December 7, 2010
Curtis Rush, Toronto Star
For the first time in this country, public officials have drawn a clear link between a police officer’s use of the Taser and the death of its target, according to a Toronto lawyer.
Julian Falconer was responding to the release of the findings by the Special Investigations Unit into the death of a mentally ill man this past June.
Ian Scott, director of the SIU, reported that “in this incident, the Taser’s deployment in my view caused [Aron] Firman’s death.”
Firman, a 27-year-old schizophrenic who was living in a home for mentally ill patients, was Tasered on June 24 in Collingwood after Ontario Provincial Police officers responded to an assault complaint.
The SIU report and the coroner’s findings, Falconer says, prove that the Taser should be reclassified as a lethal weapon.
The SIU did not find the OPP officer at fault, declaring that police had the legal authority to arrest Firman. And even though he believes the Taser caused Firman’s death, Scott wrote that this use of force was not excessive.
Scott’s report follows a medical examiner’s findings indicating that Firman died from “cardiac arrhythmia precipitated by electronic control device deployment in an agitated man.”
In the SIU report, Scott admitted that his findings and those of the medical examiner contradict the classification of the Taser as a “less lethal or intermediate weapon” in the OPP’s arsenal.
“Aron Firman did not have to die,” Falconer said. “This is the first case in this country in which public officials have taken the lead and declared conclusively the connection between Taser and death.”
Falconer is calling on Taser International to properly reclassify Tasers as lethal weapons and urged police officers to acknowledge that there is a risk of death in using the Taser.
“The fact that this is classified as a non-lethal weapon is fiction,” the lawyer said. “This is an important opportunity for Taser International to come forward and tell the truth about the Taser and tell the truth about its risks of fatality and to work with police to get this weapon classified accurately.”
Falconer said also that the OPP officers who responded to the victim’s residence did not have the proper level of sophistication to deal with somebody dealing with a medical crisis.
“Please keep in mind that was an unarmed man,” Falconer told the Star.
He said the victim’s family is committed to seeing a province-wide implementation of the kinds of mobile crisis teams available in Toronto.
In the SIU report, Scott calls attention to the possible training lapses of the OPP in this case. “The subject officer could have reasonably thought that the Taser deployment would not be lethal based upon his training,” the SIU director wrote.
This SIU report proves that “pepper spray clearly could have been used” in this case, Falconer said. The Taser, he said, should be used as a last resort short of a gun. “It’s seen in more innocent terms,” the lawyer said.
The independent agency determined the victim had underlying health conditions that could have contributed to his death. However, Falconer says that coroner’s refers to an excessive level of calcium going to the heart and that’s a genetic marker affecting about 20 per cent of the population.
Two OPP officers were dispatched to a Blue Mountain residence in Collingwood on June 24 following an assault complaint.
Firman was found sitting in a chair outside one of the buildings, but when police moved in to arrest him, he became agitated. He then got up and “moved aggressively” towards one of the officers, according to the SIU. One officer tried to intervene and Firman struck her in the face with an elbow, Scott wrote on his report. Firman continued to advance upon the subject officer and the officer discharged his Taser. Firman “took a few additional steps” before falling to the ground and lapsing into unconsciousness.
Emergency services responded and Firman was taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Falconer said he will represent the family at an inquest. No decision has been made yet to pursue a civil lawsuit, Falconer said.
The SIU is an independent agency that investigates reports that involve police where there has been death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault.
Meanwhile, the OPP says it has no plans to halt use of the Taser.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Tuesday, December 07, 2010
December 7, 2010