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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Ontario police watchdog blames Taser in man’s death

December 7, 2010
Patrick White, The Globe and Mail

The investigator’s opinion is unambiguous and unprecedented: Stun guns can kill.

In what could be the strongest official condemnation of taser use ever issued in Canada, an investigation into the demise of 27-year-old Aron Firman has presented a clear connection between stun-gun use and the young man’s death.

Mr. Firman died on June 24.

Ontario Provincial Police had been dispatched to Blue Mountain Residence, a Collingwood group home, on a complaint that Mr. Firman had assaulted another resident.

When two officers arrived, Mr. Firman was seated in a chair. He calmly answered their queries until they told him he might have to go to jail. He rose and elbowed one officer in the head before aggressively approaching the second.

The second constable shot a taser at Mr. Firman, who fell to the ground unconscious. An ambulance crew rushed him to Collingwood General and Marine Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

To investigate the death, the SIU brought in Michael Pollanen, Ontario’s chief forensic pathologist and a key player in cases involving the likes of Stephen Truscott and disgraced pathologist Charles Smith. He offered a clear cause of death for Mr. Firman: “cardiac arrhythmia precipitated by electronic control device deployment in an agitated man.”

Based on Dr. Pollanen’s postmortem and 28 interviews, Mr. Scott cleared the officers but blamed the weapon.

Most police agencies in Canada classify tasers as an intermediate “less-than-lethal” weapon. The SIU investigation offers a direct challenge to that designation.

“The last few months have been excruciating,” said Mr. Firman’s father, Marcus. “It is now compounded by the knowledge that it didn’t have to happen.… If I get nothing else out of it, it’s that protocols must be changed. Another life is too many.”

An inquest is expected to be announced in the case.

Previous inquests, including the Braidwood inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski, have only suggested a possible link between deaths and tasers.

A company spokesman said the SIU had not consulted Taser International in the investigation.

“TASER stands behind the safety of its products but we do not comment on an unfortunate death without having been provided any factual documentation by the SIU or had the opportunity to review the autopsy report,” Steve Tuttle said in an e-mail. “We continue to stand by the independent peer reviewed medical studies that have shown that the TASER electronic control devices are generally safe and effective.”

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