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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Cops say stun guns safe

February 25, 2010

Despite public concern about stun guns sending out more electrical current than specified by the manufacturer, Edmonton police say that most of their small percentage of defective Tasers have registered below-tolerance readings.

And the few deemed to be above tolerance were still within safe parameters, said Const. Olena Fedorovich, of the Edmonton Police Service officer safety unit.

“There’s an assumption that they’re above tolerance. They’re not. They’re below most of the time,” she told the Edmonton Sun.

“There have been a few where either their pulse rate or main phase was slightly above manufacturer’s specifications — but they’re still considered safe.”

Chief Mike Boyd told the Edmonton Police Commission last week that 23 conducted energy weapons (CEWs) were pulled from service in 2009 because they failed independent testing. That amounted to about 6% of the EPS’s stock last year.

Statistics on how many were under or above tolerance weren’t available.

But an April 2009 report made public by the Ottawa-area engineering firm that tests them, MPB Technologies Inc., shows that out of 175 Edmonton police CEWs tested, six were under tolerance, five were above and five others were both under and above.

The under-above results occur because five aspects are tested on each CEW: pulse duration, pulse rate, main phase net charge, main phase peak current and main phase peak voltage.

Of the 23 CEWs taken out of service last year, 17 were returned to Taser International to be replaced under warranty.

The remaining six are being stored for at least two years pending complaints and investigations, according to an EPS report.

The EPS plans to buy 15 new CEWs from Taser International this year at a cost of about $23,000, giving the service a total of 431, said Fedorovich.

Each CEW, including a holster, costs about $1,500 plus GST, Fedorovich added.

“It’s not a cheap program,” she said. “This is a very expensive and important program. We don’t take it lightly and we don’t take our training lightly.”

Fedorovich admitted that some officers have some apprehension about using CEWs stemming from recent controversy.

“The hassle of being questioned regarding your use of force is very stressful,” she explained. “But we do not have droves of members turning in their Tasers. That is not happening. Members are still carrying their Tasers and they’re still using their Tasers.

“It is a very valuable weapon and our operators recognize that. They also have a heightened understanding of the liability and accountability associated to it.”

CEWs are tested every 12 months, as dictated by the Alberta solicitor general. In addition, each EPS stun gun is subject to maintenance up to four times a year, Fedorovich said.

Winnipeg police lose another Taser cartridge

February 25, 2010
Gabrielle Giroday, Winnipeg Free Press

WINNIPEG — For the second time in under a week, police have lost another stun gun cartridge in the city.

The public warning came Thursday after a District 3 member carrying a Taser lost the cartridge overnight.

Last weekend, police reported another stun gun cartridge missing after an officer dropped it. Both cartridges were lost in the north-west corner of the city.

"Our Officer Safety Unit is aware of the loss and it is being taken seriously. We are investigating the circumstances surrounding the loss of the cartridge and attempting to locate the equipment," said a prepared statement by the police.

Police said the lost cartridge poses a risk because it could build up static energy if placed in someone's pocket and then discharge probes.

RCMP to test uniform-mounted cameras

February 25, 2010
Tonda MacCharles, Toronto Star

OTTAWA–Get out of the car with your hands up. You're on candid camera.

Liberal senators recommended this week that individual Mounties be equipped with miniature, uniform-mounted video cameras to enhance "transparency" in the problem-plagued force.

Now, the Star has learned that at least 20 police departments and detachments across Canada are already using the devices.

The RCMP says officers in detachments in Kelowna, B.C., and Moncton, N.B., (Codiac region) have been fitted with the uniform-mounted cameras as part of a pilot project that is also testing Taser-mounted cameras, made by Arizona-based Taser International.

The six-month pilot project was launched in January using VIDMICs, the trademarked name of a body-worn video and audio-recording device, said RCMP spokesman Sgt. Greg Cox.

Magdy Rafla, of MD Charlton Co. Ltd., the Canadian sales representative for VIDMIC, said the device has also been bought by several Canadian municipal forces, military police and private security firms.

Rafla said the device, which costs $850, has been used by nightclub "bouncers" and "they love it."

In all, Rafla estimates 225 devices are in use, and if the RCMP testing approves them for wider distribution to its members, the force has told the company it would acquire them for all Mounties – in what would be a huge contract for the Victoria-based company.

"(The RCMP) are trying 10 of them right now across Canada. Once they go ahead, they'll be for every RCMP officer. ... That's the plan," Rafla said in a telephone interview from Victoria.

Rafla said other buyers include police forces in Provost, Alta., St. Albert, Alta., and Merritt, B.C., as well as the Department of National Defence. His client list also includes B.C. Ferries, Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital security services and some fire departments.

Taser International produces the Taser Cam, and a different ear-mounted video recording system, known as Axon, which looks like a Bluetooth device. That device can record 12 hours of video – in other words, a police officer's shift. But right now, the Axon contract requires the data to be downloaded to a central data storage facility in the U.S., said Rafla.

Using authorized software, the video/audio devices can be downloaded in a police cruiser onto a laptop, or onto a police department computer. It cannot be transmitted wirelessly. Individual police departments set their own guidelines.

Rafla said the very act of cautioning a suspect that "you're being recorded" gives an advantage that works both ways.

Gascón presses case for Tasers

February 25, 2010
Jaxon Van Derbeken, Chronicle Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO -- San Francisco Police Chief George Gascón challenged the city's Police Commission on Wednesday to approve Tasers, saying it was inexcusable and "negligent" to deny officers a less-lethal means of dealing with dangerous suspects.

San Francisco is one of the few major U.S. cities that does not arm its officers with the stun guns. Last week, the commission balked at Gascón's proposal to develop a protocol for equipping officers with the devices, with four of the seven members rejecting the idea and the entire panel agreeing to reconsider the matter next Wednesday.

The department has touted an internal study that found that one-third of officer-involved shootings over five years might have been avoided with stun guns. But some commissioners voiced concern about the safety of Tasers, and others said they needed time to review research about suspects who have died after being stunned with the devices.

Gascón, saying he had received numerous supportive phone calls and e-mails after the proposal stalled, summoned three members of the commission to a news conference Wednesday to make his case.

"This is the right tool, at the right time," Gascón said. "It is not a perfect tool. ... It is not nonlethal. We understand that occasionally, the Taser has been found to be a contributing factor in the death of someone during an altercation with police."

But he said in many of those cases, "you have people who are extremely fragile. People who probably, if you were to ask them to run around the block, they would probably suffer cardiac arrest.

"So it's somewhat disingenuous to simply say that Tasers caused this," he said.

Gascón noted that in 2009, 107 officer injuries cost the city an estimated $2.25 million in workers compensation. He said equipping officers with Tasers would reduce the number of injuries, save some suspects' lives and save the city money it now spends on litigation over shootings.

"This is a very critical issue for this community - and we need this community to speak out and speak out loud and clearly on this issue," Gascón said. "It is unexcusable, it's negligent for us not to have the ability to equip our police officers with Tasers."

He said the department will develop a "thoughtful policy" on the devices that will allow officers to use them only when dealing with aggressive, combative suspects.

Three police commissioners, Joe Marshall, Jim Hammer and Thomas Mazzucco, attended the news conference.

Hammer's presence was especially significant, because he voted against the Taser proposal last week. On Wednesday, he said he supported giving Tasers to officers and had voted against the proposal only to give other commissioners time to think it over.

