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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Report clears RCMP of wrongdoing in death of man Tasered and pepper sprayed

January 25, 2011
Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA - The watchdog over the RCMP says Mounties acted appropriately in the arrest of a British Columbia man who was hit with pepper spray, a baton and Taser stun guns before dying five days later.

In an interim report, the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP says officers "acted reasonably" in subduing Robert Knipstrom during the November 2007 incident in Chilliwack, B.C.

Constables called to the scene "exercised their use of force options in a manner consistent with the law and RCMP policy," says the November 2009 report by then-complaints commission chairman Paul Kennedy.

However, the complaints commission had several concerns about breaches of protocol in the subsequent police investigation.

"It is difficult for both the police and the public to critically examine violent encounters between the police and a member of the public," the report says.

The Canadian Press obtained the commission's initial report under the Access to Information Act. The RCMP has yet to respond to the findings. Once it does, the commission will issue a final report.

The events began Nov. 19, 2007, when Knipstrom was allegedly involved in a hit-and-run accident in Chilliwack, the report says. He continued on to an equipment rental centre to return a machine.

A witness to the accident, meanwhile, apparently followed Knipstrom to the store and called the RCMP. Upon their arrival at the shop, Knipstrom was behaving erratically. He brushed past one of the officers and adopted a boxer's stance with fists clenched.

A constable tried to restrain Knipstrom, who was "pushing, punching and lunging" at the officer, the report says. The constable used pepper spray, a Taser and his baton, while a second one hit Knipstrom with pepper spray and a Taser — reportedly to little or no effect.

Eventually, backup arrived and Knipstrom was restrained and handcuffed. He was taken to hospital in Chilliwack but lost consciousness and did not regain it before dying Nov. 24.

The arrest occurred just days after the November 2007 release of the now-infamous video of Robert Dziekanski being zapped with a Taser at the Vancouver airport. The Polish immigrant's death prompted intense scrutiny of the potent police weapons.

The officers who arrested Knipstrom appropriately requested and obtained medical treatment for him, the report says.

A team of Mounties — none of whom knew any of the three members involved in the arrest — looked into the incident, consistent with force policy at the time. Since the Knipstrom report was completed, the RCMP has instituted a policy of no longer investigating itself in cases of serious injury or death.

The complaints commission report says all relevant witnesses were interviewed. However, it expresses concern that an RCMP staff relations representative — the closest thing the force has to a union representative — was allowed to meet with officers before they made statements about the events.

In addition, early on in the probe, one of the constables involved in the arrest was assigned to interview the two main civilian witnesses, creating a conflict of interest.

The report also takes issue with the fact a number of interviews were conducted by another Mountie of the same or lower rank. It recommends that all interviews of members involved in serious incidents be conducted by officers of a higher rank to avoid the potential for intimidation of the investigator.

Still, the complaints commission says there was no evidence to support a prosecution of the officers, and it was reasonable for the RCMP not to submit a report to Crown counsel for review.

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