October 31, 2009
REGINA — The Saskatchewan Police Commission is expected to meet in December to review its research on Tasers as a use-of-force option for front-line police.
“The work that we are doing by way of research — pulling materials together — will be taken to the commission in December. They will then review that and make some decisions on how they will move forward on approval or not approval of the usage of Tasers,’’ said commission executive director Murray Sawatsky.
In July of 2008, the commission, which oversees and regulates the province’s 14 municipal and First Nation police forces, placed a moratorium on the general use of CEDs by front-line officers in response to the controversies surrounding several high-profile Taser-related deaths and the lack of technical and medical information tied to their usage.
The commission, which has been tasked with developing policy and protocol on the usage of the conducted energy devices (CEDs), is expected to make its decision by the end of the year or early 2010.
Currently, under existing rules Tasers can only be utilized by special weapons and tactics team (SWAT) members in Saskatchewan.
As part of its research, the commission will be examining the recommendations in the Braidwood Report, which was released in July and setting up stringent standards for the use of CEDs by British Columbia police, and will be looking at independent medical information and submissions by interested parties.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Saturday, October 31, 2009
October 31, 2009
Thursday, October 29, 2009
October 29, 2009
If not for Paul Pritchard, the world would likely never have known what really happened to Robert Dziekanski when he landed at Vancouver International Airport two years ago.
There would have been no Braidwood inquiry. No changes to the rules around police Taser use. No answers for the Polish immigrant's family.
It is a remarkable series of events set in motion by one man with a camera. That makes Pritchard, of Victoria, an entirely appropriate recipient of the first citizen journalism award given by the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression this week.
It's not just that Pritchard grabbed his digital camera and began recording. Or that he continued when four RCMP officers arrived, even after security staff, for no legitimate reason, told him to stop.
Pritchard also gave the recording to the RCMP that night to help them with their investigation. They promised to return it in 48 hours. And when they refused to return or release the recording, Pritchard hired a lawyer and successfully fought the secrecy. Three weeks after Dziekanski's death, people could watch the horrifying images and form their own judgments.
If not for that evidence, the four officers' statements -- that they tried to calm Dziekanski; that he came at them screaming, swinging an object; that the Taser didn't knock him down so they had to wrestle him to the ground -- might have been believed. None was true.
It's appropriate that the first citizen journalism award has been bestowed by members of the mainstream media, the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.
There are some who suggest that citizen journalism -- which occurs when ordinary citizens collect and disseminate information -- and traditional journalism are mutually exclusive. That is not true.
Traditional journalists are generally trained in ethical issues and screened before being hired. Decisions are made by several experienced people. Stories are edited, facts questioned. And there is accountability, through the newspaper's own checks and balances and institutions such as the B.C. Press Council.
Citizen journalists operate in a different world. Anyone can report anything, and can likely find a credulous audience, as the bizarre online misinformation floating from e-mail inbox to inbox around the world shows.
On the positive side, there are more citizens than there are journalists in even the largest news organization. Instead of 100 reporters trying to cover events in a community, there are thousands. Citizen journalists can focus on neighbourhood issues and bring expertise to specific topics. And increasingly, mainstream journalists look to citizen journalists for eyewitness reporting or specialized knowledge on topics in the news.
Most important, both are predicated on the assumption that there is an involved public, interested in information and capable of forming judgments on what is reported.
Pritchard was interviewed about the award by CBC Radio. He wonders whether, instead of grabbing his camera, he could have found a way into the secure area to talk to Dziekanski before the RCMP arrived.
"If I feel I did something wrong, or feel I didn't do enough, I think the effort I put in afterwards is enough for me to live with that," Pritchard said. It is a thoughtful response from an ethical man. And a fine recipient of a citizen journalism award, whose actions provided Canadians -- and the world -- with important truths.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
October 28, 2009
CBC News/Canadian Press
A corrections officer who helped restrain a mentally ill man moments before he died in a Halifax jail cell says his memory of what he did that morning two years ago is better today than it was when he gave a statement to the RCMP in the hours after Howard Hyde died.
Michael Green testified Wednesday at an inquiry which is trying to determine why the man never received the psychiatric help he needed and how to prevent similar deaths.
The probe has heard that the 45-year-old, who had not been taking his medication to deal with schizophrenia, was arrested for an alleged assault and taken into custody at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility on Nov. 21, 2007.
Hyde died the next morning after two struggles with guards, about 30 hours after police repeatedly stunned him with a Taser as he tried to escape from a downtown Halifax police station.
Green told the inquiry that when he gave his statement to the RCMP in 2007, he was "very emotional" after he learned of Hyde's death and he wasn't certain that he described the events he witnessed in the right order.
Green said he now has a more "vivid recollection" of the moment during the second struggle when Hyde's body went limp and he stopped responding to the officers trying to subdue him on the floor of the cell.
"I do not recall certain events in my mind today occurring in the same order that they did in my statement," he told lawyer Kevin MacDonald, who represents Hyde's sister and brother-in-law.
"I've been playing my role in this incident inside my head since the incident."
Green testified that Hyde was on his stomach with his hands cuffed behind his back when he suddenly went limp and officers immediately decided to remove the cuffs and roll him on his side.
Evidence presented at the inquiry shows Hyde was unconscious and his face quickly turned from red to blue, indicating he wasn't getting enough oxygen.
When Green was shown a surveillance video recorded inside the cell, he couldn't pinpoint when Hyde went limp.
The chain of events is important because it could shed new light on what caused Hyde's death.
A medical examiner concluded Hyde died from a condition known as excited delirium stemming from paranoid schizophrenia.
Hyde's mental state is also a key issue because the doctor who observed Hyde after he was stunned by the Taser had included a note on his health transfer form that said police should bring him back to the hospital if he did not receive a court-ordered psychiatric assessment.
Hyde never received an assessment and he wasn't returned to the hospital, mainly because of confusion over the form and questions over who had jurisdiction over Hyde as he moved from police custody into the court system and then to the correctional facility.
Green recalled that Hyde was yelling as he struggled with corrections officers. He said Hyde was shouting something about needing a haircut to get into the RCMP.
Another officer has told the inquiry Hyde started struggling with the guards after he said he didn't want to walk down a hallway in the jail because there were "demons" there.
Before Hyde lost consciousness, Green recalled that he was focused on controlling Hyde's legs, which he eventually locked together by forcing Hyde's left ankle behind his right knee while raising the right leg.
"His legs were very difficult to control," Green testified, stressing that he couldn't remember what other officers were doing to Hyde.
The video shows there were at least three other officers crouched over Hyde as they struggled in the cell.
"I do not recall anything anyone had said inside the cell, nor do I recall what each person was doing inside the cell, other than myself," Green said.
Other corrections officers have testified that at no time did any of them place their entire body weight on Hyde.
Green said he didn't release Hyde from the leg hold until he was told to do so by the corrections officer in charge, Todd Henwood. He said he couldn't recall when the handcuffs were removed.
The officer said his memory of what happened was limited because of the intense focus he placed on controlling Hyde's legs.