"I do support the chief moving forward with this," Hammer said. He said the chief should come to the panel with "a careful, smart" deployment policy within 60 days, not the 90 days called for in the commission resolution that failed last week.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

EDITORIAL: Every contact recorded

February 24, 2010
Globe and Mail

A group of Liberal senators opened a can of worms this week when they recommended that RCMP officers be outfitted with video cameras that record their every move while on duty. The recommendation was one of a number aimed at improving the public image of the Mounties. Some of the recommendations are worth considering, but this one isn't.

The technology in question is being pushed aggressively in the United States by the company that developed it: Taser International. That name alone will raise eyebrows. Taser, famous for manufacturing the stun guns involved in the deaths of several suspects at the hands of police officers, has a clearly stated goal: to protect officers' reputations from harm. Its "Axon personal video recorder" does this by sitting in an officer's ear like a Bluetooth headset and recording to a miniature portable computer everything he or she sees and hears. "Destroy the lie" is the Axon's motto; in other words, protect an arresting officer from false charges of abuse, or from unfair allegations of firing his or her weapon unduly, by recording the actions of an alleged suspect. The suspect's rights are not at issue here, it should be noted.

The problem is that the cameras are on all the time, not just during an arrest. Every person an officer looks at and listens to will be caught on videotape, making this a wholesale intrusion into the public's right to privacy. Trampling on that ever-diminishing right in order to protect a police officer's "honour," as Taser International puts it, is a completely unacceptable trade-off.

Furthermore, where are these recordings going? Who has access to them? In the U.S., the recordings are stored on a website owned by Taser International and sold to law enforcement agencies, lawyers and courts. The commercialization of police evidence is an intolerable notion in our justice system.

Yes, the RCMP has problems that need to be dealt with, and there are many potential solutions that could be brought forward. But a quantum leap into a world of constant video surveillance by roving police officers is not one of them. We want our Mounties to be humans, not robocops; wearing such a device would diminish the trust between citizens and their police, not increase it.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Senators pushing for review of RCMP

February 23, 2010

Liberal Senator Colin Kenny says RCMP need to use Tasers appropriately, and perhaps more judiciously, or risk losing them.

He said there are examples of Mounties quick to rely on stun guns as first choice and should that continue, public opinion may sway to political pressure to disarm officers of the valuable tools.

“With someone lazy or indifferent, a Taser becomes a substitute for waiting someone out,” he told a Sun editorial board Tuesday.

“Time is on their side, to talk someone out of a situation is always the best solution.”

Kenny was in Calgary Tuesday to talk about a report by him and several fellow senators calling on an independent review of the RCMP, saying it needs stronger oversight, more members recruited and a hike in visible minority and women officers.

Earlier this month, RCMP brass said it plans an overhaul of its Taser policy — an announcement made on the heels of recommendations from inquiries following the death of Robert Dziekanski.

Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant who died in 2007 after being hit with an RCMP Taser at the Vancouver airport.

A video of the confrontation showing a confused, sweaty Dziekanski repeatedly hit, was seen by millions of people, triggering public outrage and a questions about the use of stun guns.

Kenny said that and others cases where Tasers are used inappropriately threaten public support for the use of force option.

“If you are (using a Taser) for convenience or a sadist, sooner or later ... the only tool left is a handgun,” he said.

“The absence of accountable leadership causes misuse of the tool ... They’re going to take it away.

And that would not be in the best interest of public safety, he said.

“It means someone gets shot with a bullet rather than getting shocked with a conducted emergency device,” Kenny said

RCMP need more oversight on Taser use, adequate training, and should put them in the hands of only those “mature” enough to use them and more defined rules of engagement to dictate when its use is the best option, he said.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Police refuse to release NZ Taser footage

Arming New Zealand police with tasers has been hailed as a success, but there is a secret attached to the gun that police aren't happy to share.

Unbeknown to many people, each taser has a camera underneath the handgrip that films the gun being used on offenders.

Steve Tuttle, Vice President of Communications at Taser International, says the footage "helps communities understand what police officers face in the field."

However, New Zealand is unlikely to ever see the footage shot here as police bosses won't release it, suggesting to ONE News that the Taser use should be given positive coverage instead.

The Taser was shown in use in August 2006 when the weapon was unveiled, but that was in strictly controlled conditions and used on police staff with medical staff on stand-by.

In 2008 police installed the Taser-cam saying that it would "assist with accountability" and reassure people the Taser was safe.

When police Tasered a man after a car chase in Auckland in March 2009, ONE News asked police to release the footage under the Official Information Act. Police refused the request, saying that the offender had a right to privacy despite ONE News' assurance that the offender's identity would be concealed.

Tuttle disagrees, saying that "if there's something that controversial, I don't see why law agencies wouldn't want to show that... we did create that Taser-cam to be viewed."

And Green Party MP Keith Locke is questioning what the police have got to hide.

"They've got these cameras on these Tasers, they should let us see the footage," says Locke.

The Taser will be in police hands throughout the country by the end of August.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Tasered - A Documentary

Watch it HERE.

CBC - Doc Zone

Ten years ago, the Taser® was hailed as the defining breakthrough in modern policing – a weapon that would allow police to subdue “even the largest and scariest people on the planet” without engaging in violent confrontation … a 21st century weapon that would temporarily incapacitate 100% of the time, but never kill.

‘Non-lethal’ declared the company’s promotional material in 1999. The company’s word was enough. Police departments embraced the new and promising technology.

A decade later, more than 400 people have died in North America ‘proximal to Taser use.’ That is raising doubts about those early claims. Human Rights groups clamor for more independent research into the weapon and national standards for its use. Newspaper editorials demand the kind of testing that they say was not done those ten years ago. Today the Taser is described as ‘less-lethal’ and capable of causing of injury.

There have been other setbacks for the Taser. In Canada, three public inquiries have been called into its use. One has already declared the Taser capable of causing serious injury and even death but, paradoxically, also declared society safer with the weapon in use than without it.

The other two inquiries will report in 2010. But will those inquiries make a difference? In the ten years since Tasers were introduced, the weapon has made its way into police departments in almost 45 countries – some 15,000 forces worldwide. Taser International, the weapon’s American manufacturer, boasts that it is the force option most used by police. Each and every day, some 500 people are tasered.

And its use is spreading. In 43 U.S. states, civilians can buy a Taser in retail stores or at sales parties in their own homes.

Tasered takes a comprehensive look at the Taser after ten years. The documentary examines the Taser from within a major Canadian metropolitan police department – the Calgary Police Service (CPS). They have been using Tasers for more than 4 years. And they’ve been keeping what are arguably among the most comprehensive ‘use of force’ statistics in North America since they adopted its use.

We tell the story through the CPS Use-of-Force Officer, Acting Inspector Chris Butler, an internationally recognized expert. Butler is a Master Taser® Instructor, certified by Taser International. He has even published on the topic. He is thoughtful and reasoned. He defends the Taser but is not blind to potential problems. Problems, he says, that can largely be avoided with proper training.

We follow CPS Recruit Class 185 as it undergoes that training. We are there as these soon-to-be officers learn to fire their Tasers – it takes less than an hour. We watch as they line up for what has become a rite of passage in many police forces: to be tasered voluntarily in the back just to experience how it feels.

We show how the probes leave the weapon and embed into a target’s skin. But the slow motion images reveal something else – the little-known, police accountability features built into the weapons: AFIDs – small confetti-like tags – that immediately identify who fired the weapon and the built-in electronic data port that shows how often.

