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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Mountie wrong to taser girl, 15, watchdog says

December 12, 2009
Tu Thanh Ha, Globe and Mail

Just months before Robert Dziekanski died in a 2007 confrontation with taser-wielding RCMP officers in Vancouver, at a juvenile centre in the Northwest Territories, a Mountie tasered a 15-year-old girl while she was handcuffed and lying face down.

Yesterday, in a scathing report about the incident in Inuvik, NWT, the RCMP civilian watchdog concluded that the officer was wrong to stun the girl, and that the Mounties improperly tried to brush off a complaint from her mother and conducted a biased internal probe.

Paul Kennedy, chairman of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, said that many deficiencies he found in the case "paralleled the systemic concerns" he has previously raised about the force's use of stun guns.

"This incident is a compelling case which ought to cause the RCMP itself to be concerned and take action," he said.

A steady critic of the RCMP's taser policy and its internal investigation system, Mr. Kennedy is in his last month on the job.

Ottawa is not reappointing him.

Yesterday's findings came three days after his report on the Dziekanski case, in which he said four Mounties used substandard policing when they tasered the Polish immigrant.

The Inuvik report also came on the day relatives of Clayton Willey were shown security-camera footage of the 2003 tasering of the 33-year-old aboriginal man from Prince George, B.C.

Mr. Willey died hours after the RCMP zapped him while he was handcuffed and face down at the local detachment.

His family has to decide whether the video will be made public.

In the Inuvik incident, Constable Noella Cockney was called to a youth facility on March 13, 2007, after a girl refused to take her prescribed antidepressant and became agitated.

She was handcuffed and three youth workers held down her arms and legs.

Constable Cockney told the girl several times to co-operate.

When she refused, the officer pressed the taser against her back and stunned her for five seconds.

Constable Cockney didn't keep proper notes and didn't mention in her report that the girl was tied and held down, Mr. Kennedy said.

His investigation concluded that the girl didn't pose a threat at the time she was tasered. Also, the constable's taser certification was expired.

The watchdog also found that detachment officers improperly tried to dispose informally of a complaint by the girl's mother.

It was only nine months later that the force acted on the complaint.

But the staff sergeant who reviewed the complaint was Constable Cockney's taser instructor, and he urged her to add more details to her notes, the report said.

Mr. Kennedy said the staff sergeant's probe was biased and speculative.

"The RCMP's approach to internal investigations is flawed and inconsistent ... those types of investigations do not engender confidence," Mr. Kennedy said.

His recommendations aren't binding on the RCMP.

"Obviously, your report identifies a number of significant failures on the part of the RCMP and members involved in this matter," RCMP Commissioner William Elliott said in a letter replying to Mr. Kennedy's findings.

He said the force has changed some of its policies dealing with public complaints and taser use.

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