"Your focus becomes very narrow to the point that, I guess you could say, tunnel vision. You are only focused on what you are doing."
October 28, 2009
Two Edmonton police officers who used a Taser in an altercation with an agitated man who later died will not face criminal charges, the civilian agency that investigates serious police incidents announced Wednesday.
"In my determination, their actions were justified when considering all of the circumstances," said Clifton Purvis, executive director of the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT).
"In this incident, I must defer to the office of the chief medical examiner and I conclude that in this incident, the use of the Taser did not cause or contribute to the death of Trevor Grimolfson."
Grimolfson, 38, a tattoo artist originally from Selkirk, Man., died in hospital after police responded to reports about a man assaulting someone at a tattoo parlour on Stony Plain Road.
Although a Taser was used on Grimolfson three times during the arrest, the medical examiner found he died from "excited delirium" that was brought on by the amount of drugs he had taken.
According to Purvis, Grimolfson had taken a potentially lethal combination of ecstasy and ketamine, an animal tranquillizer better known by its street name of special K.
Grimolfson agitated on police arrival
When the police arrived at the scene, they found Grimolfson smashing articles at a pawn shop next door to the tattoo parlour. Officers could detect the strong scent of bear spray in the air. Grimolfson had assaulted the 70-year-old owner of the store, Purvis said, and bear spray had been used on Grimolfson in an unsuccessful attempt to subdue him.
Grimolfson was highly agitated, covered in blood, was breathing heavily and had clenched teeth, Purvis said.
The officers used the Taser on Grimolfson when he didn't obey a command to get on the ground and stop his rampage. Instead, the stun gun appeared to have no effect. Grimolfson continued moving towards the officers, prompting them to use the Taser a second time.
When that didn't work, they both tried to bring him to the ground and got him in handcuffs after a long struggle. That's when officers used the Taser a third time, this time in stun mode, Purvis said.
Grimolfson had been spitting, so officers had placed a spit mask on his face. The officers then noticed he was having problems breathing, Purvis said. Both the mask and the handcuffs were removed, and paramedics took Grimolfson to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
During the 11-month investigation, 50 civilian witnesses were interviewed, including seven who witnessed the use of the Taser or portions of it, Purvis said. A number of police witnesses were also interviewed.
October 28, 2009
The Canadian Press
There will be no criminal charges against two Edmonton policemen in the death of a man who was hit with a stun gun as he rampaged through a pawn shop.
The executive director of the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team says an 11-month investigation showed the constables were justified in their actions.
Thirty-eight-year-old Trevor Grimolfson died last October after police used a taser twice to restrain him.
They had responded to a call of a violent agitated man, who they say did not respond to their verbal commands to calm down.
The chief medical examiner determined Mr. Grimolfson was on drugs and died of excited delirium.
The U.S. company that makes Tasers points out that it has never been proven that the stun guns have directly caused a death in Canada.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
October 27, 2009
CBC/The Canadian Press
The corrections officer in charge of the scene when a Nova Scotia man died in custody almost two years ago says he could have used the help of a psychiatrist that morning, had he known the inmate was mentally ill.
Capt. Todd Henwood testified Tuesday at an inquiry into the death of Howard Hyde, who died after twice struggling with guards at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Burnside on Nov. 22, 2007.
The inquiry, which started in July, is trying to determine why Hyde, who was under arrest for an alleged assault, never received the psychiatric help he needed and what can be done to prevent similar deaths in the future.
Henwood, a corrections officer for 18 years and a sergeant at the time of Hyde's death, told the inquiry he was unaware that Hyde had long suffered from schizophrenia and hadn't been taking his medication.
Like most of the corrections officers who have testified at the inquiry, Henwood confirmed he hadn't been trained to deal with the mentally ill even though he dealt with them almost every day.
As well, he said he wasn't told that Halifax police had stunned the 45-year-old with a Taser up to five times the day before, when he tried to escape from a downtown police station.
Lawyer Kevin MacDonald, who represents Hyde's sister and brother-in-law, pointed out that another corrections officer, Chris Dixon, had testified that he told Henwood about the Taser incident and about Hyde's mental illness.
But Henwood told the inquiry he didn't recall that conversation.
Asked to describe what happened the day Hyde died, Henwood testified he rushed to a hallway near the jail's admitting area when he received word that other corrections officers needed help.
When he arrived, Hyde was on the floor, face down, surrounded by several officers and handcuffed behind his back. The inmate was then lifted to his feet and pulled backward down the hallway to a nearby cell.
Henwood said Hyde was making "odd" comments about his hair and being a Mountie after the first struggle, but the officer said he didn't consider sending Hyde to the jail's health-care unit.
He said it would have been unsafe to bring Hyde to the unit because he was "rebellious," and it wasn't clear to him that the man was having a psychotic episode.
However, shortly after Hyde's death, Henwood gave a statement to the RCMP in which he said Hyde "wasn't in a mental state that was normal."
Even if he knew Hyde was mentally ill, Henwood said he wouldn't have had the proper resources to deal with his condition, mainly because there was no psychiatrist on duty that early in the morning.
When asked what resources would have helped, Henwood said he probably would have sought the help of a psychiatrist had one been working.
Once inside the cell, Hyde continued to struggle with the guards, the inquiry was told.
Henwood said he grabbed the man's legs and pulled them out from under him, forcing Hyde to the floor. He said Hyde's landing was "as soft as it could have been."
The senior officer said he recalled Hyde bucking his hips back and forth as he lay on his side. To gain control, he said he used a hold called a wrist-lock to force Hyde onto his stomach.
Images from a surveillance camera inside the cell show at least four officers crouched over Hyde, but it is difficult to determine what is happening because most of Hyde's body can't be seen.
Hyde's final moments
Henwood insisted he didn't place his weight on Hyde's body, though he said he couldn't speak for the other officers in the room. The officer said he weighed about 290 pounds at the time.
"I was bridged over the top of him," he told the inquiry, explaining that he was in a squatting position next to Hyde with one hand on the chain linking the cuffs on the man's wrists.
Henwood testified that he thought Hyde had held his breath for a few seconds before his body went limp and he stopped responding to the officers.
"Mr. Hyde was not responding verbally," Henwood said, noting there was blood coming from his nose.
At that point, Henwood recalled taking off the cuffs and saying to the other officers, "Boys, we have a problem here."
He said he was monitoring Hyde's breathing and detected a pulse just before health-care staff arrived a few minutes later.
However, Henwood also admitted that shortly after he learned Hyde had died, he had told the RCMP that he wasn't sure if Hyde had a pulse. Henwood said Tuesday the stress of that day had taken its toll and he was second-guessing himself.
"But upon reflection, I'm confident … that I had a pulse."
He said Hyde's face turned purple just as health-care staff arrived in the cell and a nurse quickly determined that Hyde did not have a pulse. They started CPR, but Hyde never regained consciousness.
A medical examiner later concluded that Hyde died of excited delirium stemming from paranoid schizophrenia.