That how often could be the difference between life and death says San Francisco cardiologist and electro-physiologist Dr. Zian Tseng. Tseng says any healthy person can die from even the minimum 5-second jolt of a conducted energy weapon if the shock is directed at the chest and occurs at the most vulnerable point in a heartbeat. But he cautions that prolonged shocking carries significant additional risk because it leads to a buildup of lactic acid that can cause heart failure.

Dr. Christine Hall begs to differ. ‘Excited Delirium’, not the Taser, is the likely explanation for death after tasering. Hall is Canada’s foremost expert on the condition, often cited by coroners and medical examiners to account for deaths for which there is no obvious cause. Many more doctors dismiss it as a convenient excuse for Taser International to explain deaths after tasering.

Dr. Michael Webster is among the skeptics. The police psychologist and former cop is critical of the company that manufactures the weapon. Webster says the company’s propaganda has led to the tasering of sick old men in their hospital beds, jaywalkers and drunks. We will show an abundance of examples of police tasering individuals for traffic violations, for disrespect or simply to save time while making an arrest.

And we visit a Taser Party where the weapons are sold like so much Tupperware. Leigh and Tim McCoy have been selling consumer Tasers in the Atlanta, Georgia area for almost two years now. Taser International says the C2 Model has the same power as the police X-26 with a few important differences. It’s designed to deliver a full 30-second jolt and is capable of being cycled for a full 25 minutes.

That worries Jared Feuer of Amnesty International, USA. Describing the Taser as a “potentially deadly device”, the human rights group’s spokesman also calls the weapon a “potentially perfect domestic abuse tool” because it leaves no marks or scarring. Amnesty International has been lobbying for national standards for Taser use and to stop the selling of the civilian version.

In 2009, a new generation of Taser weaponry® was introduced. The company claims that the devices are safer, pack less of a jolt and self-adjust the current to the lowest effective levels and that the probes diffuse more of the electricity on the skin, not in the muscle tissue.

As of yet no independent testing of these statements is planned.

Tasered is produced, directed and written by Lynn Raineault for CBC’s DOC ZONE. Executive Producers are Matt Gillespie and Joe Novak.

Taser cartridge lost by Winnipeg police

February 20, 2010
CBC News

A piece of Taser equipment fell off an officer's police vest Friday night, and is lost somewhere in northwest Winnipeg. The item, described as a cartridge inside a pouch, is not the electric stun gun's firing unit but does contain the device's probe wires. "The Winnipeg Police Service would like to advise that the cartridge could pose a risk of harm to the public," police said in a media release issued Saturday. "If the cartridge was to be picked up by an unsuspecting person and carried in a pocket, a build-up of static energy could activate the cartridge, causing the probes to be propelled." The release did not say when the officer noticed the cartridge had fallen off, but said police are still looking for it.

Friday, February 19, 2010

San Francisco Chief stunned by Taser gridlock

"Gary Delagnes, head of the Police Officers Association, said Thursday that he is worried that anti-Taser groups will gather their forces and pack the seven-member commission's meeting March 3. Wednesday night, he said, may have been the chief's best chance to get the panel to agree to Tasers."

February 19, 2010
Lance Iversen, San Francisco Chronicle

The San Francisco Police Commission heard hours of testimony Wednesday night about the many benefits -- with a little about the drawbacks -- of Tasers. In the end, the panel decided to wait at least two weeks before deciding whether to start the process of arming officers with the stun guns.

Chief George Gascón called the delay "unconscionable," given what he called the clear benefits both to officers and suspects of giving police an alternative to firearms.

Commissioner Yvonne Lee said she simply wanted more time for the chief to ask the community about the wisdom of adopting Tasers. Two other commissioners, Petra DeJesus and Vincent Pan, said they needed time to look at studies about the risks involved. Besides, Pan said, he felt "blindsided" that the item had been added to the commission's agenda over a holiday weekend.

Gascón wanted to know what specifically he should ask the community and what could be gleaned from reviewing the studies in two weeks.

Commissioner James Hammer, who appeared to be inclined to equip officers with Tasers, nonetheless voted to delay the issue. He said that if Lee needed two weeks, that was fine by him. Besides, he said, everyone could use the time to consider all the issues.

Gary Delagnes, head of the Police Officers Association, said Thursday that he is worried that anti-Taser groups will gather their forces and pack the seven-member commission's meeting March 3. Wednesday night, he said, may have been the chief's best chance to get the panel to agree to Tasers.

Gascón's puzzlement showed. "I think we're quite frankly doing a disservice to ourselves by continuing to play that process-driven game," he told the commission.

Lawyer says he will defend Shawn O'Sullivan 'vigorously'

February 19, 2010

The lawyer for retired boxer Shawn O'Sullivan says his client is "a fine guy" who will get a strong defence in court.

Lawyer Bill Reid told The Intelligencer he is reluctant to comment in detail on the case given its early stage. "We're going to, I would say, proceed cautiously," Reid told The Intelligencer.

O'Sullivan was charged last November with mischief and assault after a west-end scuffle during what he called an attempt to recover his championship rings. The rings were stolen from his Belleville home in 2007.

Police responded and have confirmed they used a Taser-like device on O'Sullivan, whom they said was combative, shows signs of intoxication and resisted officers physically.

O'Sullivan, whose symptoms of being "punch-drunk" from his career leave him with occasionally slurred speech, has said he did not resist. He has claimed he tried to talk to officers and was still trying to co-operate as they Tasered him. He also alleges he was beaten.

The case first came before Belleville court Feb. 11.

Reid said he has received disclosure of the Crown's case against his client, a former Olympic boxing silver medallist and two-time World Cup champion now living in Belleville, but wants more information. "I've asked for some details from the Crown and we're going to have a further discussion on this coming in March," Reid said Wednesday from his Toronto office.

O'Sullivan, who last week carried the Olympic torch in North Vancouver, said he respects the justice system and understands the case must run its course. "That's our system and you've got to abide by it," said O'Sullivan.

Like O'Sullivan, Reid comes from Toronto's Irish community. He attended school with Shawn's brother, Brian O'Sullivan, and said he has known the boxer since before the latter gained his national profile as an athlete. Reid has spent most of his 26- year career in criminal litigation, taking cases ranging from high-profile murder trials to shoplifting. He was a Crown prosecutor in the Greater Toronto Area during the 1990s. He also teaches law and has defended other professional athletes, though he declined to name clients.

O'Sullivan first made public his allegation of police brutality during a January television interview about his career and life afterward. A deluge of media attention and public controversy followed his initial interviews with Global News and The Intelligencer.

The sudden interest in the case was overwhelming, O'Sullivan said. It was just like winning a world title again -- the amount of media it was getting," he said.

But he added he and Reid had yet to discuss the case at length and he, therefore, had little to add, especially given the earlier wide publication of his account. "I know what happened," he said.

Reid, meanwhile, said it isn't his usual style to draw a spotlight onto cases. "I don't think this is the kind of case to take into the media," Reid said. "I don't think Shawn likes these things to be, necessarily, public. I think it's good to deal with them discreetly and see what happens.

"Shawn is a fine guy," Reid said. "He's already said something in the media. I wouldn't purport to say it any better than that. I think it says a lot.

"Let me put it this way: I think it has a ring of truth to it, and we'll see how it stands up."

"His whole family has been supportive through this," he added.

Reid said he would defend O'Sullivan "vigorously."

He said he'll review that information and do further research before commenting in any depth. Reid said his approach to the case will be determined largely by the Crown's intentions. He would not comment on any potential plea O'Sullivan might enter. "At this point truly all his options are open," he said.

