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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.

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