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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Taser use questioned in drug user's death

October 13, 2010
Barbara Simpson, QMI Agency, Toronto Sun

HAMILTON, ON - When Jeffrey Marreel jumped out from behind a dumpster wielding a piece of metal, Norfolk OPP Constable Scott Adams knew he wasn't answering a run-of-the-mill disturbance call.

Instead Marreel channeled "superhuman strength," fending off a team of officers trying to restrain him, a jury heard Tuesday on the first day of the inquest into the man's death.

In a state of excited delirium from a weekend of smoking, snorting and injecting cocaine, Marreel wreaked havoc on the hamlet of Fisher's Glen in the county of Norfolk in southern Ontario, testified Norfolk OPP officers at the John Sopinka Courthouse in Hamilton Tuesday.

Marreel, running barefoot up the steep hill, attempted to pull down the welcome to Fisher's Glen sign, Adams recalled. He also started hacking at an oak tree with his piece of metal, knocking down branches while having an "internal struggle."

"He's chopping away, yelling at himself," Adams said. "'If you come close to me, you f------ pig, this is what I'll do to you,' is what he said."

Adams, who was first on the scene, was joined by a team of officers after placing a priority call for backup on June 23, 2008. Officers, however, were no match for Marreel, who fought off a five-member team at one point, eventually whipping the piece of metal at Adams' police car. It broke a light on the cruiser.

"You almost had one officer assigned to each body part," Adams recalled of police's efforts.

To illustrate this point, Hamilton Crown Attorney Karen Shea asked Norfolk Const. John Keefner to compare his stature with Marreel's frame. The six-foot-four Keefner weighs 240 pounds, while Marreel — who stood between 5'8" and 5'10" — weighed 200 pounds.

Officers still had trouble pinning down the man, Keefner testified. Even after his arms and legs were restrained, he wasn't ready to give up his fight.

"He still fought as much as he could," Keefner recalled.

Staff Sgt. Dean Skelding used a Taser on Marreel. However, Adams couldn't initially recall the use of the stun gun due to Marreel’s lack of reaction to it.

Marreel, however, died after being taken to the Simcoe detachment of the Norfolk OPP. His cause of death has been ruled "acute cocaine poisoning" by the Ontario Special Investigations Unit.

He would become paranoid after injecting powder cocaine and smoking crack cocaine, testified friend David Shearer. He didn't want people around him, even squirting soap once to fend people off.

Marreel, who was 36 years old at the time of his death, was also a staple in the criminal circuit, reportedly beating up an officer in another part of Norfolk county, Shearer added.

"He was well-known," he said Tuesday. "He abused women and was in and out of jail, mostly abuse charges."

Officers who testified Tuesday admitted that further training on how to handle cocaine users in a state of excited delirium would benefit the force. These officers had only seen a 15- to 20-minute video on the topic before the incident occurred.

"I believe it is woefully inadequate," said Norfolk Const. Ken Decloet.

Shea asked Adams if he was familiar with OPP policy on excited delirium. A suspect is supposed to be taken in for medical treatment first if symptoms of excited delirium are being experienced.

"I wasn't aware of that policy," Adams said.

Marreel was checked out at the scene, only bearing small lacerations on his head, testified Norfolk paramedic Donald Otterman. He wasn't in need of immediate medical treatment.

Shea asked what further training Norfolk officers have had since the incident to prepare themselves for a similar situation.

"I think I saw the video again," Adams answered.

Seven witnesses, including a pair of landscapers who saw Marreel's erratic behaviour, testified Tuesday. More police witnesses are expected to be called at Wednesday's proceedings.

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