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Friday, February 17, 2012

Two deaths this week

710. February 13, 2012: Johnnie Kamahi Warren, 43, Dothan, Alabama
711. February 16, 2012: Charmin Bennett, 30, Donaldsville, Louisiana

Friday, February 10, 2012

Let Toronto cops carry tasers, deputy chief urges

January 10, 2012
Carys Mills, Globe and Mail

Front-line officers in Toronto should be allowed to carry tasers but provincial regulations prohibit them from doing so, said Deputy Chief Michael Federico in response to questions about how police respond to mentally ill people in crisis.

On Thursday, the Toronto police held a rare demonstration of how they are trained to deal with such situations. The news conference at the police college came less than a week after a man carrying two pairs of scissors and wearing a hospital gown was fatally shot on a street during an altercation with police. Police say they aren’t permitted to discuss that incident while it is being investigated by the Special Investigations Unit.

Tasers are an option all trained officers should have, Deputy Chief Federico said in an interview, but Ontario regulations set out that only supervisors and specialized units can carry them.

There’s a supervisor on the road during every shift, the Deputy Chief said. “Police officers are not completely without access to a [taser]. But again, situations may unfold too quickly for a supervisor to arrive.”

Tasers, conducted energy weapons, have been under scrutiny since the death of Robert Dziekanski after he was tasered five times at the Vancouver airport in 2007. But in some jurisdictions outside of Ontario, they are a non-lethal option for front-line police when a situation calls for use of force.

“We ought to equip our officers with all of the options that will help make a situation safe,” Deputy Chief Federico said. “That includes knowledge and skills and equipment.”

A spokesman for the ministry in charge of policing said in an e-mail that there are no plans to change regulations “because the current use of force regulations meet Ontario’s public safety needs.”

The RCMP, a federal force, allows front-line officers throughout the country to carry tasers as long as they have taken the appropriate training and meet other requirements. “We don’t discriminate between ranks,” said Corporal David Falls.

Regulations have been beefed up in British Columbia since Mr. Dziekanski’s death. Front-line police can still carry the weapons there as long as officers meet provincial standards.

Pat Capponi, a psychiatric survivor who co-chairs a mental health sub-committee of Toronto’s police board, said she’s unsure about broadening the use of tasers because of fatal incidents such as the one involving Mr. Dziekanski.

She said that whenever a mentally ill person is injured in a confrontation with police, it sends shock waves through the community of those with mental health histories. “That’s the feeling, we have nowhere to go if we’re in trouble,” Ms. Capponi said. She added she’s encouraged by the training she’s seeing of first responders in Toronto.

Following the deaths of two people – one disabled, and the other bipolar – last year, critics said Toronto police were not equipped to differentiate between a criminal threat and one originating from mental illness. The officers involved in both incidents were cleared by the SIU.

Deputy Chief Federico said all Toronto officers are guaranteed mental health training each year when they have two days of use-of-force training. Additional training varies by specific job and the year, he said.

Other police forces in Canada go further, offering officers week-long training specifically focused on dealing with the mentally ill. It’s a program that was developed in Memphis, Tenn., that has had success in several cities in the U.S., and was recently adopted by York Region police.

Deputy Chief Federico said Toronto police aren’t considering adopting the Memphis training model.

“Forty hours is a whole week of a police officer’s time off the front line,” he said. “I have to … make sure my police officers are on the road, delivering the service.”

As part of their response, Toronto police have teams of officers and nurses that respond to people in crisis, but because of potential danger, they only arrive after the first responders. These teams are not available in every division and have limited hours.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Deaths in police custody figures 'understated'

February 3, 2012
By Angus Stickler, BBC News

Official figures understate the number of people who die in custody after being restrained by police, a BBC investigation has found.

It discovered that anyone who dies following restraint without being formally arrested is excluded from death in custody figures.

Campaigners want an inquiry into how the the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) collates its figures.

The IPCC says its tight definitions allow it to track trends.

The findings were revealed in a joint investigation by BBC Radio 4's File on 4 and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which used Freedom of Information requests to ask the IPCC to reveal the names of individual cases detailed in its statistics.

The names relate to 86 people who died in police custody between 1998-9 and 2008-9 following the use of restraint.

Of these, 16 deaths were categorised by the IPCC as being directly "restraint-related".

'Skewing the results'

Families of those who have died have expressed disbelief that their loved ones have been excluded from death in custody figures.

