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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Taser fires back in lawsuit by Winnipeg teenager's family

February 9, 2011
Gabrielle Giroday, Winnipeg Free Press

The American manufacturer of the Tasers Winnipeg police carry said the death of a local teenager is not due to their products.

Michael Brian Langan, 17, died in July 2008 after an altercation with police in a William Avenue back lane. An autopsy report obtained by the Free Press last year said Langan died of heart arrhythmia after police shocked him twice with a Taser.

However, a recently filed statement of defence in a lawsuit by Langan's family strongly rejects Tasers as the cause of death.

"Taser specifically denies that Michael Langan's death was caused or materially contributed to by any discharge from an (electronic control device)," said the statement of defence on behalf of Taser International, which is headquartered in Scottsdale, Ariz. "Further, Taser denies that Michael Langan's death was caused or materially contributed to by any act or omission or anything done or failed to be done by Taser as alleged, or at all, and puts the plaintiff to the strict proof thereof."

The court documents were filed in response to a lawsuit by Langan's family against Winnipeg police Chief Keith McCaskill, two unidentified officers and Taser International. Langan died after police pursued a suspect for allegedly breaking into a car on nearby Notre Dame Avenue.

Police found Langan in a William Avenue back lane, and said they warned him repeatedly to put down a knife he was brandishing before they Tasered him.

Langan died after being rushed to hospital, and his mother said in the aftermath she wanted stun guns banned.

Police said soon after the death that the homicide unit was investigating, but have not announced any charges.

City officers have continued to carry Tasers after Langan's death. Taser International said in its statement of defence its products go to accredited law enforcement agencies in Canada "as an alternative to a firearm and the use of deadly force."

The statement of defence says the company provided product warnings and training materials to the Winnipeg Police Service in each product box, as well as copies of medical studies related to electronic control devices (ECDs).

"At all material times, Taser designed its ECDs to deploy a conductive energy pulse designed to cause neuromuscular incapacitation so as to incapacitate a person momentarily while reducing the likelihood of injury or death to that person or to the attending law enforcement officer(s)," said the statement of defence.

Johanna Abbott, director of the chief medical examiner's office, said dates for an inquest on Langan's death have not been set because the police investigation hasn't finished. Lawyer Jay Prober, who represents Langan's mother, said the teen's family is eager for the inquest to happen.

"They want to know all the circumstances surrounding Michael's death, not just what they're being told, and what they're reading about, and what the police say," he said.

He said the statement of defence filed by Taser International "flies in the face of the medical examiner's report."

In the autopsy report, a medical examiner's report said Langan's death was due to "cardiac arrhythmia (ventricular fibrillation) due to deployment of electronic control device." The report also said Langan had a heart abnormality that contributed to his death, as did running from police.

The young man had alcohol and marijuana in his system when he died, according to the report.

No statement of defence has been filed so far by Winnipeg police, who declined to comment Tuesday.

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