O'Sullivan has said he plans to file an official complaint against police. That has not happened yet, but Reid and O'Sullivan said it remains a possibility.

"That will have its day," said O'Sullivan.

But for now, said Reid, he'll await further details from the Crown.

"Let's see what the other side says."

O'Sullivan's pre-trial hearing -- a meeting between a judge, the Crown attorney and defence -- is scheduled for March 11 in Belleville before Justice Stephen Hunter.

Five per cent of Tasers failed

February 19, 2010
Ryan Cormier, Edmonton Journal

About five per cent of Edmonton police Tasers failed testing in the past year

The Tasers were shipped to Ontario for testing early last year at the direction of the Alberta Solicitor General after questions were raised about the voltage such weapons put out when they are fired.

All 422 of the service's X-26 models were tested. Twenty-three were taken out of service for not having the correct voltage level.

"I would say that's a really low percentage and I'm not trying to minimize the importance of it," Chief Mike Boyd said Thursday.

In November, the department returned 14 of the 23 faulty units that were under warranty. They will return another three this month. The other six units were past warranty and have been taken out of service.

At any given time in 2009, police kept 70 Tasers on-hand for use while others were being tested.

The police plan to purchase another 15 tasers this year, says a report submitted to the Edmonton Police Commission.

The Solicitor General paid for all testing until July 2009, after which the police department has paid $4,480.

In April 2009, in the midst of the testing, the Solicitor General's office announced that 50 Tasers across the province had failed.

The tests were the first independent gauge of the weapons ever done by Alberta's police departments. Before then, the province relied on the guarantees of Taser International which makes the devices.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Commission delays Gascón’s Taser policy

February 18, 2010
Brent Begin, Examiner Staff Writer

The SFPD will have to keep waiting for a decision on Tasers.

After hours of testimony and questions at the Police Commission Wednesday night about the safety of Tasers, and five years after another failed attempt to implement them in San Francisco, the seven-member civilian body decided to delay a vote on their use.

An affirmative vote would have allowed police Chief George Gascón only to develop a policy to bring back to the Police Commission in about 90 days for a second approval. The matter will come up again in two weeks.

Experts back San Francisco police chief on use of Tasers

San Francisco, Detroit and Memphis are the only big U.S. cities whose police departments do not use Tasers. It is so EASY to find so-called "EXPERTS" to extol the virtues of this weapon that - no matter what any bought and paid-for expert says - has the potential to kill. It is unfortunate that, either critics of taser use in San Francisco didn't organize themselves (and I include myself in that) or the reporter bought the party line - hook, (thin blue) line and sinker.

The "train may have left the station" in SF. Detroit and Memphis - this is your wake-up call.

Jaxon Van Derbeken, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, February 18, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO -- The San Francisco Police Commission heard a litany of expert testimony Wednesday to support the police chief's proposal that the department's officers be equipped with electronic stun guns.

Chief George Gascón has pushed for Tasers, stun guns that disrupt a target's muscle control, and ordered a study of officer-involved shootings shortly after coming on the job in late July. That study, released earlier this year, concluded that one-third of 15 officer-involved shootings over a five-year period might have been avoided had officers had the devices.

San Francisco, Detroit and Memphis are the only big U.S. cities whose police departments do not use Tasers.

Gascón said before the meeting that a policy on Taser use as a "less lethal" option would take 90 days to develop and that deployment could take a year or more. Officials with the Police Executive Research Forum who studied seven departments that used Tasers and six that did not found a 78 percent drop in officer injuries and a 40 percent drop in suspect injuries with the deployment of the devices. They stressed that the weapons must be tightly controlled with strict training.

Critics of Tasers, however, argued that they are not the nonlethal weapons the maker advertises. A specialist from the Los Angeles-area American Civil Liberties Union has noted that research is lacking on the use of the Taser's role in 400 in-custody deaths since 2001.

However, another ACLU official told the commission that Tasers are highly effective and humane. Scott Greenwood, a civil rights lawyer and a general counsel for the ACLU in Ohio, said Tasers have been vital in improving the use-of-force records of Cincinnati police, which went from 18 police-involved shootings one year to zero the next.

He noted that departments across the country slashed shootings by half or to zero in just the first year of implementation, cutting injuries to officers. "Every jurisdiction has had a double-digit drop," he said.

Greenwood also said SFPD's policies and practices make it "late to the game" when it comes to Taser use.

"The train here has really left the station as far as throughout the country," Greenwood said, adding that the SFPD's policy resembles the practices used 25 years ago in East Coast departments and its officers "lack a full tool kit."

He faulted the department's policies, which leave officers little choice between verbal orders and opening fire.

"This shouldn't even be a close question," he said. "You should approve his (Gascón's) request tonight for all the right reasons."

San Francisco Sheriff Mike Hennessey noted that his agency has used a Taser 12 times over the last eight years and that merely pointing the device's laser guide light at suspects has caused them to say, "OK, I give up." The Sheriff's Department uses the device both in the jail and in serving warrants.

"The Taser can be a deterrent in many situations when a person realizes they are about to be Tased," he said. "I find it has been a very effective tool."

He said the only drawback is expense, including training and the $35 cost per cartridge.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mounties testing Taser video cams

February 17, 2010
Jim Bronskill, Canadian Press

OTTAWA — The Mounties are making some videos, and you don’t want to be in them.

RCMP officers in Kelowna, B.C., and Moncton, N.B., are testing two kinds of cameras that will record Taser firings during six-month field trials.

Included in the tests are the Taser Cam, an accessory for newer-model stun guns made by Taser International, supplier to the RCMP, and the VIDMIC, an audio-video recorder that attaches to an officer’s belt radio.

Field testing of the devices in the two communities was slated to begin in December, say internal briefing notes on the project obtained under the Access to Information Act.

Results from the trials will be analyzed to determine whether one or both of the devices are used more widely by the RCMP.

The tests come amid growing concern about police accountability on use of stun guns, which deliver a powerful jolt that incapacitates suspects.

An RCMP complaints commission report on the case of Robert Dziekanski — who died after being hit with an RCMP Taser at the Vancouver airport — said there would have been a clear benefit” to video footage capturing the events from the officers’ perspectives.

Complementing stun guns with recording devices may be beneficial because documenting incidents can make police more accountable, said Micheal Vonn, policy director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association. However, an important factor will be what happens to the video and audio after they are recorded, she said.

There should be protocols to ensure the digital recordings cannot be tampered with and are readily made available to police watchdogs, she said.

“We see a lot of video go missing that complainants say would support their side of the story.”

Vonn noted that a public tussle ensued over an amateur videotape of the October 2007 confrontation involving Dziekanski. The tape was returned to traveller Paul Pritchard, who shot the video and loaned it to the RCMP, after he threatened to go to court.

The RCMP rented a total of 10 Taser Cams and 10 VIDMICS for the trials, say the notes.

Laboratory testing of the Taser Cams by MPB Technologies revealed that one was not functioning properly and that the battery could not be charged more than 20 per cent.

The notes indicate the lab tests also raised questions about the reliability of the Taser when the camera is attached. The camera comes with its own power supply that replaces the standard Taser power pack.

When the batteries were depleted to a level of 25 per cent with the camera in place, the Taser worked within tolerance 77 per cent of the time. When the same depletion test was done with the standard battery, the stun gun functioned within tolerance 92 per cent of the time.

The force believes six months is long enough to gather sufficient data and to see how the recording devices fare in cold weather and when officers are wearing winter gloves.

The RCMP didn’t respond today to questions about the status of the tests.

