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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Knipstrom taser video released

November 17, 2009
Suzanne Fournier, The Province

A disturbing video of the arrest of a blood-covered, screaming man was screened in a coroner's court on Monday. The video of the RCMP arrest of Robert Thurston Knipstrom, who died in hospital on Nov. 24, 2007, five days after he was Tasered, pepper-sprayed and struck by police batons, was taken by the RCMP.

See the video here.

RCMP lawyer Helen Roberts opposed its release to the media, but coroner's counsel Rodrick MacKenzie noted the parents were not opposed to making the video public and coroner Vincent Stancato released it. Knipstrom, 36, is shown in the video handcuffed face-down on the floor of a Chilliwack rental shop, his face and head completely covered with blood, howling in pain, while several RCMP officers restrain him and paramedics try to help him.

The video was so disturbing that Knipstrom's parents, Bob and Jo Knipstrom, left the courtroom while it was screened. Russ Walsh, owner of the Chilliwack EZE Rent-it Centre where Knipstrom was Tasered, pepper-sprayed and struck with batons, testified Knipstrom was aggressive, although another witness said he was frightened. Walsh testified that Knipstrom, whom he knew slightly as a customer, appeared agitated, as though he had taken drugs, and tried to climb the stairs to the store's office despite repeated warnings not to do so.

"I believe the most relevant thing to Robert's reaction was that six months before, he'd been walking innocently in Rosedale with a can of gas, and police responding to a break-and-enter talked to him," said Walsh. "That didn't go well and he was Tasered at that time." Walsh said he thought Knipstrom was terrified of Tasers.

Walsh said Knipstrom was "scaring the ladies here" with erratic and aggressive behaviour that day. Knipstrom was seen by the inquest's first witness, Sherry Kassian, driving erratically in his pickup truck. Kassian, who worked in a nearby shop, phoned Walsh to warn him about the odd driving behaviour.

Walsh testified he called police after Knipstrom refused to get off the stairs and leave, and that when two RCMP officers walked over from their detachment across the road, Knipstrom was combative and aggressive. The male RCMP officer, who cannot be identified due to a publication ban, testified that Knipstrom pursued him and that he emptied his pepper-spray can and fired his Taser once into Knipstrom's jacket, all with no effect.

The officer testified that he struck Knipstrom with his baton but only "accidentally" on the head. "He got up and came at [RCMP] almost zombie-like," said the officer, adding that by the time backup officers arrived, "I was totally done. I was tapped out."

Another RCMP officer then hit Knipstrom again with a Taser. B.C. Civil Liberties' executive director David Eby called the Knipstrom video "shocking and really disturbing" after viewing it in The Province newsroom, noting the video underscores the need for independent investigation of police.

"They admit they need an external body to do investigations ... the public doesn't trust them any more," noted Eby. "I don't put any stock in their accounts - it's hard to believe they did everything properly, given the blood and extent of injuries involved.

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