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Friday, September 17, 2010

Taser death delay - RCMP failing to sign-off on Knipstrom report now 300 days overdue

September 17, 2010
Tyler Olsen, The Times

Nearly three years after Robert Knipstrom died after being arrested by Chilliwack Mounties, an investigation into the events leading up to his death continues to gather dust at RCMP headquarters.

Knipstrom died on Nov. 24, 2007, five days after being pepper sprayed, Tasered and hit with a baton as Mounties attempted to subdue him.

The Commission for Public Complaints (CPC) Against the RCMP launched a "chair-initiated complaint" immediately after the arrest of Knipstrom. Last November it completed its investigation into the incident and forwarded its report to the RCMP for final comment.

The CPC recommends that the Mounties take no longer than 30 days to sign-off on reports and comment on whether, and how, it plans to address the issues raised. But nearly 300 days after receiving the Knipstrom case, the report has still not been released.

The initial complaint called for a review: of Mounties' use of force; of medical treatment Knipstrom received in Chilliwack immediately following his arrest; "of whether the RCMP officers involved in the criminal investigation of the members involved in the events of Nov. 19, 2007, complied with the RCMP policies, procedures, guidelines and statutory requirements;" and of whether that investigation "was carried out in an adequate and timely fashion."

The delay cannot be explained by a lack of familiarity with the case on the part of Mounties; the investigation into how Knipstrom died was itself undertaken by the RCMP. Still, the CPC report will be made public, but only after the RCMP top brass reports on what actions the police force may take.

"They're responding to our recommendations in this report," said CPC spokesperson Kate McDerby. "That's why we feel that the 30 days, as a guideline, is something that is manageable--because they're not going back to investigate it again.

The Knipstrom case isn't unique as far as overdue CPC reports go. Indeed, the RCMP has yet to sign off on 14 reports that are even older than the Knipstrom case. One of those reports has been waiting for RCMP comment for more than 500 days, according to McDerby.

This backlog of CPC reports is relatively new. After clearing a separate accumulation of investigations by March of last year, the Mounties were praised in the CPC's 2009 annual report.

But the RCMP says that recent large-scale security operations have strained its ability to deal with the reports.

"There is currently a backlog and the reason for that is we've had to reallocate our resources over the past 12 months due to the Olympics and the G-8 and G-20 meetings earlier this summer," said RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Pat Flood.

McDerby said the CPC and the Mounties are meeting to address the problem. Still, with cases like Knipstrom's long overdue, the organization is encouraging the RCMP to get moving.

"We know that there were constraints put on the RCMP this year," said McDerby. "In spite of that, we feel that the creation of a backlog becomes part of a slippery slope and...we're the shepherds of the public complaints process, we want to ensure that Canadians have access to [a process] that is timely."

Until receiving notice from the RCMP on what action it may take to address the reports, the CPC cannot comment on any recommendations it may have made.

"Ideally we like a complaint to be, from the time it comes in until the final report is issued, to be no longer than a year," she said. The Knipstrom case is approaching its three-year anniversary.

Last year, a coroner's inquest linked Knipstrom's death to "excited delirium" and serious ecstasy intoxication. Coroner Vincent Stancato recommended that all B.C. emergency services personnel should receive more training on how to identify and deal with excited delirium.

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