Monday, October 26, 2009
October 26, 2009
Brian Daly, ctvmontreal.ca
Quebec's system of cops investigating each other must be scrapped because officers usually can't be objective, critics said as a CTV investigation reveals that such probes rarely lead to criminal charges.
Under Quebec law, an outside police force is called in whenever officers are involved in shootings or other incidents that affect civilians. The ministerial policy has been in place since the 1990's.
But a prominent anti-racism group and a former head of the province's police ethics commission both say that data obtained by CTV News shows that the system doesn't work.
Through Access to Information, CTV obtained the results of six years of investigations -- 97 cases where civilians died in police shootings, chases and arrests that involved a confrontation.
Only once did the outside police force recommend criminal charges.
The sole case brought to trial resulted in an acquittal and a 60-day suspension for SQ officer Hugo Potvin, whose blocking maneuver with his cruiser led to the death of a young ATV driver northeast of Montreal in 2003.
But outside forces closed the book on 96 other cases, including some of the highest-profile police-related deaths in recent years. Here's a summary:
Quebec Police Confrontations:
Jan 2003 - May 2008
Road Accidents 8
Criminal Charges 1
Paul Monty, who headed up Quebec's Police Ethics Commission from 1999 to 2005, said he was so troubled by CTV's findings that he had to speak out.
"I was shocked," he said in a recent interview from in Ste-Foy.
"We have one of the best, if not the best police officers in the world but . . . if the population will be shocked, the support can change and it can be the beginning of more difficult tasks for the police department."
Though he would not give specific examples, Monty said that some of the cases examined by CTV warranted criminal charges.
"I remember some cases that could be sent to the Crown -- it was negligence, criminal negligence of police officers."
Many of the cases dismissed by police are explosive:
•The August, 2008 shooting death of 18-year-old Fredy Villanueva by Montreal police officer Jean-Loup Lapointe that triggered riots, a lawsuit and a coroner's inquest that got underway Monday at the Montreal courthouse.
•Quillem Registre, 38, who died during an October 2007 arrest after Montreal police tasered him six times in less than 60 seconds. Police say Registre was high and hysterical at the time. A coroner later said the stun gun might have contributed to his death.
•Mohamed Benis, 25, shot and killed by Montreal police in December 2005 as he happened across a drug operation in Cote-des-neiges. Police claim Benis tried to attack an officer with a knife but his family disputes the claim.
•And Michel Berniquez, who died after being subdued by six officers in Montreal North in 2003.
Outside police forces reached the same conclusion in all four deaths -- case closed, no charges.
Quebec's Public Security department is in charge of the outside investigations, all of which are handled by the Surete du Quebec, Montreal police or investigators with the Quebec City police.
The department says the system works.
"The police forces that conduct these investigations possess the necessary expertise and experience to manage these cases," spokesman Martin Vaillancourt said in an emailed response.
Vaillancourt says there are multiple checks and balances on police conduct including:
•The Police Ethics Commission, which investigates citizen complaints against police and can suspend officers:
•The coroner, who can hold an inquest into police actions:
•The Public Security department, which can review operational and administrative practices:
•And the police forces, which are bound by internal discipline rules.
Call for change
Ontario is the only province where police forces are overseen by civilian agency - the Special Investigations Unit.
British Columbia is considering more civilian involvement in t he wake of the taser death of Robert Dziekanski, who died at Vancouver Airport in 2007 after he was hit with a stun gun during an altercation with four Mounties.
Civilian competence questioned
The Quebec ombudsman, Raymonde Saint-Germain, will soon table a report into Quebec's system of police investigating police.
She has previously said the system has problems, but a source in Quebec law enforcement questions the idea of bringing civilians into the process.
He says that complex investigative techniques such as ballistics, DNA and accident reconstruction are best left to the experts.
"This is not something where you could take a guy who's a security guard and put him in there," said the source.
"How do you keep (civilians) up to date?"
Fo Niemi of the human-rights group CRARR says it's ridiculous for police to circle their wagons amidst all of the criticism.
"Anybody can be trained, even if they're not a police officer," says Niemi.
"Even doctors can be very effective investigators, just like coroners don't have to be police officers to determine the cause of death in criminal circumstances.
Monty has another solution - he says the police ethics commission should be given expanded powers to investigate allegations of police wrongdoing. He says the civilian-led agency is familiar with the files and represents a lower-cost option than an all-new civilian agency.
The ethics commission can currently recommend disciplinary, but not criminal, sanctions against police officers.
Oversight of Quebec police will be under more scrutiny in a few weeks.
A coroner's inquest into the Villanueva's death is now underway at the Montreal courthouse. The Crown's decision not to press charges in the Villanueva case followed a Surete du Quebec report that the Montreal police officer was justifiably engaged in justifiable defence.
October 26, 2009
HALIFAX, N.S. - A Nova Scotia corrections officer says he did not know a man who died in custody 30 hours after being Tasered by Halifax police was schizophrenic nor that he had been hit with the stun gun.
Ian Prall responded to a call for help from corrections officers at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility on Nov. 22, 2007, as they struggled with Howard Hyde, who was being held on an assault charge.
An inquiry into Hyde's death has heard that the 45-year-old was escorted down a corridor to a nearby cell, where another struggle ensued and he blacked out, never regaining consciousness.
Under questioning today by lead counsel Dan MacRury, Prall testified that he did not know that Hyde had been up all night, pacing in his cell and talking to himself.
Had he known, Prall said he wouldn't have done anything differently in the situation because officers still needed to control Hyde.
But Prall later told Kevin MacDonald, a lawyer who represents Hyde's family, that he might have contacted a nurse if he had been told about Hyde's behaviour and officers suggested he might need health care.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
October 24, 2009
DOUG MILLROY, Sault Star
MY COLUMN ON POLICE use of Tasers last week drew a response from Emile Therien, past president of the Canada Safety Council. He had e-mailed it to seven others, including some federal and B. C. politicians, under the titleBanning may be the way to go . . . (this one is worth reading.)
He believes that in light of the new directive from Taser International in which it says officers should not aim the weapon at a targeted person's chest in order to avoid impact to the heart, a moratorium should be placed on its use.
"The fact that Inquiry Chief Thomas Braidwood in his report released on July 23 did not recommend that standards be developed for Tasers flies in the face of technology, purchaser confidence, common sense, police safety and public safety," Therien wrote.
"In failing to do so, the inquiry, unfortunately, squandered an outstanding opportunity to move this agenda that much more forward.
"The federal government, as recommended in a report commissioned by the RCMP Commissioner and released in September 2008, must now take the initiative and set standards for Tasers used by all police services in Canada, under its power in the Criminal Code, to regulate firearms. Standards for their efficacy and use must be developed.
"The fact, acknowledged by the manufacturer, is that one in 20 of these devices fail. This is statistically very significant when it comes to product quality and integrity. This failure rate defies all logic, is inexcusable and smacks of shoddy manufacturing and quality control.
"The manufacturer and police services should take note of the fact no other electrical product can be legally sold in Canada unless it is tested and certified by a recognized national standards organization. For the police, this is very much a workplace safety issue and concern. Until these standards are in place, police services should place a moratorium on the purchase of these electrical devices.
