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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Mom seeks answers in Edmonton Taser death

November 21, 2010
Alexandra Zabjek, Edmonton Journal

EDMONTON — The mother of a man who died after being Tasered by city police two years ago is worried that she won’t get any answers at a fatality inquiry into the incident because she can’t afford a lawyer to represent her.

Beverly Grimolfson, who is raising her son Trevor’s three children in Dauphin, Man., plans to attend the inquiry which is scheduled to begin Monday in Edmonton. Without a lawyer to speak on her behalf, she is determined to question witnesses herself.

It won’t be an easy process.

“There are far too many questions for me to have answered, for me not to have a lawyer there,” she said. “I feel the victim’s family should have representation in order for it to be a fair inquiry.”

Trevor Grimolfson died on Oct. 29, 2008, after a drug-fuelled rampage through a west-end pawnshop.

Police were called and confronted him in the shop, a 10-minute ordeal in which he was Tasered several times. After he was arrested, he went into medical distress and was taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

His cause of death was listed as “excited delirium due to the consequences of multiple drug toxicity.”

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, which investigates any death that may have been caused by a police officer, last year ruled officers were justified in their actions. No criminal charges were laid.

However, a fatality inquiry was automatically called since Trevor Grimolfson died while in police custody. The inquiry is scheduled for five days, and the presiding judge must report on the circumstances, causes, and manner of the death. The judge may present recommendations on how to prevent similar deaths in the future.

A fatality inquiry is not a trial and the judge cannot assign blame for an incident. Family members of those who have died are automatically granted standing to speak and ask questions at an inquiry, but provincial legislation does not provide for their legal funding.

Beverly Grimolfson said she was denied Legal Aid in her home province of Manitoba, as well as in Alberta. She applied to Provincial Court Judge F.A. Day, who is presiding over the inquiry, to recommend she receive funding, but he declined to do so.

Day ruled there was no legal authority to mandate funding. He noted that if financial need was a sufficient basis to recommend public funding, then provincial legislation or Legal Aid would have made provisions for that.

Alberta Justice says it is not common for families to bring lawyers to a fatality inquiry.

Julie Siddons, a spokeswoman for the department, said next of kin can speak at an inquiry and bring lawyers if they want.

“It’s a factual inquiry, it’s not a trial, so legal representation is not required,” she said.

Grimolfson’s inquiry comes in the wake of the high-profile and lengthy Braidwood Inquiry in B.C, which examined the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski who died at the Vancouver International Airport in 2007 after he was Tasered multiple times by Mounties. Video of the incident was viewed widely and prompted debate about the use of Tasers by police in Canada.

In his lengthy report released in 2009, former judge Thomas Braidwood said police should continue to use Tasers but warned it is not “helpful” to blame deaths on “excited delirium,” since it avoids having to “examine the underlying medical condition or conditions that actually caused death, let alone examining whether use of the conducted energy weapon and/or subsequent measures to physically restrain the subject contributed to those causes of death.”

Alberta Justice says it expects Dr. Graeme Dowling, Alberta’s chief medical examiner, will discuss the relevance of Braidwood’s findings at the Grimolfson’s inquiry.

When writing in 2009, Braidwood found 25 people had died in Canada since 2003 after a conducted energy weapon was deployed against them.

Beverly Grimolfson said she knows her son was in bad shape when he encountered police two years ago, but insists he was not “a monster.” She said he was a loving father and a generous person.

She thinks it is important the circumstances of her son’s death are investigated completely. She thinks that can’t be done without investigating the use of Tasers by police forces in general.

“We can’t forget any one of (those deaths). Just because there is no video of the other 25, their cases are no less important.”

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