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Thursday, September 17, 2009

EDITORIAL: I heard what I heard, that much I know

September 16, 2009
Greg Layson, Guelph Mercury

On Wednesday, we published a small story about the Guelph Police Service’s tactical unit responding to what it called “a mental health crisis” in the city’s northeast corner.

Preliminary reports suggested the man, with some history of mental illness and what a police dispatcher warned was a propensity to become agitated when the man sees police, may have had access to a sword or dagger of sorts. Hence the heavy police presence at the tiny apartment building at 11 Manhattan Court.

The official police account of what occurred late Tuesday morning appeared in the story.

“He was arrested under the Mental Health Act without incident. No one was injured,” Guelph Police spokesperson Sgt. Doug Pflug said.

But what didn’t appear in the story were important and contradicting details that seemed quite unresolved at press time Tuesday. In some ways, perhaps some still remain that way.

After officers spent several minutes coaxing the man from his second-floor apartment, a struggle ensued in the hallway. There was what sounded and looked to be pushing and shoving and grunting and groaning. Officers were visible to me from the waist down. Amid officers encountering and then apprehending the man, the distinct crackle of a fired Taser could be heard. And then, I heard one of the officers boom the following words:

“Stay down . . . or you’ll be Tasered again!”

When Pflug was specifically asked Tuesday what the term “without incident” meant, he said there was “no use of force” during the incident. I shared with him that I had observed what appeared to be a Taser being deployed in the incident and asked whether that was the case. He said he had been provided no information to confirm that. He also said officers must report their use of Tasers in the same fashion they report each and every time they discharge their firearm.

So, what happened in the incident? Had I observed what I was sure I did? Why didn’t that jibe with the official police account? Three questions with no definitive answers.

My wife may be quick to accuse that I don’t listen, but I know I hear clearly. And I heard what I heard.

“Stay down . . . or you’ll be Tasered again!”

We’re taught from a very young age to believe and trust in law enforcement. So, that said, given what the police asserted Tuesday, there could not have been any “use of force,” in this matter. Could there?

But again, I heard what I heard.

“Stay down . . . or you’ll be Tasered again!”

I suppose, without video evidence or other corroboration, neither my account nor that offered Tuesday by the police could be proven.

But I heard what I heard.

“Stay down . . . or you’ll be Tasered again!”

It’s our job as reporters to act as the public’s watchdog and as its eyes and ears at newsworthy events. We report in as much accurate and intimate detail as possible the daily happenings — good, bad or otherwise. It’s our job to make sure those who are deemed trustworthy are in fact so. It’s our job to ensure public servants first and foremost serve the public.

So, after pressing Pflug for a second day and in preparation for this column, he revealed Wednesday that several incidents, including the use of a Taser, occurred the previous day at Manhattan Court after all.

After double checking with the tactical unit that responded to the call in question, Pflug learned and revealed the man was apparently in an extreme state of psychosis. He said the man became non-compliant to verbal commands. He said the man tried to run. He said the man became assaultive. He said the man threw a punch. He said the man couldn’t be contained.

“So a CEW (conducted electric weapon) was deployed for one to three seconds,” Pflug said.

This wasn’t, nor will it be, a case reminiscent of Robert Dziekanski, the Polish immigrant who died at a Vancouver airport after being Tasered repeatedly by the RCMP. That incident was caught on tape. Police denied using excessive force and later denied under oath planning in advance to use their Tasers at the airport. But an email exchange between officers seemed to imply the responding officers had indeed planned to use Tasers when they arrived.

On Tuesday, I had no video. I had no email exchange. I had the word of Guelph Police. I wanted to believe that from the outset. But I knew I heard what I heard.

“Stay down . . . or you’ll be Tasered again!”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And there you have it ladies and gentlemen...nothing but the truth, so help me God!! This is the type or policing that we are being subjected to...yes, God help me.