"Without question, establishing minimum standards would be another step in the right direction to further ensure police accountability and to allay public fears and concerns."
I believe he is dead on with his call for a moratorium. With 330 people in the U. S. and 26 in Canada dying after being jolted by stun guns in this decade, something obviously is wrong.
Friday, October 23, 2009
October 23, 2009
HALIFAX, N.S. — A mentally ill man was bleeding from the mouth moments before he died in custody two years ago, a Nova Scotia corrections officer who came in contact with him said at a fatality inquiry Friday.
Cameron Lamond was working at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility on Nov. 22, 2007, when Howard Hyde was brought in for an alleged assault on his common-law wife.
The guard said one of his colleagues remarked that Hyde had blood coming from his mouth as several officers wrestled him to the floor of the cell following a brief scuffle.
"Someone said he was bleeding from the mouth," Lamond told the inquiry, adding that health-care services and 911 were called shortly after.
Hyde, who had long suffered from schizophrenia and had been off his medications for more than a week, was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.
The silent video shows another guard trying to get Hyde to walk down a long corridor to get ready for a court appearance.
When Hyde doesn't budge, another officer appears and within seconds, they bring down Hyde and handcuff his hands behind his back as he twice cries out that he is an innocent man.
The inquiry has heard evidence that Hyde continued to struggle and was again forced to the floor in a cell where he blacked out and never regained consciousness.
A coroner later listed the cause of death as excited delirium stemming from paranoid schizophrenia.
Another guard testified earlier that before the first scuffle, Hyde shouted that he didn't want to enter the hallway because there were "demons" there.
The inquiry, which started in July, is trying to determine why Hyde never received the psychiatric help he needed and what can be done to prevent similar deaths in the future.
Hyde's case has attracted national attention largely because his death came 30 hours after he was Tasered up to five times as he tried to escape a police station in downtown Halifax.
First the Rockford police, the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department and Loves Park police in Illinois suspend the use of tasers. And now, in Texas:
November 22, 2009
On Thursday, Harris County Precinct 6 Constable Victor Trevino suspended his deputies from carrying or using Tasers. It followed Wednesday's announcement by Taser International warning law enforcement not to stun a person in the chest because it may cause an "adverse cardiac event."
Read the rest here.
October 23, 2009
By Chris Green, RRSTAR.COM
ROCKFORD — Rockford police, the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department and Loves Park police each took away the use of Taser guns from their officers today until further notice.
The removal comes a day after the law-enforcement agencies received a shock themselves from TASER International’s nationwide warning bulletin advising against shooting their Taser gun’s 50,000 volts of electricity into someone’s chest. The bulletin said it opens the officer, the agency and TASER International to liability if heart damage, such as sudden cardiac arrest, or death occurs.
The warning bulletin is advising officers to change their focus point to lower-center mass and preferably the back instead of aiming for center mass.
The city of Rockford’s Legal Department issued a news release today that stated: “The modified warnings will require extensive review and potentially revision of policies and training if the device is to be redeployed.”
City Legal Director Patrick Hayes did not give a timetable for when or if the Police Department would put its roughly 50 Taser guns back into service.
“Given the analysis of the materials in the bulletin, the outcome of that analysis will determine if we will redeploy the use of the Tasers,” he said.
Sheriff Dick Meyers said his department also has suspended the use of Tasers after conferring with the state’s attorney’s office.
“Being that (TASER International) came out with new guidelines, it’s probably best to pull them until your training matches what’s in the guidelines,” he said.
Just how practical it is for an officer to avoid shooting an encroaching combatant in the chest has not been determined.
Meyers said: “We’ll see how (the new guidelines) will impact our use of force policies and our training. Is it a tool we continue to use? The answer might be no. ... Those are things you have to sit down and look at.”
Loves Park police Chief Jim Puckett called Tasers “one of the best tools the police have right now.” Today, he reluctantly took away the use of Tasers from his officers.
“Until we look into this to see what is going on, we had no choice,” Puckett said.
Puckett said injuries to his officers and to people fighting with or fleeing from police have been greatly reduced because of Tasers.
“People would rather give up than fight, or the Taser would take the fight out of them.”
Puckett also said he is not ready to make the suspension permanent.
“We may have to change our training around, but I’m going to work to get them back out there,” he said.
Belvidere police and the Boone County Sheriff’s Department do not have Tasers.
Speaking solely for his department, Belvidere police Chief Jan Noble said there is a reason.
“There have been a lot of lawsuits, and we were kind of taking a wait-and-see attitude,” he said.
“When we do make the jump to them, we will follow the new standards set by TASER International.”
Thursday, October 22, 2009
October 22, 2009
Greg Klein, BClocalnews
Now that the public hearings have wrapped up, it’s clear that B.C. police complaint commissioner Stan Lowe is completely out of touch with the Braidwood inquiry’s findings on Taser use.
Last December, in his previous job with the Criminal Justice Branch, Lowe took part in the decision to exonerate the four RCMP officers involved in Robert Dziekanski’s death.
Lowe stated that the five Taser shocks and other treatment inflicted on Dziekanski were “reasonable and necessary.”
Just one week later, Lowe was appointed B.C.’s police complaint commissioner.
Now he can make similar decisions on behalf of municipal police.
He heads a team of ex-cops. But the idea that ex-cops can be impartial about police complaints is naive. So says Andre Marin, former head of Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (which investigates police complaints) and currently Ontario’s Ombudsman.
Speaking of the Ombudsman, B.C.’s has no power over Lowe and his staff. In theory, B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner answers only to the legislature. But because the legislature doesn’t review its work for fairness, the OPCC really answers to no one.
Nothing in the province’s current amendments to the Police Act (for municipal forces) will fix these problems.
The federal process for RCMP complaints is just as bad. But with a truly reformed Police Act, B.C. would not only enhance confidence in our municipal officers, we’d set an example for the RCMP.
ROCKFORD (WREX) - A safety warning issued by Taser International prompts the Rockford Police Department to take the weapons away from its officers.
13 News was first to tell you on WREX.com Wednesday about the advisory issued by Taser International to police agencies across the country to not shoot its stun guns at a suspect's chest. The Arizona-based company says hitting someone in the chest with the weapon poses an extremely low risk of causing an "adverse cardiac event."
On Thursday, the Rockford Police Department announced the withdrawal of the weapons from its officers after 4:00 p.m. Thursday. They took the action after having internal meetings to discuss the alert issued by Taser International.
In a statement, the department says they may have to revise policies and training before the weapons could be put back in officer's hands.
See DID TASER INTERNATIONAL JUST ADMIT 1-IN-500 RISK OF DEATH? at www.excited-delirium.com (don`t forget the dash).
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
CBC News and Radio-Canada took home a Webster award for:
Best feature television story of the year, won by Radio-Canada's Frédéric Zalac and Alex Shprintsen for their investigative report that found the charges emitted by Tasers often exceed the manufacturer's specifications. The Webster was the sixth award won by the pair for their investigation.
The Webster awards are handed out by the Jack Webster Foundation each year to recognize the best work by B.C.-based journalists.
