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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Taser maker fights inquiry conclusion that stun gun can kill

July 6, 2010
By Petti Fong, Toronto Star

Taser International says its bottom line is hurting and its reputation has been slurred in the wake of a provincial public inquiry report that concluded the weapon can cause death.

In a court application Monday to the B.C. Supreme Court, Taser asked that a judge quash the findings of the Braidwood Commission.

The commission, led by retired judge Thomas Braidwood, released its report late last month following a two-part inquiry into the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport on Oct. 14, 2007.

Dziekanski, 40, died after RCMP officers shot him five times in the chest with a Taser weapon.

David Neave, a lawyer for the U.S. manufacturer, told Judge Robert Sewell on Monday that Taser is concerned about Braidwood’s conclusion that the weapon can cause death.

“It’s a slur on Taser that its device can kill,” Neave said. “That’s a slur that ought to be removed.”

Sewell noted the commission had concluded the “harm this product could cause carries with it a low risk of death.” However, Neave said there is no medical or scientific evidence to support that the weapon has caused any deaths.

Sewell challenged Neave further and said use of the weapon, if carried out by anyone other than police officers, could be considered assault causing bodily harm. “This product is designed to cause harm,” the judge said.

Neave rejected that. “It’s designed to incapacitate,” he said. “Certainly there is a pain component associated.”

The company is asking that all findings regarding the weapon’s safety be removed from the report on the grounds that Braid failed to forewarn Taser of his conclusions and did not give the company a chance to refute his conclusion about the weapon.

Braidwood, a former B.C. Supreme court justice, was asked by the provincial government to hold a two-part inquiry following public outrage over the death of Dziekanski, whose 30-second interaction with RCMP officers at an airport arrivals lounge and the quick deployment of a Taser were captured on video by a bystander, later seen by hundreds of thousands of viewers after it was publicly posted.

The Polish government is demanding charges be laid against the four RCMP officers but an earlier investigation by the RCMP found a conviction was unlikely and no charges were laid.

After Braidwood’s report came out in June, which included findings that the officers ‘ conduct was shameful and their testimony unreliable, a special prosecutor concluded last week the investigation should be reopened.

Taser, which took part in the inquiry, provided the commission with 174 articles it said prove the weapon cannot be linked to any deaths. Neave said the commissioner referred to only 60 of those articles in his findings.

Neave said the company has cooperated fully with the inquiry but its CEO, during his testimony before the commission, was treated as an adversary under cross-examination by the commission’s lawyer.

The commission heard that 300 deaths in the U.S. and nearly 30 in Canada have had links to Tasers.

“People have been dying in police custody for hundreds and hundreds of years,” said Neave, and there is no evidence a Taser either caused or contributed to any of the deaths associated with the weapon.

The Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company has been spending internal resources on addressing the issue to its clients, said Neave, and the company’s CEO has attributed the loss of one potential contract worth tens of millions to an African client to the findings by the provincial commissioner.

“There has been a negative impact from the decisions in the report . . . an economic backlash,” Neave said.

The B.C. government is expected to respond Tuesday that the inquiry’s findings are not subject to judicial review and there was no obligation to provide Taser with an opportunity to respond to the commissioner’s conclusion.

When he released his report last month, Braidwood seemed to dismiss Taser’s claim.

“I read all their material. I read everything,” he said. “That doesn’t mean I’m going to put it all in. Let me just say I disagreed with them.”

Taser International, in court proceedings in the U.S., has vigorously challenged any suggestions its weapons cause bodily harm or death. In 2008, the company successfully petitioned a judge in Ohio to order autopsy reports for three men rewritten after a medical examiner made reference to the Taser in association with the men’s death. The men died in confrontations with police.

The trial is expected to take five days.

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