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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Boy, 11, was holding pen, not knife, when Tasered by RCMP

October 18, 2011
Andrea Woo, Vancouver Sun

The 11-year-old boy whom Prince George RCMP hit with a Taser in April was holding a pen, not a knife, at the time, an update on the investigation reveals.

However, the boy did have a knife earlier in the incident and was described as having "extraordinary strength" and being prone to "extremely violent outbursts," the update says.

The details were released on Monday by West Vancouver Police Chief Peter Lepine, who was following up on a promise to release more information on his Sept. 15 decision not to recommend charges against the officers.

"The officers decided that the Conducted Energy Weapon (i.e., the Taser) would be their best force option for resolving the incident as safely as possible," Lepine wrote.

The officers were dispatched to a residential address at 5:30 p.m. on April 7 after a call reporting a man had been stabbed.

A 37-year-old man with a stab wound was taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, while the boy, who allegedly stabbed the man, barricaded himself inside the residence.

Before police arrived, the boy had been seen drinking from a bottle of wine and walking around the residence with a knife, Lepine wrote.

According to information gathered from adult witnesses, the boy:

. Was hearing impaired but without his hearing aids.

. Was prone to "extremely violent outbursts, during which he exhibited extraordinary strength for his age and size."

. "Would not back from physical confrontation with adults and was likely a high risk to attack officers if they approached him suddenly or unexpectedly."

. Would exhibit "warning signs" before violent outbursts, including making "the sign of the cross."

Officers saw the boy slashing his sweatshirt and running a knife blade over the palm of his hand and up and down his arms, Lepine wrote. The boy also gave the officers the middle finger and threw a wine bottle and wine glass out of the window of the residence.

The boy came out of the residence several times, once to gather some personal effects he'd asked for, and again to post a note on the porch wall. It turned out to be illegible when officers tried to read it.

"He kept a knife with him at all times and, while outside on the porch, officers and adult witnesses saw him make 'the sign of the cross' in front of his chest," Lepine wrote.

After 40 minutes, officers felt the boy was growing increasingly frustrated. They decided to intervene before the situation "escalated to the point where lethal force was an appropriate option for the resolution."

When the boy emerged from the residence a third time, "the Taser was deployed in a single cycle and the boy was immobilized long enough for the officers to gain physical control over him and seize what turned out to be not a knife but a pen," Lepine wrote.

"Once the boy was physically secure, officers immediately removed the Taser probes from his back and had him transported to hospital."

Lepine, who also sought the opinion of a use of force expert, determined the officers' actions were appropriate.

"I understand and expect that there will be those who believe that my decision to publicize these details is an attempt to vilify the 11-year-old boy in order to exonerate the police," he wrote.

"I can assure all of you that everyone involved in the original incident, as well as the investigation, was fully aware and sensitive to the fact that the police were dealing with a child. However, ultimately, the boy's age was secondary to the fact that his apprehension was deemed necessary in order to prevent him from causing further grievous bodily harm or death."

David Eby, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, which was consulted in the investigation, said he is glad West Vancouver police released more information. But he said the information is "extremely concerning" and means the investigation now must "go to the next level."

"This explanation that the child didn't have his hearing aids, that the child had no weapon at all when he was ultimately Tasered, raises some very serious questions for us and escalates this incident, in our mind, to one that requires the urgent attention of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP," Eby said.

The officer who deployed the Taser had just 18 months experience with the force. He was placed on administrative leave following the incident.

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