Not in Vain

February 17, 2010
Peter Gorman, Fort Worth Weekly

The parents of Michael Jacobs Jr., killed last April by a Fort Worth police officer wielding a Taser, have never been satisfied with the police department's handling of their son's case. But now, they believe, something good may have come from his death.

Local black and Hispanic leaders announced this week that a historic coalition of black and Hispanic groups has been formed to promote human and civil rights in North Texas. The coalition includes the Fort Worth branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. It is the first time the three groups have formally come together anywhere in the country.

"We have worked together on isolated issues before," said Hector Carrillo, director of LULAC's 21st district, which includes Tarrant, Parker, Johnson, and Wise counties. "But we've never come together like this, to develop strategies that will aim to effect changes in governmental policies. And the killing of Michael Jacobs was the spark that we rallied around to develop this coalition."

Jacobs suffered from a bipolar disorder. The 24-year-old black man was tasered by a police officer responding to a call by his father, Michael Jacobs Sr. Police had been called to the house before, when the younger Jacobs got off of his medications. This time, when Jacobs refused to get into a police car, the officer fired her Taser, hitting him in the neck and keeping the trigger down for 49 seconds. According to official statements, she said she had not meant to keep the trigger down on the 50,000 volts of electricity. But after releasing the trigger, she hit him again with a five-second blast.

Jacobs began having difficulty breathing and died a short time later. Tarrant County Medical Examiner Nizam Peerwani ruled the death a homicide and listed the cause as "sudden death ... due to application of a conducted energy device."

Despite the ruling, a grand jury declined to indict the officer. And Fort Worth Police Chief Jeff Halstead did not punish the officer. Civil rights leaders were outraged.

"That must have been the first time in the history of Tarrant County that a ruling of homicide did not result in an indictment," said the Rev. Kyev Tatum, president of the Fort Worth branch of the SCLC. "And it was not just the failure to indict or dismiss the police officer that got to us," said Tatum. "It was the way the city of Fort Worth and the police department acted toward the Jacobs family.

"They showed no compassion. Here a mentally challenged young man who was unarmed and no danger to anyone was shot and killed with a 54-second jolt of electricity, and no one has even said they're sorry. Michael Vick went to jail for electrocuting dogs, and people went crazy over that. But we allow police to electrocute people. Something is not right with that picture, not in a civilized society."

The grand jury decision led to a protest, which included the Rev. Tom Franklin of the New Mount Calvary Baptist Church in southeast Fort Worth. Franklin had been upset about the widespread use of Tasers in Fort Worth and across the country but didn't know what to do about it.

"I wanted the Jacobs family to have closure, and I wanted people to remember that death," he said. After the protest, Franklin returned to his church and wrote Michael Jacobs' name on a cross he'd made that was used in services. Not long afterward, he planted it on church grounds. Behind it, he began putting foot-tall white wooden crosses in memory of Jacobs and others who have died after having been tasered.

Marcus Hardin met Franklin through Tatum. Hardin's grandson, Marcus Swiat, had been tasered for 40 seconds after a vicious beating by Fort Worth police officers in 2007 - all of which was caught on videotape and led to Swiat being found not guilty of charges of assaulting a police officer and public intoxication. When Hardin saw the Taser memorial that Franklin had begun, he decided to help make it into a national memorial. Together, Hardin and Franklin began making crosses to represent all the people in this country who have died after being tasered. When they started in late 2009, the number was 465; the memorial is now up to 471 crosses.

"The fact is that tasering is torture," Hardin said. "I was an electrical contractor for 40 years, so I know what electricity feels like. And anyone who says being hit by 50,000 volts of electricity is not torture is lying."

Hardin became good friends with Tatum and got to know Carrillo as well. It was Hardin who suggested that their voices would be stronger if they worked together in trying to get Tasers banned in Fort Worth. And they would be stronger still if they could get the NAACP to join with them.

"Now that they've signed that agreement to work together, politicians won't be able to ignore them,." Hardin said. "They represent too many voters."

Banning the use of Tasers by the Fort Worth Police Department is the first goal of the new coalition. And a recent ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals might go a long way toward seeing that goal become a reality.

The ruling was handed down in December by a federal appeals court in California. The case was based on an incident in which a Coronado, Calif., police officer tasered an unarmed, emotionally troubled man who was not posing a threat to anyone. The man, Carl Bryan, fell face first on the pavement, shattering four of his front teeth.

Bryan sued the officer, the Coronado Police Department, and the city, alleging that the excessive force violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The trial court ruled in Bryan's favor, and the appellate court agreed.

The ruling, if it is affirmed and adopted by other courts, would make individual police officers, their departments, and the governing bodies that employ them responsible for injuries sustained by people who have been tasered. It is expected to set a precedent that could force police agencies to revise their policies on the use of Tasers.

"We're hoping that ruling either gets Tasers banned in Fort Worth or limits their use to life-and-death situations," said Hardin, who has vowed to his grandson that if he lives long enough (he's 80), he will put Taser International out of business.

"Brother Hardin is right," said Tatum. "Tasers are torture, and torture has no place in a democracy."

The new coalition may take on other civil-rights related causes as well.

"We will be working toward civil rights and human rights," said Nehemiah Davis, president of the Fort Worth branch of the NAACP. "And we will be working at voter registration and getting out the vote. As you know, any politician will pay attention to anyone who can produce a good amount of votes."

Carrillo said the coalition will also work "on institutional racism, on immigration protocols, on the incarceration of illegals, on civil rights. There are so many issues that negatively affect the black and brown populations, not just here in Fort Worth but all over the country."

At the news conference on Monday at which the coalition agreement was announced, Tatum added issues such as education, economic development, and the quality of schools in minority neighborhoods to the list. "We come together because of common pain," he said. "The African-American community can empathize with the Latin community on the issue of racism."

"We want to serve as the example for the state and the country, to show that these groups can find meaningful ways to work together" to support public policies "that encourage respect for human dignity regardless of race or religion," Tatum told Fort Worth Weekly.

Michael Jacobs Sr. said he hopes the coalition can bring about some much-needed changes. "I only wish my son didn't have to die for that good thing to have happened," he said.

"They keep telling people that Tasers are less lethal than guns," he said. "Now my son wasn't doing anything to anyone when they killed him. But if that officer thought, for whatever reason, that she needed to use force on him, I wish she would have just shot him in the leg with a gun. If she had, he'd still be here."

NZ Complaints Authority To Talk To Police About Taser Data

February 17, 2010

Police Minister Judith Collins is not convinced there is a need for mandatory reporting of all taser use by police to the Independent Police Conduct Authority.

Ms Collins said police were trained properly in their use and had to follow guidelines.

Unlike other countries New Zealand police tasers had automatic sound and vision recording every time they were used to monitor behaviour, Ms Collins said.

Authority chairwoman Justice Lowell Goddard today told Parliament's law and order select committee that police did provide data about taser use but there was no requirement for them to do so.

She said a memorandum of agreement could be a way of improving that.

"I think we need to do that by agreement with police because I would not have jurisdiction to demand that they advise me every time they discharge a taser -- it would be done under a memorandum of agreement, but I think it's a matter probably we should discuss with police, so that we are able to say `yes we are monitoring this'."

However she said the authority's focus was on how they were used, rather than the fact they were in use.

Tasers were used in 124 incidents during 2009 and on nine occasions they were discharged.

There had been no complaints since July 2008 but there were three before then. Tasers were introduced in 2008.

