October 4, 2010
Nine police who surrounded an unarmed man at the East Perth watch house used a Taser on him 13 times even though he wasn't threatening them, the WA corruption watchdog has found.
The Corruption and Crime Commission investigation was part of a wider examination of WA Police's use of Tasers since their introduction in 2007, the majority of which were found to be reasonable.
The watchdog looked into the watch house incident after the Deputy Police Commissioner Chris Dawson brought it to their attention. It found the 39-year-old man could have been suffering from a mental illness or substance abuse when he was Tasered in August 2008.
Police said they tried to arrest the man on a Bayswater street after complaints of a trespasser sniffing petrol from cars, but he fled. They later arrested him after he ran into a stationary car on Guildford Road. He allegedly collapsed and became violent, kicking two officers when he woke.
He was taken to the watch house, where police attempted to strip search him. Police said he had previously been convicted of a number of offences including assaulting police officers, resisting arrest and common assault.
"The man had been compliant, removing his belt and earring when requested by police officers. However, the man refused to comply with a strip search and held onto the armrest of the bench. One police officer kicked out at the man in an attempt to 'startle' him into letting go of the bench," the report said.
"Another officer drew his Taser weapon and said 'let go or be Tasered'. The man did not let go and a Taser weapon was deployed on him. The man fell to the ground and was restrained by other police officers."
While he was struggling on the ground a police officer said "do you want to go again?" before discharging the Taser again.
CCC director of corruption prevention Roger Watson said the incident was subject to an internal police investigation and the two officers who fired the stun-gun faced disciplinary charges and were fined $1200 and $750 respectively for using undue and excessive force. Two senior officers were found to have provided inadequate supervision.
Mr Dawson said the inmate, who was later jailed on assault charges, did not elect to press charges against the two officers after consultations with the Aboriginal Legal Service and advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions. He conceded the officers were fortunate not to be sacked, though one had been promoted to a sergeant's position since the incident.
"This is an example which is not a good example to use in isolation, it is an example from which we have learnt, but it should not represent the way in which police deal with people all the time," Mr Dawson said.
"We're dealing with violent persons regularly, in this particular instance, this person had an extensive criminal record, and clearly in my view the officers overreacted. They didn't do it in accordance with the policy and the training. For that we very much regret what happened."
Mr Dawson said since the incident, stun guns had been raised against some of the 25,000 inmates brought through the watch house, but not fired by prison officers. He said Corrective Services officers had used Tasers in the watch house but they had their own policies on Tasers.
WA Premier Colin Barnett said he was disturbed by what he saw in the footage.
''It was excessive use of a Taser that could not be justified,'' Mr Barnett said. ''I think anyone seeing that footage would find it totally unacceptable.''
Mr Barnett admitted the incident was a major breach of procedure by the officers involved, and their actions could not be "swept under the carpet".
WA Attorney-General Christian Porter said the incident was completely indefensible and a breach of police guidelines that stipulate Tasers should not be used to get people to comply with orders.
He said the officers' behaviour could "properly described as outrageous" and that the fines against them were insufficient.
Mr Porter said police guidelines setting out when Tasers could be used needed to be reviewed.
"The government accepts that those guidelines need to be reviewed, we accept the CCC's recommendation in that respect and they will be reviewed," Mr Porter said.
"As a second point of priority this government will be looking into the police force regulations and ways in which we can ensure that the use of Tasers is put to a higher standard in terms of disciplinary proceedings, than just any old run-of-the-mill excessive use of force."
A second case highlighted in the CCC report concerned a man who was Tasered while running from police officers, causing him to fall and break a tooth. He was Tasered twice again while on the ground and seemingly not posing a risk to the male and female officer trying to apprehend him.
Taser use growing in WA Police force
Tasers are meant to be used in violent situations, to stop officers having to resort to guns or use lethal force. The weapons deliver a 50,000-volt electric shock to the target, disrupting their muscles. They can also be used in stun-mode, where the shock causes pain but not incapacitation.
But the CCC also found the high-voltage weapon had become the favoured option for police over capsicum spray, batons and handcuffs, with officers reaching for their Tasers in 65 per cent of cases where force was used.
The CCC said Tasers were increasingly used to impose compliance by alleged offenders rather than as an alternative to firearms to reduce injury, as originally intended.
Tasers were used in 49 per cent of incidents where force was necessary in 2007. That figure increased to 74 per cent in 2008 and settled at 65 per cent in 2009. The use of guns had doubled in the same time-frame, rising from 6 per cent to 12 per cent.
The investigation found the weapons were being used disproportionately against Aboriginal people. The CCC was also concerned about the frequency of Taser use against people with mental illness and drug users.
An analysis of the weapons revealed police usually used them between 9pm and 3am from Friday through to Sunday.
"There were common situations in which a Taser weapon was deployed, including domestic violence incidents, disturbances, fights and brawls, traffic stops, vehicle pursuits, and reports of weapons and/or assaults," the report said.
Injuries to police had not decreased since the introduction of the weapons, while a study of incidents over a three-month period in 2009 showed those involved in altercations were a Taser was used were 54 per cent less likely to be injured.
The CCC gave 10 recommendations surrounding Taser use, asking for the policy to be changed so that officers could only use them in situations where a safe resolution could not be reached in any other way.
It recommended the weapons should not be used when there was a risk of the person falling and sustaining a serious injury, if they were near water or at risk of drowning, against pregnant women, on those with pre-existing medical conditions, or near flammable liquid or gas.
Mr Watson said the recommendations would bring Taser use in WA into line with other parts of Australia and the world.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Monday, October 04, 2010
October 4, 2010