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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Police defend use of stun gun on delirious man

August 25, 2011
Daryl Slade, Calgary Herald

CALGARY — The city police officer who fired his stun gun at a man who had allegedly broken into a southeast residence says it would have been difficult to do anything differently, given the information he and his fellow officers had at the time.

“If at the time we knew the house was 100 per cent vacant our tactics could have changed,” Const. Stefan Van Tassell testified at a fatality inquiry.

“If there was nobody else in the house and he only could have harmed himself we could have bought more time.”

Van Tassell said it was only later determined that the man they encountered, Gordon Bowe, 40, was in a state of excited delirium when he and other officers arrived at what they believed to be an occupied home in the 500 block of 42nd Street S.E. on Nov. 1, 2008.

The four police officers involved in subduing Bowe, including Van Tassell have been cleared of any potential wrongdoing and the investigation concluded the stun gun did not cause the man’s death.

Van Tassell, now in his seventh year with Calgary police, told Crown lawyer Jo-Ann Burgess that he and his partner arrived at the home and he used his flashlight to see the intruder through a broken window into the dark basement.

“He was very irritated and aggressive,” Van Tassell said. “He was shouting, flailing his limbs about. I announced ‘Calgary police, you are under arrest,’ several times. He didn’t acknowledge me. I continued to issue challenges to him.”

The officer said he then drew his stun gun and deployed it through the open window and saw the man fall backwards, but got up again fairly quickly and began moving toward him without saying anything coherently.

Van Tassell said he then went into the basement and saw Bowe running back and forth. He fired the stun gun again twice, but believed he missed the target at least once before he went down.

“I pulled the Taser, because it was the most effective means of taking him under control without injury,” the officer told court.

Van Tassell said it took four officers, including himself, to finally handcuff the large man while he was on the basement floor.

It was only after they got the cuffs on him that they suspected he was in an excited delirium and they summoned the awaiting paramedics.

Van Tassell said he could not specifically recall if he had warned Bowe that he was intending to use his Taser if he didn’t comply, but said it was standard practice to do so.

He said once Bowe was under control and searched for any weapons, some of the officers went to clear the residence, to be certain there was nobody else inside.

The officer said the man was grunting and snorting heavily and didn’t give a verbal response. It was only at the point that he was handcuffed and subdued that it was suspected he might be in a state of delirium from use of illicit drugs.

“He wasn’t communicating properly, just grunting, and I realized excited delirium was a possibility,” Van Tassell recalled. “But I couldn’t say with certainty he had excited delirium.

“He had been running around flailing, not fully clothed, but it was not until after the cuffs were on we thought it might be excited delirium.”

Excited delirium is described as a condition that includes a combination of delirium, physical agitation and anxiety that can include hallucinations, speech disturbances and disorientation that can lead to an elevated body temperature and superhuman strength.

Court heard previously that police deal with about a dozen cases a year of excited delirium. Although they are trained how to deal with such suspects, it is not always apparent initially what they are facing.

The inquiry continues through Friday.

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