Ms Collins said there already was mandatory reporting of all incidents causing death and serious harm, in addition anyone could complain if they felt a taser had been used or presented in an appropriate way.

Green MP Keith Locke said it would be good if every incident involving tasers was reported and not just cases when they were fired.

Mr Locke said the roll-out from 32 tasers in New Zealand to 680 presented a danger of over-use and the way to control that was to have a full reporting system.

He said the Canadian equivalent of the authority found when tasers became embedded in the police system there was inappropriate use of them to try to get compliance in violent situations.

With the increasing presence of tasers in New Zealand there could be a creep towards misuse.

"We don't want the public unnecessarily threatened by over-use of the taser."

Monday, February 15, 2010

RCMP drafts wide-ranging changes to Taser policy following critical reports

February 15, 2010
By Jim Bronskill (Canadian Press)

OTTAWA — The RCMP plans a sweeping overhaul of its Taser policy following recommendations from inquiries prompted by the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski.

An internal briefing note obtained by The Canadian Press says the Mounties' policy centre on use of force recommends four dozen specific changes on stun gun use.

The note prepared for RCMP Commissioner William Elliott states that the force's review involved examination of two reports sparked by the death of Dziekanski, recent changes to Taser policy in Alberta and discussions within the national police force.

"Once the final (Taser) policy is approved, there will be an immediate impact on operations and training which will have to reflect the policy changes," says the November note, released under the Access to Information Act.

The briefing note states that although there has been preliminary consultation within the force and with partner agencies, "further consultations will be required in order to finalize the draft policy before being submitted to the commissioner for final approval."

Dziekanski, who hoped to join his mother in British Columbia, died in October 2007 after being hit with a Mountie Taser at the Vancouver airport. A video of the confrontation taken by a fellow air passenger, in which a confused, sweaty Dziekanski is zapped repeatedly, was seen by millions of people - triggering public outrage and a fundamental re-examination of stun gun use.

Over the last eight years, Tasers have become an increasingly common tool in the arsenal of police services.

Law-enforcement agencies say the tools, which can be shot from a distance or used in up-close touch-stun mode, are often a preferable alternative to pepper spray or batons when dealing with violent suspects.

Critics say police are using the powerful devices to make merely unco-operative people comply with orders even when they don't pose a threat to officers or bystanders.

Elliott maintains that the Taser is a useful tool for RCMP officers when used properly.

After looking into the Dziekanski case, Paul Kennedy, then-chairman of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, said use of the Taser was "premature and inappropriate." He called on the Mounties to further clarify for their members and the public when a stun gun should be fired.

Former judge Thomas Braidwood, who led a B.C. public inquiry on Taser use, said while the guns can kill or gravely injure people, they can also be a valuable option for officers.

In an initial report, Braidwood said police should use a Taser only when someone is causing harm to another or there's a possibility they will imminently do so.

The B.C. government ordered all police in the province to severely restrict stun gun use, but the RCMP said it needed time to review Braidwood's report.

The RCMP briefing note to Elliott says a policy "revision document is being finalized for review by the commissioner that contains 48 specific recommended (Taser) policy changes."

Sgt. Greg Cox, an RCMP spokesman, said discussions on the new draft policy continue, adding he could not discuss details at this point.

Federal and provincial governments are working on national standards for Taser use, and it's not immediately clear how the latest RCMP revisions would tie in to such a cross-country policy.

The last major changes to the RCMP's national Taser policy took effect in February of last year.

However, there have been some revisions.

Following a bulletin from Arizona-based manufacturer Taser International, the RCMP last October issued an advisory that officers should try to avoid aiming a Taser at a person's chest. The company denied the bulletin was an admission the weapons could trigger heart problems, only that limiting the target zone would help "avoid any potential controversy on this topic."

The RCMP also began training officers last year on a revised system for dealing with incidents involving suspects.

The step-by-step system guides officers in their dealings with people from the point they arrive on the scene to possible use of force, including physical contact and weapons such as the Taser or a conventional firearm.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Eugene, Oregon panel to propose Taser policy revisions

February 14, 2010
Jack Moran, The Register-Guard

An intensive review of the Eugene Police Department’s Taser policy is nearly complete after eight months of work by a police commission subcommittee, but how the group’s proposed changes would result in changes to officers’ on-the-street use of stun guns remains unclear.

The group’s members hope to wrap up their work at a meeting on Thursday. If they do, their policy recommendations will be reviewed by the full police commission at a meeting next month. Once the full commission agrees on the proposed update, the policy will be sent to Police Chief Pete Kerns’ desk for approval.

The City Council may weigh in on the Taser rules at some point, although it’s not yet known if that discussion would take place before or after Kerns endorses an updated policy.

The subcommittee has worked closely with police department officials on a revised policy and has received significant input from community members and American Civil Liberties Union representatives, among others.

“We all want a reasonable policy that allows Tasers to be part of officers’ arsenal,” subcommittee chairman Joe Alsup said. “It’s all about harm reduction.”

Alsup said two controversial Taser cases in Eugene have influenced the discussion, as has the group’s review of about 40 other incidents in which officers used stun guns during the past two years.

Another factor is a recent federal appeals court ruling that concluded police can be held liable for using a stun gun against an unarmed person who poses no immediate threat.

Police officials working with the subcommittee have informally agreed to two changes that Alsup characterized as “major.”

The first would allow an officer to use a Taser when faced with a person posing a credible threat of “serious” physical injury to someone, including themselves. The current policy does not specify how serious the threat of injury must be to use a Taser.

The second would allow Taser use when an officer confronts a person who creates an immediate, credible threat to themselves or someone other than a police officer.

Police do not appear supportive of another proposed change the subcommittee is considering. It would allow police to use a Taser against someone who creates an immediate, credible threat of physical injury to an officer only after that person “engages in active physical resistance.”

Police Lt. Doug Mozan said that particular modification, if approved, could require officers in some instances to unduly delay using a Taser, thus increasing the probability that someone could be injured during a confrontation.

Mozan added that the proposed changes “are still up in the air” and that police “are open to more discussion.”

Another contemplated addition to the policy would allow officers to use Tasers on people involved in only certain types of crimes.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Trial begins in Taser case

Judge Jerome E. Brock banned attorneys and witnesses from referring to the exact number of Taser shocks in the presence of the jury ... 21 TIMES!!!

February 9, 2010
By Tracey Kaplan, Mercury News

Two young men who beat up a total stranger in downtown San Jose with a baseball bat are guilty of murder, a prosecutor alleged Tuesday, even though the disoriented victim didn't die until after police subdued him during a violent run-in hours later with a baton and multiple Taser shots.

Deputy District Attorney Daniel Carr started the first day of trial in a homicide case that generated controversy about police Taser use by displaying graphic autopsy photographs. The images showed that victim Jorge Trujillo suffered severe head wounds and complex skull fractures from the baseball bat.

"Mr. Trujillo was beaten to death with a bat," said Carr, no relation to District Attorney Dolores Carr.

The case against Daniel Miller, 19, and Edward Sample, 20, sparked controversy after the Jan. 25, 2006, attack because of a ruling by Dr. Christopher Happy, a Santa Clara County medical examiner at the time.

Happy ruled that it was likely Trujillo would have died from injuries he suffered before the Taser shots. Trujillo encountered police about 90 minutes after the bat attack, when 911 dispatchers received a call about a man breaking into cars in the 1200 block of Woodborough Place — about 1.5 miles away.