Taser International's new warning against tasing human beings in the chest area, which went viral across Canada and Australia last week, finally did "the wave" across the USA (and New Zealand) today. Why so late to the party? And why did Taser International send a revised version (from the September 30, 2009 version they sent to Canadian police forces to the October 12, 2009 edition police in the US received)? Since when does the date on a safety bulletin CHANGE in mid-stream after it`s already been issued? What else, besides the date, the addition of a covering memo and an FAQ, did they change between versions?
CTV News (a national Canadian news outlet) broke the story in this nation on October 7th. See here.
See also: http://excited-delirium.blogspot.com/2009/10/on-their-tightly-twisted-explanation.html for more analysis.
THE WAVE (in no particular order):
Taser advice: Don't aim at target's chest (USA Today)
Taser Issues Advisory on Use of Stun Guns (ABC News)
Cops Warned Not to Fire Tasers at Chest (CBS News)
Don't tase me in the chest, bro (ZDNet)
ACLU to Boulder police: Change Taser policy (Colorado)
Taser Warns Against Shooting at Chest (North Carolina)
Police update instructions on Taser training (New Zealand)
New TASER recommendation for police officers (Virginia)
ETC. (And tomorrow`s another day!)
October 21, 2009
Robert Anglen, Arizona Republic
The maker of Taser stun guns is advising police officers to avoid shooting suspects in the chest with the 50,000-volt weapon, saying that it could pose an extremely low risk of an "adverse cardiac event."
The advisory, issued in an Oct. 12 training bulletin, is the first time that Taser International has suggested there is any risk of a cardiac arrest related to the discharge of its stun gun.
But Taser officials said Tuesday that the bulletin does not state that Tasers can cause cardiac arrest. They said the advisory means only that law-enforcement agencies can avoid controversy over the subject if their officers aim at areas other than the chest.
The recommendation could raise questions about whether police officers will find it more difficult to accurately direct the probes emitted by a Taser gun at a recommended body area in order to subdue a suspect. Taser officials say the change won't hinder officers' ability to use Tasers.
In a memo accompanying the bulletin, Taser officials point out that officers can still shoot the guns at a suspect's chest, if needed.
Police departments across the United States and in Canada and Australia reacted immediately to the bulletin, with some ordering officers to follow Taser's instructions and begin aiming at the abdomen, legs or back of a suspect.
Officials with the Phoenix Police Department, one of the first in the country to arm all its officers with Tasers, said Tuesday that the new guidelines are being adopted by trainers who are reviewing departmental policy for possible changes.
Critics, including civil-rights lawyers and human-rights advocates, called the training bulletin an admission by Taser that its guns could cause cardiac arrest. They called it a stunning reversal for the company, which for years has maintained that the gun was incapable of inducing a cardiac arrest.
Scottsdale-based Taser insisted that the revision admitted no risk of cardiac arrest and served only as risk-management advice for law enforcement.
In the past, Taser has cautioned that use of its stun gun involves risk inherent in police-suspect conflicts, including the risk that suspects fall after being struck by a Taser.
"Taser has long stood by the fact that our technology is not risk-free and is often used during violent and dangerous confrontations," Taser Vice President Steve Tuttle said in an e-mail.
"We have not stated that the Taser causes (cardiac) events in this bulletin, only that the refined target zones avoid any potential controversy on this topic."
Taser's training bulletin states that "the risk of an adverse cardiac event related to a Taser . . . discharge is deemed to be extremely low." However, the bulletin says, it is impossible to predict human reactions when a combination of drug use or underlying cardiac or other medical conditions are involved.
"Should sudden cardiac arrest occur in a scenario involving a Taser discharge to the chest area, it would place the law-enforcement agency, the officer and Taser International in the difficult situation of trying to ascertain what role, if any, the Taser . . . could have played," the bulletin says.
The bulletin recommends that when aiming at the front of a suspect, the best target for officers is the major muscles of the pelvic area or thigh region. "Back shots remain the preferred area when practical," it says.
For years, Taser officials have said in interviews, court cases and government hearings that the stun gun is incapable of inducing ventricular fibrillation, the chaotic heart rhythm characteristic of a heart attack.
The guns are used by more than 12,000 police agencies across the country, including every major law-enforcement agency in the Valley. Many authorities credit the weapon with preventing deaths and injuries to officers and suspects.
Mark Spencer, president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, said Tuesday that line officers had not been told of the new guidelines. But he had only praise for Tasers.
"It really minimizes harm, not only to officers but to suspects," he said.
Advocacy groups such as Amnesty International allege that Taser guns are often used by police as a compliance tool on unarmed individuals who pose no deadly threat, who are drunk or on drugs and simply quarrel with officers.
Mark Silverstein, legal director of the Colorado American Civil Liberties Union, who has tracked Taser issues for years, said the bulletin means that police departments should now be asking questions about liability and reconsider how the stun gun is used.
"This is further evidence that law-enforcement agencies need to stop and ask if they have been sold a bill of goods," he said. "This (training) bulletin confirms what critics have said for years: that Taser has overstated its safety claims. . . . (It) has to be read as if Tasers can cause cardiac arrest."
Since 2001, there have been more than 400 deaths following police Taser strikes in the United States and 26 in Canada. Medical examiners have ruled that a Taser was a cause, contributing factor or could not be ruled out in more than 30 of those deaths.
The training bulletin is drawing significant attention in Canada, where controversy erupted after the 2007 death of a Polish immigrant at Vancouver International Airport. The man stopped breathing after being shocked five times by Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers.
A Canadian government investigation in July concluded that Taser stun guns can cause death, spurring law-enforcement agencies across the country to put severe new restrictions on how and when police there can use the weapons.
In view of Taser's bulletin, the Mounties revised policies to urge officers to avoid firing at suspects' chests.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
October 20, 2009
By Michael Macdonald (CP)
HALIFAX, N.S. — Grainy images from a silent surveillance videotape flickered in a hushed Halifax courtroom Tuesday as a public inquiry started a painstaking visual review of the actions of jail guards and health officials during the final hours of Howard Hyde's life.
Hyde, a 45-year-old musician with a long history of mental illness, died on the morning of Nov. 22, 2007 after a brief struggle with guards at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility.
The day before he died, he was arrested for allegedly assaulting his common-law wife, who told police Hyde, diagnosed in his 20s with paranoid schizophrenia, had not taken his medication for a week and needed psychiatric help.
The inquiry, which started in July, has spent weeks trying to determine why that never happened.
The first two videos played Tuesday showed Hyde leaving a van in shackles and entering the jail, where he sits on a stool as his paperwork is processed by Chris Dixon, a correctional officer.
Dixon testified he was aware that after Hyde was arrested, he was involved in a struggle at a police station in Halifax, where he was Tasered up to five times and eventually lapsed into unconsciousness.
The officer said Hyde's demeanour when he arrived at the jail at 5 p.m. did not concern him until Hyde rose from the stool for a moment. He also said Hyde seemed to be speaking in riddles at times, but that didn't bother the officer because of his frequent dealings with the mentally ill.