What we will have to do is have a proper thorough inquiry into this matter”
Keith Vaz MP Home Affairs Select Committee

Rebekah Skews, whose former partner Simon Bosworth died after being restrained by police, said the figures "mean nothing".

"The figures that they are making available to the public aren't true figures, because to actually omit a case like Simon's, which so clearly involved restraint - they are skewing the results," she said.

Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said the findings were concerning.
"This is a highly sensitive area which deals with one of those parts of public policy that needs to be looked at very carefully," Mr Vaz told the BBC.

"What we will have to do is have a proper, thorough inquiry into this matter."

Mr Vaz said the IPCC had a crucial public role.

"It is the organisation that the police and the public turn to in order

to get a definitive account of what happened in respect of some of the most serious cases that there are."
Mr Bosworth, a property valuer from Peterborough, died after being restrained by the police in July 2008.
An inquest jury returned a narrative verdict.

Mr Bosworth suffered a fatal heart attack brought on by a combination of being restrained and his cocaine use and epilepsy.

Despite the fact the IPCC conducted its own investigation into Mr Bosworth's death, which cited restraint and struggling as part of the cause of death, his name is not included in its custody death figures.

Strict definition

Tom Bucke, head of analytical services at the IPCC, conceded that it was an important case.

But he defended the commission's position not to include the case in the figures because Mr Bosworth had not been formally arrested or detained.

Listen to the full report on File on 4 on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday, 31 January at 20:00 GMT and Sunday 4 February at 17:00 GMT
Under the IPCC's strict definition, he was not officially in custody.

According to the IPCC, between 1998 and 2009 there were only 16 restraint-related deaths in custody.

The watchdog disclosed it has another list of deaths following police contact - those who had not been arrested or detained.

However the IPCC does not know how many of those were restraint-related deaths and is considering a new study of these cases.

The investigation carried out by Radio 4's File on 4 and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism into the official figures involved months spent cross-referencing the names on the IPCC list and other cases in the public domain.

The IPCC's definitive list of 16 deaths in police custody excludes one of this country's most high profile cases.
Roger Sylvester died in 1999 after being restrained by eight police officers in hospital.

He had been found naked and behaving strangely outside his home in Tottenham, north London.
An inquest ruled in 2003 that he was unlawfully killed, but this was quashed a year later by a High Court judge. No officers were charged.

But following the case, the Metropolitan Police reviewed and reorganised its restraint training.

'Led by evidence'

Deborah Coles, chief executive of Inquest, a charity which advises on contentious deaths and their investigation, said it was "absolutely astonishing" that Mr Sylvester's death was not on the list of 16.

I know these cases, we've worked on these cases, and restraint was absolutely fundamental during the course of that inquest” - Deborah Coles Inquest
"I can't believe they haven't even got Roger Sylvester,"' she said.

"These are cases that Inquest have worked on and yet within this list, they don't seem to recognise these are restraint-related deaths.

"I find that absolutely astonishing because I know these cases, we've worked on these cases, and restraint was absolutely fundamental.

"I would question the IPCC as to how these figures were collated, and what care has gone into ensuring that they're properly representative of... the investigations, some of which they have been directly involved in."

The IPCC said Roger Sylvester's name had been excluded from the list again due to its tight definition of restraint-related death.

Tom Bucke of the IPCC said was restraint was a "key factor" in the case.

"However, we are led by the evidence and the medical evidence was disputed by a pathologist at the inquest and the final inquest verdict was an open verdict on Roger Sylvester's death, so under cause of death we reflect the open verdict and the dispute between the pathologist about that," he said.

"The reason we have such a tight definition for our different categories is to allow us to look at trends over time.

"If we had very loose categories and included lots of things in there which may or not fit in there or may fit in other categories, then we would lose the ability to say whether deaths were going up or down.

"It's obviously very important for everybody concerned to know whether deaths in custody are going up or not."

Coroner Releases Details In Teen's Taser Death

Taser shock has not been ruled out as a cause of death for a high school student shocked with a stun gun by University of Cincinnati police officers.

Coroners still have not determined exactly what caused 18-year-old Everette Howard's death Aug. 6 during an altercation at a residence hall.

Officers had responded to a large fight at Turner Hall, and they said Howard appeared angry and didn't follow police orders. Family members and witnesses said Howard may have been trying to break up the fight.