Trujillo had stumbled there in a "catatonic" state, Carr alleged, and was soaked in blood when officers arrived and was wielding a garden hoe. The homeowner who called 911 told dispatchers it was possible Trujillo had a concealed weapon in his pocket. Trujillo refused to talk to officers or allow them near. To subdue him, they used the Taser and struck him three times — in the right leg, right arm and across the back. He died the next day.

In analyzing Trujillo's death, Dr. Happy also concluded that being zapped 21 times with stun guns about 90 minutes after that beating contributed to his death. Happy is now chief medical examiner in Milwaukee and won't be called to testify by either the prosecution or the defense.

After hearing pretrial arguments from prosecutors and defense attorneys, Judge Jerome E. Brock banned attorneys and witnesses from referring to the exact number of Taser shocks in the presence of the jury. However, the Mercury News is including the number because it has been previously reported.

In his opening argument Tuesday, Carr told the jury that a medical expert will testify Trujillo died as a result of the beating.

The trial comes at a time when a series of Mercury News articles have heightened scrutiny over the department's use of force and arrest practices in immigrant communities. The trial is being closely watched by community activists.

"We think two young boys are being scapegoated for a crime they didn't commit," said community activist Raj Jayadev, a leader of a multiethnic coalition of more than 15 community and service-based organizations concerned about what it calls excessive force by police. "The amount of force used by the police against him was excessive and led to his death, and yet they are not charged."

Defense attorneys declined to comment. Sample's attorney, Wes Schroeder, pointed out that the opening argument by the prosecution is not evidence.

The day after the bat attack, Carr alleged, Miller and Sample — then 17 and 16, respectively — told a friend they beat up Trujillo because they thought he was a "scrap," a slang word for a Mexican national or a Sureño gang member. Trujillo was a Guatemalan immigrant and did not belong to any gang.

Carr said a friend of Sample and Miller's who witnessed at least a portion of the attack will testify against them. The friend was given a plea bargain; instead of spending life in prison, he'll get three years for being an accessory after the fact. Sample and Miller face a maximum of life in prison if they are convicted.

Carr said recordings from a wiretap of the defendants' cell phones will also show the young men killed Trujillo.

"The words speak for themselves," said Carr, referring to the tapes. "There was no denial of anything having to do with the murder of Jorge Trujillo."

Under California law, Judge Brock explained in court, the jury can arrive at a murder conviction if they find that the defendants committed an act that caused death and involved malice aforethought. But the defendants didn't have to intend to kill Trujillo; they can be convicted if they committed a potentially fatal act with conscious disregard of the danger to human life.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Man dies in Arizona

Mark Andrew Morse, 36

Thursday, February 04, 2010

RCMP to seek outside help when investigating its own

February 4, 2010

The RCMP will ask an outside party to investigate Mounties in cases where death, serious injury, suspected criminal behaviour or "matters of public confidence" are involved.

RCMP Commissioner William Elliot announced the new policy at a press conference Thursday afternoon.

"We consider this measure an interim step to provide further independence and assurances of impartiality whenever employees of the RCMP are under investigation," he said.

Alberta and Ontario have created agencies that would allow Mounties to be investigated independently, Elliot added. Similar agencies are being set up in Manitoba and Nova Scotia.

Where no such organization exists, another police force would be asked to take on the investigation. And if that's not possible due to a lack or resources, for example, the commissioner said Mounties would lead the investigation themselves and take additional precautions.

Those precautions include bringing in RCMP officers from out of province to conduct the probe, and appointing outside observers to provide "independent review."

A team of at least two officers would be assigned to conduct the investigation after being screened for conflicts of interest in the case. The senior officer would outrank whoever is under investigation, where possible.

"The RCMP must strive to be as open and transparent as possible, and fully accountable for our actions," Elliot said. "We would prefer the RCMP never to be called upon to conduct investigations of our own employees."

The long-term goal, Elliot added, is for the organization to work with all levels of government to encourage more independent investigations, where an RCMP officer is the focus.

"I believe that the RCMP has in the past conducted impartial and thorough investigations of our members," Elliot said. "However, I'm convinced we collectively need to raise the bar."

The new rules are intended to guide the decisions of the police force, which has the authority to choose how its officers are investigated.

In recent years there have been a number of controversial cases in which the RCMP investigated its own.

In one case, Robert Dziekanski died at the Vancouver airport in 2007, after he was struck by an RCMP Taser. In another instance, Ian Bush was shot and killed by a Mountie in British Columbia in 2005.

In a statement, Public Safety minister Vic Toews welcomed the change in policy.

"Our government's position continues to be that effective review should be external to the force," Toews said. "This announcement demonstrates the RCMP's commitment to becoming a stronger, more accountable and modern organization."

With files from The Canadian Press

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

MD at taser inquiry doubts ‘excited delirium' caused Nova Scotia man's death - Term is ambiguous and often misapplied by police: psychiatrist

February 3, 2010
Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press

The official record says Howard Hyde died of a condition known as excited delirium as he struggled with guards inside a Halifax-area jail cell more than two years ago.

But an inquiry into the sudden death of the mentally ill Nova Scotia man heard Wednesday from a clinical psychiatrist who said those who use that term subscribe to an “ideology” that he doesn't accept.

Dr. Joseph Noone, an expert on the clinical aspects of violent behaviour, said excited delirium is a term favoured by law-enforcement officials and coroners even though it is not accepted as a medical or psychiatric diagnosis.

“I'm not a fan of excited delirium,” he testified. “It's a controversial term used strongly in certain areas.... There's a real concern that the term could be misused.... It's very unsatisfactory from a psychiatry point of view.”

The mysterious condition is characterized by several traits, including incoherence, paranoia and suddenly intense, violent behaviour marked by extraordinary strength, profuse sweating and an elevated heart rate. In some cases, individuals die suddenly. Researchers have yet to determine why this happens.

The inquiry has heard that Mr. Hyde, a 45-year-old musician who was diagnosed with schizophrenia in his 20s, demonstrated most of the traits in the hours before he died on Nov. 22, 2007.

Causes of excited delirium may include schizophrenia and other psychiatric illnesses, drug intoxication, alcohol withdrawal and heat stroke, experts say.

Soon after he was arrested for an alleged assault, Mr. Hyde was tasered up to five times when he tried to escape from the police station in downtown Halifax. Officers have testified that Mr. Hyde was soaked in sweat and possessed superhuman strength as he tried to flee the building.

Mr. Hyde was later taken to hospital, where he was given medication; but he was released several hours later on the condition he get psychiatric help once he appeared before a judge.

That never happened.

Mr. Hyde died the next day as guards at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility wrestled him to the ground after he refused to walk down a hallway because he thought there were “demons” at the other end.

Dr. Noone, manager of psychiatric intensive care at the Riverview Hospital, in Coquitlam, B.C., produced a report for the inquiry that states use of the term excited delirium when describing cause of death can result in the deceased being labelled as the culprit.

“The attractiveness of the term may relate to some of its proponents having ... the subjective perception that conducted energy weapon use and physical, mechanical restraint used by law enforcement officers deserves to be excluded or absolved as contributing in any way to an in-custody death,” the report says.

“The deceased is identified as the culprit and must have had the condition of excited delirium.”

Dr. Noone testified that the term implies those in the throes of excited delirium “had something wrong with them” to begin with. “And if they died, they were going to die anyway.

“Excited delirium (proponents) say that people walk around in this state where they could drop at any moment. In my experience, they are not dropping at any moment.”

He said he preferred the term emotionally disturbed person, “because then you're not making any assumptions about what you've got or what you've think you've got.... There's no implications of diagnosis or cause.”