"He seemed to be fine at that point," he said.
In another video played Tuesday, Dixon and other guards can be seen coming and going from a hallway on the morning Hyde died.
Dixon told the inquiry that Hyde had struggled with guards that morning and was taken down the hallway to a cell around 7:30 a.m.
"He was shouting out about ... the RCMP," Dixon said. "He said, 'Don't take me down there. There are demons."'
Dixon recalled that Hyde was handcuffed behind the back and hauled backwards by the arms.
Hyde continued to struggle as he was pulled inside the cell by at least two other guards, Dixon said.
Dixon said Hyde was eventually pushed to the floor and subdued by another officer who straddled his legs inside the cell.
He said he saw the officer holding Hyde's wrists where they were cuffed, but the officer did not appear to apply any pressure to Hyde's back.
"Then he became quiet ... We thought it was all over," said Dixon, noting that Hyde appeared to stop resisting the officer as he laid face down.
But it soon became clear that Hyde was no longer conscious as officers called his name and received no response.
Dixon said he called for help on his two-way radio and health officials from another part of the jail arrived within minutes.
He said he didn't know if paramedics were able to revive Hyde before he was taken to hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.
A coroner listed Hyde's cause of death as excited delirium stemming from paranoid schizophrenia.
Dixon testified he had no training on how to deal with mentally ill people prior to Hyde's death, and he twice told the inquiry that improved training in that area would help him do his job.
Having served for four years as a corrections officer, Dixon said he encountered mentally ill inmates on a daily basis.
At times, the videos played Tuesday showed very little because justice officials have blacked out the identities of corrections officers and inmates not directly involved in the case. The videos also lack sound.
Other videotapes, including one recorded inside the cell where Hyde died, are expected to be played later at the inquiry.
The inquiry resumes Wednesday.
October 20, 2009
By Michael Macdonald (CP)
HALIFAX, N.S. — A Halifax police staff sergeant confirmed Monday he knew his officers didn't have the jurisdiction to follow the orders of a doctor who was trying to arrange a psychiatric assessment for a mentally ill man who later died in custody.
Staff Sgt. Don Fox was testifying at the inquiry into the death of Howard Hyde, a 45-year-old musician and diagnosed schizophrenic who died 30 hours after he was repeatedly Tasered inside the Halifax police station during a violent struggle with several officers.
The inquiry has heard that Hyde had been off his medication for a week when he was arrested Nov. 21, 2007, for allegedly assaulting his common-law wife. He was later jolted several times with the Taser as he tried to escape the downtown station.
Fox, a 34-year veteran of the force, told the inquiry that Hyde was taken to a hospital after the Tasering left him in medical distress. Officers have testified that Hyde turned blue and they couldn't find a pulse when they called for help.
The senior officer testified he was surprised when he learned several hours later that the injured man was also being assessed at the hospital for his "mental capacities."
"That's not what he was there for," Fox said. "He was taken there for his physical condition and all of a sudden his mental state came into play."
Fox said he asked for an update on Hyde's condition and the amount of time he would be kept at the hospital because Hyde had to be brought before a judge to face charges within 24 hours of his arrest.
Fox, the 36th witness to testify at the inquiry, confirmed that he told the officer guarding Hyde that the mentally ill man would likely get a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation once he was brought before a judge.
He said the officer later confirmed that a doctor had medically released Hyde to appear in court, but the physician included a key condition on the health information transfer form.
A handwritten note from Dr. Janet MacIntyre said police had to return Hyde to the hospital if the judge did not order a forensic psychiatric assessment.
Earlier in the inquiry, MacIntyre testified that she could have kept Hyde at the hospital for an in-house assessment, but the police officer had expressed some "urgency" about the court appearance.
Fox said the timing "wasn't a big issue at that point," and he stressed that it was routine for police to make arrangements for judges and lawyers to be dispatched to hospitals to handle arraignments if the accused couldn't make it to court.
However, Fox conceded that he knew police did not have the jurisdiction under the Involuntary Psychiatric Treatment Act to carry out MacIntyre's orders to return Hyde to the hospital.
"Police would not have the authority to take him back," Fox said in response to questions from Kevin MacDonald, a lawyer for Hyde's sister and brother-in-law.
Fox testified that even though his officers did not have such jurisdiction, he suggested they could have informally persuaded him to follow the doctor's orders. But that never happened.
Fox said he assumed the court would order an assessment for Hyde, but that didn't happen either.
Outside the inquiry's hearing room, MacDonald said MacIntyre had been left with the wrong impression from police.
"If Dr. MacIntyre had known that it could not happen, she would have not released Mr. Hyde to the police - and she's testified to that effect," he said.
Once Hyde was in the court system, he became the responsibility of the province's sheriff's department, which is in charge of court security and prisoner transfers.
Earlier evidence revealed that MacIntyre's instructions weren't relayed to Crown or defence lawyers because health information forms were not one of the documents routinely disclosed to justice officials. That practice has since been changed.
In the end, the judge presiding over Hyde's court appearance decided to transfer him to the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility, where he died the next morning after a scuffle with guards.
Correctional officers and mental health staff members at the provincial jail are expected to testify in the days ahead.
Monday, October 19, 2009
October 19, 2009
By Kris Kotarski, Calgary Herald
Earlier this month, just days before the second anniversary of Robert Dziekanski's death at Vancouver International Airport, Taser International posted a bulletin for law enforcement organizations instructing officers to avoid shooting people in the chest, and encouraging them to target the abdomen, legs or back.
"When possible, avoiding chest shots with electronic control devices avoids the controversy about whether ECDs do or do not affect the human heart."
Aim lower. Avoid controversy. Words to live by.
Considering the ongoing public-relations disaster that is the Braidwood Inquiry into the Oct. 14, 2007 death of Dziekanski after he was repeatedly stunned by RCMP officers with Taser International's weapons, it is not surprising that "the controversy" is a matter of grave concern for the company.
Controversy is not conducive to a healthy bottom line, and even fundraisers featuring Playboy bunnies cannot make people forget the stunning video of Dziekanski screaming on the floor before he died, with four RCMP officers standing over him with Tasers drawn.
The Braidwood Inquiry has heard a number of compelling arguments to ban the weapons completely, and Amnesty International's running tally of American fatalities that occurred shortly after a Taser discharge (presently at 351 since 2001) is enough to give anyone pause.
Yet, as Taser International and police spokespeople are quick to point out, there are also compelling reasons to continue to arm officers with the weapons, especially in light of the very real dangers faced by the police.
The second anniversary of Dziekanski's death is a good moment to reflect on this ongoing argument, and to consider what electroshock weapons have done to our society. Do Tasers make us safer? And, more importantly, do they make us a better people?
Writing at Salon.com,American blogger Digby has argued that "Tasers were sold to the public as a tool for law enforcement to be used in lieu of deadly force." "Nobody wants to see more death and if police have a weapon they can employ instead of a gun, in self-defence or to stop someone from hurting others, I think we all can agree that's a good thing. But that's not what's happening."