A coroner's report showed Howard had a history of collapse and cardiac arrest after being shocked with a Taser. Howard was also subdued with a stun gun in a 2009 incident while he was in high school, and the teen required hospitalization afterward.

Coroners ruled out the toxic effects of stimulants or other drugs as a contributing factor in Howard's death, and they found no injuries to the back of his head or neck. Three puncture injuries and some abrasions were noted in the report.

Police said Howard appeared to be aggressively approaching an officer, who used his Taser to subdue the teen. Howard fell to the ground and was placed in handcuffs.

Howard went into cardiac arrest as he was examined by paramedics and was pronounced dead at University Hospital.

UC did not release a statement about the report's findings, and police said they would decline comment until the investigation was complete.

State officials are conducting an independent investigation of Howard's death.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

RCMP's Taser use in 2003 death slammed in report

January 31, 2012
CBC News

The RCMP in B.C. is coming under fire again for the use of stun guns and restraints in the death of a Prince George man, and for the internal investigation conducted after his death.

In 2003, Clay Willey, 33, was hog-tied and shocked with two Tasers simultaneously by officers at the Prince George detachment. He died hours later in hospital.

An autopsy later found Willey had cuts, bruises and broken ribs but ultimately died from cardiac arrest brought on by a cocaine overdose.

A report from the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP (CPC) released Tuesday raises questions about the way police dealt with his arrest and the investigation that followed.

Clay Willey died in July 2003 from several heart attacks following his arrest by Prince George RCMP. Clay Willey died in July 2003 from several heart attacks following his arrest by Prince George RCMP. (Facebook)

At the time of his arrest, Willey was high on cocaine and causing a disturbance on the streets of Prince George. After he was arrested, Willey continued to struggle and that's when officers decided to pepper spray and hog-tie him.

The report found it was reasonable for the officers to hog-tie Willey in order to restrain him, even though it was no longer part of police procedure, because the officers had no other equipment on hand at the time.

"Constables Graham, Fowler and Rutten utilized an appropriate level of force when effecting the arrest of Clay Willey," said the report.

But how Willey was treated at the police detachment did raise concerns for the CPC. It found police dragged him by his feet out of the police vehicle and then face down through the detachment.

'The simultaneous use of the CEW by constables Caston and O’Donnell was unreasonable, unnecessary and excessive in the circumstances.'—Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP
"Constables Caston and O’Donnell failed to treat Mr. Willey with the level of decency to be expected from police officers when they removed him from the police vehicle and transported him to the elevator," it said.

It also found one officer's failure to secure his firearm and another officer's decision to draw her firearm during the transfer were a violation of RCMP policy.

Stunned simultaneously with Tasers

Inside the detachment, Willey continued to struggle against the arm and leg restraints so two officers then zapped him with their stun guns simultaneously in an attempt to subdue him.

The independent report found "the simultaneous use of the CEW by constables Caston and O’Donnell was unreasonable, unnecessary and excessive in the circumstances."

The report also said the RCMP officers didn't get Willey medical help quickly enough, and he died after suffering several cardiac arrests en route to the hospital in an ambulance.

The report also found several problems with the subsequent police investigation, including a failure to properly secure the scene, the cleaning of a police vehicle prior to its examination, failure to collect officers' footwear as evidence, the failure to recognize the loss of Willey's cellphone and failure to interview the officers in a timely manner.

"Neither the criminal nor conduct aspects of the police involvement in Mr. Willey’s death were adequately investigated or addressed."

The report from the CPC points out the RCMP agreed with virtually all of its findings and recommendations, but said the force took too long to respond to an interim report, which was completed 14 months ago.

RCMP accept report's findings

A previous internal RCMP code of conduct report cleared the officers of any wrongdoing, but on Tuesday top Mounties in Prince George said they agreed with the findings of the new CPC report.

Superintendents Eric Stubbs and Rod Booth said the RCMP code of conduct hearing should have been handled differently and admit the way Willey was treated wasn't up to police standards.

Booth said had he been in charge of the code of conduct hearings the officers may not have been cleared. Both said many changes have been made since Willey's death in 2003 such as ending the practice of hog-tying prisoners.

The RCMP will be meeting with Willey's family and say a civil suit is before the courts.

In 2010, a public inquiry into the 2007 death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport concluded RCMP were not justified in using a Taser against the Polish immigrant and that the officers later deliberately misrepresented their actions to investigators.