March 27, 2010
By Gabrielle Giroday, Winnipeg Free Press
The family of a Winnipeg teen who died after police stunned him with a Taser in July 2008 plans to sue the weapon-maker after an autopsy linked his death to the weapon, the family's lawyer said.
Autopsy results obtained by the Winnipeg Free Press say Michael Brian Langan, 17, died after police shocked him twice with a Taser in a city back lane in July 2008.
Police and witnesses said officers chased Langan down the lane after he broke into a car, and then shocked him after he refused to drop the knife he was brandishing.
The autopsy report says Langan's death was caused by a heart arrhythmia brought on by the Taser shocks.
The report indicates two darts hit Langan above his collarbone and on the left side of his chest.
Contributing to the death was a heart abnormality Langan had, as well as running from the police before he was shocked, says the report.
After Langan's death, his mother called on police to suspend their use of stun guns, saying she believed the Taser was connected to her son's death.
"This confirms it. There's no question about that," said lawyer Jay Prober, who represents Sharon Shymko, Langan's mother.
The report indicates Langan had injuries on his scalp, trunk and arms and legs as well as a high volume of alcohol in his system. The teenager also had marijuana in his system, the report says.
Prober said the family is planning a lawsuit that would "especially" target Taser International, the Arizona-based manufacturer of the stun guns Winnipeg police carry.
He said the family will also seek government funding to have counsel at the inquest into Langan's death.
"They don't have money," said Prober.
Taser International, which did not have access to Langan's autopsy report, issued the following comment Friday:
"TASER stands behind the safety of its products but it is our policy not to comment on a tragic death without having been provided any factual documentation whatsoever. We do know that TASER devices save lives and reduce injuries to officers and suspects," said the statement.
Dr. Thambirajah Balanchandra, Manitoba's medical examiner, said he has not called an inquest into the death yet because he is awaiting word from Manitoba Justice and the Winnipeg Police Service on whether criminal charges will be laid. Under the province's Fatality Inquiries Act, an inquest is called in all cases in which someone dies in an incident involving on-duty police.
"We're obviously waiting anxiously for dates (for the inquest) to be set," said Prober.
A spokesperson for Manitoba Justice said it has not received a request for funding yet from the Langan family.
"Should the family request funding when the inquest is called by the Chief Medical Examiner, their request will be considered in light of the policy currently being developed," she said.
The spokesperson said, in a prepared statement, the government supports the use of stun guns by police. "We believe that officers should have access to the best equipment possible in order to keep themselves and Manitoba communities safe.''
Prober said Langan's family still has questions about the teen's death which could be answered at the inquest.
"We know what the cause of death was, but what prompted the police to use the Taser in these circumstances?" said Prober.
"Was it one of those Tasers that emitted a stronger shock than it was supposed to?"
In October 2009, Taser International sent out a directive to people using stun guns to avoid targeting the chest area. Instead, the company encouraged them to stun the "lower centre of mass (below the chest) for the front of the body, and below the neck for the back."
"Should sudden cardiac arrest occur in an arrest situation involving a TASER electronic control device (ECD) discharge to the chest area -- plaintiff attorneys will likely file an excessive use of force claim against the law enforcement agency and officer and try to allege that the (stun gun) played a role in the arrest related death by causing ventricular fibrillation (VF), an arrhythmia that can be fatal without intervention," said a Taser release.
"The available research does not support this and demonstrates that while it may not be possible to say that (a stun gun) could never affect the heart under any circumstances, the risk of VF is extremely rare and would be rounded to near zero."
The Winnipeg Police Service also recalled 50 older models of the stun guns in December 2008, along with other police agencies in the country.
The move came after CBC News and Radio-Canada tested some X26 Tasers made before 2005 and found some delivered more electricity than promised.
Police told the Free Press in December 2008 there was no indication one of the recalled weapons was connected to Langan's death, but the possibility was being investigated.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Sunday, March 28, 2010
March 27, 2010