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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Report on tasering of diabetic suggests police consult paramedics

August 13, 2009
The Canadian Press

An internal police review of how Nova Scotia police officers used a stun gun to control a struggling diabetic says paramedics should be consulted if "the situation permits."

The medical director of Emergency Health Services said last year that paramedics were discussing a glucose injection to calm the man in the Sept. 14, 2008, incident when police from Amherst caught them off guard by jolting the patient.

The review released yesterday by Amherst Police Chief Charles Rushton says the use of the taser in the incident was "consistent with national and international standards."

But he says that as a result of his review, Amherst police will change their policy on stun gun use to ensure improved communication between officers and paramedics in similar situations.

The chief says the decision on whether to use the stun gun "must always remain with the police officer who holds the responsibility to deploy the device."

Still, the new policy will state, "where the police are called upon to assist the EHS, and the situation permits, the officer shall consult with the paramedics to ensure the Taser is the most viable alternative in controlling an aggressive patient."

The report says paramedics called officers to the home in Amherst when they were unable to keep the patient's arm and body still as he went through diabetic shock.

"At some point during this process one of the paramedics indicated that he was aware that they would have to try something different," the report says.

"When questioned on whether he [the paramedic] relayed this information to the other people present he indicated he verbally told them.

"When asked, 'Who did you tell to stop controlling the patient?' the paramedic responded, 'It was just general - OK, guys let him be, we will try something different.' When asked what was the officers' response, the paramedic responded, 'Nothing.' "

Chief Rushton writes that officers think they "heard a voice say, 'No,' or something to that effect," as they applied the device.

An officer is quoted as saying this occurred "at the exact same time I applied the touch stun and I didn't know at the time to whom the voice was speaking."

Moments after being stunned, the man rolled on his side, and the medics were able to inject the required glucose in his left arm.

Dr. Andrew Travers, the medical director of EHS, has said the paramedics would have advised against using a stun gun on the man if local police had asked.

Details of the incident emerged last fall after the man's wife said she became concerned for her husband when she couldn't wake him up, so she checked his blood sugar and found it was low.

She called 911 when the 34-year-old man started coughing and was having difficulty breathing. As he awoke, he wouldn't let the paramedics administer an intravenous, so they asked police officers who had been sent to the home to assist them.

The woman, whose name was withheld, left the room but said she ran back into it when she heard officers warning they were about to use the taser. She said she asked the officers not to use the device.
After the taser was applied, the medication was administered, the man's blood sugars rose and he calmed down, the report says.

The report's recommendations state that the paramedics, "should receive a debriefing by the Amherst Police, outlining police use of force options including the use of the Taser."

And it concludes with a recommendation that "communication should be improved between police and Emergency Health Services personnel. Paramedics and police must know each others' expectations and requirements in given situations."

Bobby Brown, director of field operations for EHS, said he'll take some time to review the findings. However, he agreed with the main recommendation that paramedics should be asked for their medical knowledge in similar situations.

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