A quick YouTube search shows a number of incidents in the United States and in Canada where officers use the weapons against people who, as Digby puts it, "have not broken any law and whose only crime is being disrespectful toward their authority or failing to understand their 'orders.' "
Here's but one example. After getting into an argument about a parking ticket with a Kelowna RCMP officer in 2007, 68-year-old John Peters was punched in the head and Tasered twice while sitting in his car next to his horrified wife. It is not difficult to imagine how the argument between Peters and the officer may have progressed, but it does require a major stretch of the imagination to see how a 68-year-old stroke survivor who is partially blind in one eye could have possibly threatened the officer in a manner that justified his treatment.
In that case, the RCMP has since admitted its mistake and the officer was disciplined by the force, but that hardly makes up for the terror of the initial situation. And that is the problem with Tasers. Anyone who has read about cases like Dziekanski's or Peters' is entitled to feel disgusted by the practical-- if not the theoretical --use of the weapons.
The basic premise underlining community support for police work is fairness. Without fairness, there is no chance for trust, and without trust, the dangers faced by police officers and ordinary citizens increase exponentially.
Weapons like Tasers continue to shock the conscience not because of how they are used in theory, but because of how they are used in practice. And, despite assurances by Taser International, aiming lower will not solve the underlying issue of fairness, or stop the very credible accusations of cruelty, negligence and abuse.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
This line jumped out at me: "A source also tells the News that Taser International did not actually notify the NYPD about the warning."
Since I have yet to see any reports out of the U.S. about police conforming with the new taser target zone, issued to Canadian police departments by Taser International via Training Bulletin 2015, I can't help but wonder whether the company even issued this bulletin to police south of the border. According to the following report (and as quoted above), the NYPD was NOT notified by Taser International. WOW!!
October 18, 2009
Hey, whaddaya know—shooting 5,000 volts of electricity at somebody's chest could adversely affect the heart! Manufacturer Taser International Inc. has issued a warning about Taser chest-shots, suggesting that law enforcement officers aim their Tasers at perpetrators' backs, arms, or abdomens. In response to the warning, the NYPD brass has formally ordered officers not to shoot Tasers at suspects' chests.
NYPD spokesman Paul Browne tells the Daily News, "Until the NYPD can more fully evaluate the implications of the manufacturer's newly advanced recommendation, we are temporarily adopting Taser International's suggestion." Last year an NYPD officer fired his Taser at an emotionally disturbed man waving a long florescent light bulb atop a first story awning; the man fell to his death and the sergeant who gave the order to Tase subsequently committed suicide.
A source also tells the News that Taser International did not actually notify the NYPD about the warning. The company has been vigorously defending their product despite repeated deaths and controversy, and some communities have banned officers from using them entirely. Earlier this month, a Florida teenager died after being Tased and falling off bicycle, and at Coachella in April, a naked wizard was Tased multiple times.
October 18, 2009
By Alison Auld (CP)
HALIFAX, N.S. — An inquiry that resumes Monday into the death of a mentally ill man who was repeatedly Tasered by Halifax police will turn to the final hours of his life and the central question of why he didn't receive a doctor-ordered psychiatric assessment, a lawyer for the man's family says.
Kevin MacDonald said the hearing into the 2007 death of Howard Hyde will look at how the 45-year-old paranoid schizophrenic was treated by the court system and guards at a correctional facility where he died 30 hours after police stunned him up to five times.
The hearing, which began in July and has been on hiatus since mid-August, will focus on what happened to Hyde after he was released from hospital following the Tasering and sent to the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility, where he collapsed after struggling with guards.
MacDonald said he will show that Hyde, a musician who had several earlier run-ins with police, didn't undergo a mental health evaluation despite widespread recognition that he had a psychiatric illness and had been off his medications for weeks.
"A big part of this case is the treatment of people with mental illness, and it was surprising that everyone appeared to recognize that Mr. Hyde had a mental illness and was displaying signs of mental illness, but no one was prepared to take any steps to get him any help," MacDonald, who represents Hyde's sister and brother-in-law, said in an interview.
"There seemed to be a system breakdown at every step of the way and there didn't seem to be any checks for him."
A key element of the probe is an instruction given by an emergency room physician who treated Hyde after he lapsed into unconsciousness and stopped breathing soon after police restrained him during a violent struggle at the police station.
Dr. Janet MacIntyre testified that she had filled out a health information form before Hyde was released from the hospital into police custody, indicating he was to be brought back to the hospital if a forensic psychiatric exam wasn't ordered by a judge.
MacIntyre said she would not have discharged him had she known he would be sent to a jail cell rather than a psychiatric hospital following his arrest on Nov. 21, 2007, for alleging assaulting his common-law spouse.
MacIntyre testified that a police officer told her he was confident Hyde would get a court-ordered assessment once he appeared before a judge later that day.
"I felt quite certain that was going to happen in a timely manner," MacIntyre told the inquiry. "The police officer I spoke to felt that would be highly likely. So that's the route I chose."
But the rookie officer who spoke to MacIntyre testified that he didn't have a good grasp of the court process.
MacIntyre said she could have kept Hyde at the hospital for an in-house assessment, but police expressed some "urgency" about the court appearance.
Another emergency room doctor testified he told the RCMP that Halifax police were "gung-ho" to get Hyde out of the hospital and into a courtroom.
The deputy sheriffs escorting Hyde to court did not hand the health form to lawyers handling the case because legislation at the time forbade them from sharing such information with anyone but health-care providers.
In the end, the judge presiding over the arraignment did not order a psychiatric assessment and Hyde was sent to the correctional facility.
Dan MacRury, the inquiry's lead counsel, said communications between the various health and justice sectors that came into contact with Hyde is a critical part of the probe and will likely be central to recommendations when it concludes.
For example, he said when MacIntyre released Hyde as being "medically stable," it may have been interpreted incorrectly by justice officials that he was mentally and physically cleared.
"Certainly that was one communication area that may have to be improved," he said. "At the end of the day, how all the systems work and how they work together I think is important."
The inquiry will also examine training for police and others on how to deal with people with mental illnesses. Video played earlier showed several officers at the station tackling Hyde after he tried to flee custody when an officer came at him with a knife-like device to cut a string from his shorts.
"How quick the officers went to the Taser was striking when really Mr. Hyde was not offering the resistance that was being suggested in the testimony," MacDonald said.
"There should have been efforts made to speak to Mr. Hyde to defuse the situation. ... To go to use of force that is an intermediate weapon when he was clearly only scared and trying to get away from the knife was excessive."
The probe is expected to resume with testimony from the Crown prosecutor who handled Hyde's case and from health workers at the correctional facility.
A coroner listed the cause of death as excited delirium stemming from paranoid schizophrenia.
See also: August 15, 2008 Globe and Mail Editorial - More than a perception
See also: August 12, 2008 - Taser International a major sponsor of the 2008 Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police Conference
See also: November 2, 2007 - Taser International a major sponsor of the 2007 Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police conference
October 18, 2009
Robert Marshall , Winnipeg Free Press
Maybe a conflict is only in the eye of the beholder -- even if it's the eye of an ethics adviser. Still, will an alleged relationship between the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and Taser International affect an unsuspecting street cop?