An independent report commissioned by the RCMP also criticized the use of the term excited delirium. The report, ordered after Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski died after multiple taserings by Mounties at Vancouver International Airport, said the condition is sometimes used as an excuse to justify firing stun guns.

Dr. Noone's provocative comments followed testimony Monday from Dr. Christine Hall, an expert in excited delirium who told the inquiry there were many warning signs suggesting Mr. Hyde was suffering from the condition as he was taken into custody.

Dr. Hall, a researcher and emergency-room doctor based in Vancouver, said the “constant and repetitive nature” of Mr. Hyde's pacing inside a jail cell was a strong clue he was in a highly agitated state. She stressed that excited delirium, a term coined by pathologists in the 1980s, is not a diagnosis but rather a condition stemming from an underlying disorder. Dr. Hall also testified that she didn't believe the tasering caused Mr. Hyde's death.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Tucson Police Use Muscle Power Instead of Tasers and Batons

February 2, 2010
Patrick McArdle
Tucson Life in Photos, Examiner

Seldom do police officers get recognized for not beating folks they are arresting. In fact, lately, I cannot recall any good news cop stories. On February 2 at the Shell gas station on Country Club and 22nd street I was privy to a good news cop story.

The officers were putting an alleged drunk into the squad car. He was violently resisting, lurching forward trying to escape. The Tucson officers could have easily justified knocking him to the ground, giving a few whacks on the way down. It could have been messy and violent.

Instead the officers used common sense and sound judgment. There were, after all, five very big cops against one not so huge man.

The officers didn’t scream or shout. They remained calm and steadily moved him closer to the car. It took less than five minutes to get the man in the car. No taser, no beating, just good old muscle power and civility.

Congratulations and kudos to these Tucson Police officers for demonstrating civility, good judgment and common sense.

Watch the slideshow here.


Meanwhile, at a high school in Monessen, Pennsylvania on Friday:

The video speaks for itself.

Judge seals videotape in Taser case

February 2, 2010
By David Fitzpatrick and Drew Griffin, CNN Special Investigations Unit

Winnfield, Louisiana (CNN) -- A judge has sealed a potentially explosive videotape taken in the aftermath of a racially charged incident in this small central Louisiana town two years ago.

On January 17, 2008, an unarmed man -- wanted on what police said was an outstanding arrest warrant -- was struck by a 50,000-volt Taser nine times within the space of 14 minutes.

The suspect, Baron "Scooter" Pikes, was handcuffed during each separate Taser incident, according to the Winnfield Police Department. The officer who fired the Taser, Scott Nugent, is white. Pikes, who was pronounced dead on arrival at a hospital, was black.

CNN's account of the incident in the summer of 2008 relied on interviews at the time with the local parish coroner, the police and an attorney for the family of the victim.

Winn Parish Coroner Dr. Randy Williams told CNN that in his opinion, Nugent had violated every police procedure for using a Taser on a suspect. Moreover, contrary to initial police reports, Williams told CNN that there was no trace of drugs in Pikes' system. The coroner ruled the death a homicide. Subsequently, the officer was fired following a long civil service hearing and is now on trial for manslaughter in Winnfield.

At the time, a lawyer for Nugent, Phillip Terrell, told CNN that his client had, in fact, followed proper procedure and that Pikes was resisting arrest and had fought with Nugent before being struck by the Taser.

The video sealed Monday by the judge shows the aftermath of Nugent's Taser use, according to sources who have seen the tape. They told CNN that it runs about 17 minutes and was shot by Nugent himself.

The tape begins with Pikes handcuffed to a chair in the Winnfield Police Department, the sources said. He had already been hit by a so-called "direct" stun -- a Taser fired directly into his chest rather than from a distance -- and eight other Taser shots.

Off camera, voices can be heard taunting him, shouting the "N" word and demanding to know if he was high on drugs, the sources said. The tape also shows Pikes foaming at the mouth and struggling to breathe. He later slumps to the floor and is ultimately taken to an emergency room with shackles around both of his ankles. CNN has seen still photographs of the lifeless body, still in leg shackles at the hospital.

At a motion hearing Monday in Winn Parish District Court, both the prosecutor, R. Chris Nevils, and the lead defense attorney, George Higgins, said in open court that the tape existed and asked Judge John Joyce to seal it until it was put into evidence at trial, now set for June 14. Both lawyers said release of the tape would taint the local jury pool and set the grounds for a change of venue. Joyce agreed and ordered that the tape not be disseminated under threat of contempt of court until it is played in open court.

CNN approached Nugent after the hearing and asked him for comment on the tape but his attorneys advised him not to answer. The attorney also had no comment.

Attorneys for Pikes' family have filed a wrongful death suit in a federal court in Louisiana, seeking unspecified damages from the town of Winnfield and each officer involved.

The lead attorney for the family, Carol Powell-Lexing, told CNN she believes Pikes' death has been subject to a police cover up from the beginning. A spokesman for the Winnfield Police Department said there was no cover-up.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Hyde suffered mental condition before jail death: expert

February 1, 2010
The Canadian Press

An expert says there were "many red flags" warning that Howard Hyde was suffering from excited delirium in the hours before he died in a jail cell.

Christine Hall, an emergency room doctor based in Vancouver, testified Monday at an inquiry into Hyde's death at a provincial jail in the Halifax area in November 2007. He had been shocked with a stun gun 30 hours earlier.

Hall, a researcher with the Canadian Police Research Centre, says the "constant and repetitive nature" of Hyde's behaviour was one strong clue that the diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic was suffering from a condition known as excited delirium.

In Hyde's case, surveillance videotapes show him constantly pacing in his cell for hours on end in an unchanging pattern. Hall says this behaviour suggests Hyde was in a highly agitated state — a clear signal that he was suffering from excited delirium.

After Hyde's death, a medical examiner concluded that the cause of death was excited delirium, a sometimes-fatal condition stemming from schizophrenia.

Hyde, a 45-year-old musician, had a long history of paranoid schizophrenia.

Last year, the inquiry was told that Halifax police are training officers to better defuse volatile situations with the mentally ill before having to resort to the use of a Taser.

The officer responsible for training police on the use of force said last year that he expects new training guidelines will emphasize that people displaying signs of excited delirium should be treated as medical emergencies in need of immediate attention.

The inquiry has heard that some signs of the condition are profuse sweating, super-human strength, delusions and being impervious to pain— some of which Hyde displayed at the time.

Hyde was arrested following a complaint of domestic assault. He was taken to police headquarters, where he was shocked with a Taser, after becoming agitated as officers tried to fingerprint him. He died the following day at the correctional facility.

The inquiry is looking at how police officers and others in the justice system treated Hyde, who was off his medications and had been acting erratically leading up to his death.

Howard Hyde Inquiry - Proposed Witness List

February 1-2 - Dr. Christine Hall
February 3-4 - Dr. Joseph Noone
February 8 - Dr. J. Kinlay
February 9-10 - Dr. Charles Kerr
February 11 - Dr. Theriault and a psychiatric nurse from QEII
February 15-16 - Dr. Stephen Hucker
February 17-18 - Dr. Michael Howlett
February 19 - Dr. Sarban Singh
February 22 - Cst. Delton MacDonald (Cape Breton Regiobnal Police Liaison Officer)
February 23 - Steve Lurie, CBMHA, Ontario
February 24-25 - Dr. Michael Webster
February 26 - Paul Kennedy, Training Officer, Department of Justice