulance service, that the NRP quickly notify members of product warnings, such as those from Taser International, and that police review a general order dealing with use of force. They also recommended that the Ministry of Health have more public education about cocaine use.

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