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Friday, March 04, 2011

Former Toronto mayor faced Taser in 2010

March 3, 2011
Henry Stancu, Toronto Star

Former Toronto mayor John Sewell was one of 226 people to face the business end of a police Taser in 2010.

The Toronto Police Services Board listened Thursday as he described his unexpected encounter with a Taser-toting Toronto officer.

“It should happen to every member of this board. It would change your opinions about how this weapon is used,” Sewell told them.

“I believe this is what happens a lot of the time.”

He was responding to a report by Chief Bill Blair that states while 545 Toronto officers packed Tasers in 2010 fewer people got zapped or had the weapons pointed at them than the year before.

The X-26s Taser has been issued to emergency task force members and supervisors in high-risk units such as the holdup, drug and fugitive squads.

“Officers are using good judgment under difficult circumstances and making appropriate decisions to use the minimum force to resolve often tense and dangerous situations,” Blair’s report states.

Sewell’s situation last October was hardly dangerous. The former mayor, who heads the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, was outside an apartment building with a man police were coming to arrest on a criminal harassment charge stemming from a relationship breakup.

An officer ran at them pointing the device and shouting: “You’re under arrest. You’re under arrest.”

After they both identified themselves, the man, who Sewell was representing as a lawyer, was forced to the ground by three officers and handcuffed.

“The (chief’s) report says the use of the weapon was effective. What it did was terrify us. Does that mean this in fact is happening a lot of the time?” Sewell asked the board.

Despite his experience, Sewell would rather see police use Tasers over lethal firearms, but calls for better training and restrictions on their use.

He did not file an official complaint, but the board members agreed to accept his deputation for their consideration.

In his report, Blair said the weapon was used 236 times in 210 cases, with 95 incidents (45.2 per cent) resolved by officers merely pointing the devices, but not firing.

By comparison, Tasers were used 307 times in 273 incidents in 2009. In 45.4 per cent of those cases, people complied when the devices were just shown.

No deaths resulted from Taser use and only three minor injuries occurred, including cuts to a chin, lip and cheek when jolted subjects fell to the ground, the report states.

In about half the cases, officers used Tasers when they felt a person’s behaviour was threatening and 29 per cent of the incidents involved armed suspects, the report says.

“Upon review, some of these incidents were life-saving events (including suicide attempts), and most certainly officer injury was avoided,” Blair said in his review.

Last May, two handcuffed men were threatened with a Taser by an officer trying to get information from them.

Police cruiser cameras showed Const. Christopher Hominuk, 37, pressing a Taser against a man’s neck and pointing it at another man’s groin.

Hominuk, who pleaded guilty to threatening bodily harm, is to be sentenced June 14.

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