I fully get the Taser manufacturer's product -- stun guns -- and the advantage they can give an officer in difficult circumstances. I also get that they are the most controversial piece of equipment in the police arsenal with a sobering fact becoming increasingly clear: The danger of a Taser's 50,000 volts increases with the target's abnormal increases in blood pressure, heart rate, exhaustion and so on. In other words, in the heightened and volatile situations for which the weapon is designed.
The chiefs of police support of Taser International's product has been unwavering since being introduced. In 2007, the president of the police chiefs' association, Steven Chabot, said that Tasers have "a solid track record for safety." The same communiqué reported that the chiefs would continue to look at new developments in directed energy technologies. And, in February 2009, the chiefs' association released its position paper, offering its continued endorsement.
But the status quo changed recently, only when Taser International made new recommendations that Canadian police brass couldn't adopt fast enough.
Officers are now being instructed to aim for areas such as the gut or legs (but not the groin) and to avoid the traditional, easier to hit, centre-mass. While police administrators write Taser International's corporate guidance into policy, the cop on the street might consider enrolling in Calamity Jane's school of trick shots.
Most striking in the new guidelines is Taser International's self-admitted attempt to avoid "the controversy" while "increasing safety margins and enhancing the ability to defend such cases in post-event legal proceedings."
I can't imagine average cops from across the country being anything other than disappointed with their agencies subscribing to the same source of corporate tutelage that at one time promoted the weapon as a near risk-free implement. Or at least safe enough to use real live officers as targets and training aids.
The new guidelines may well increase the danger for the street officer who uses the weapon -- physically, if the two separate electrical probes miss the now-more-difficult mark and legally, should the charge land in the chest area, contravening manufacturer and department edicts.
There will be legal chop-licking in the aftermath of the next Taser-related death. And it will be the front-line cop -- the lowest wrung on the ladder -- on which all eyes will focus.
Why, in the last few years, have Tasers become the must-have tool? There's a long list of legitimate reasons, but it's one of the not-so-good possibilities that sticks out like a sore thumb.
Each year, the police chiefs hold a national meeting that goes beyond issues of public safety. For sure, the meeting's a perk. And every year corporate sponsors donate cash to keep the chiefs and their parties entertained.
Last spring, according to the Globe and Mail's pro-cop columnist, Christie Blatchford, one sponsor picked up most of the tab for $215,000 worth of Celine Dion tickets for the six-figure-salaried police executives and their entourages. Meals for the 2008 conference were taken care of, too.
Taser International had been a top, platinum sponsor (meaning a minimum donation of $25,000) for a number of years. Rumour had it that the company made a $200,000 donation to the 2008 meeting in Montreal, something that was denied by the chiefs.
The country's senior cops who attend these million-dollar meetings are the ones that swing the big sticks when deciding with whom to do business. That would include Taser International. That didn't sit well with John Jones, the chiefs' former ethics adviser who quit earlier this year when he couldn't convince the highfalutin' board of directors that the incestuous relationship between big businesses and police decision-makers (and the freebies) "didn't pass the smell test." The chiefs, perhaps realizing they were on some pretty thin ice, dropped Taser International from their listed sponsors for its 2009 Charlottetown gathering.
But was it too late? Is there anything to the allegation of conflict? Is there a perception that Taser International has undue sway with the police chiefs and with the new rules? Will the next cop involved in an awry stun gun matter be left holding more than his fair share of the legal bag?
Sounds like an expensive free lunch.
Robert Marshall is a security adviser and former Winnipeg police detective.
October 18, 2009
James Keller (CP)
VANCOUVER, B.C. — The federal government spent more than half a million dollars defending the RCMP and the actions of the four officers who stunned Robert Dziekanski with a Taser at Vancouver's airport.
The force and each of the four officers had lawyers at the public inquiry into Dziekanski's death, which began in January and finished with closing submissions last week.
The Polish immigrant's fatal confrontation with police on Oct. 14, 2007, has been a source of intense criticism for the RCMP and the four officers and for police use of Tasers, fuelled in large part by an infamous amateur video of the incident.
The Justice Department had billed the RCMP more than $373,000 in legal fees to represent the force at the inquiry as of July 31, according to documents obtained under federal access to information laws.
Lawyers for the officers had together cost the RCMP about $200,000 by the end of August, according to the documents.
Those figures were tallied during a three-month summer break, which was ordered in June to investigate an internal RCMP email that raised questions about the officers' testimony. Since then, there have been several days of hearings in September and final submissions this month.
And lawyers for three of the officers are heading to the B.C. Court of Appeal in December to challenge the inquiry's authority to make findings of misconduct against them.
The RCMP and the four Mounties were named in a lawsuit filed by Dziekanski's mother earlier this month, although it's not clear who will pay the officers' legal fees in that case.
The officers' lawyers were hired just days before the inquiry was set to begin in January, and the inquiry has taken far longer than anticipated. Initially, the hearings were expected to be finished by the spring.
Ravi Hira, who represents Const. Kwesi Millington, the Mountie who fired the Taser, said it wasn't his place to comment on the RCMP's decision to pay the officers' legal fees.
"In terms of cost, you have seen the length of the inquiry, you know the amount of time that we're talking about here," said Hira.
The RCMP couldn't be reached for comment.
The force has always stood firmly behind the actions of the officers, and that position has been reflected at the inquiry.
In its written final submissions, handed over to the inquiry two weeks ago, the federal government maintains the officers used an "acceptable" level of force that was consistent with RCMP policies and training.
Walter Kosteckyj, who represents Dziekanski's mother at the inquiry and in her recently filed lawsuit, said regardless of his criticisms of the officers, it's important to ensure they've been adequately represented at the hearings.
"I would be a hypocrite to say they're not entitled to be properly defended," Kosteckyj said in a recent interview.
"And no one can say they didn't get the best legal help necessary, no one can come back and say these guys were railroaded or weren't treated fairly. That's important to the process."
The B.C. government ordered a two-phase public inquiry a month after Dziekanski died.
Commissioner Thomas Braidwood held the first part last year, broadly examining Taser use by law enforcement agencies in British Columbia. He released a report from that phase during the summer, concluding Tasers can kill but are a necessary tool for police.
The second phase, examining Dziekanski's death in detail, has now wrapped up and Braidwood's final report is expected to be made public next year.
By August, the provincial government had spent $3.99 million since the first phase began, said Leo Perra, executive director for the commission. That total could increase by another million by the time the commission's work is finished, he said.
Perra said most of that cost goes to salaries, including Braidwood - who is paid about $1,700 a day - the inquiry's own lawyers and support staff. That money also pays for facility costs.
"Commissions of inquiry aren't particularly provided with a budget, because nobody knows where they're going and exactly what's going to happen," said Perra.
Kosteckyj said it's been money well spent.
"Every once in a while we have to shine a light on the things that are bothering us and the things that don't seem right, and here, we put this under a microscope," he said.
"People have to know that in certain circumstances, when you're involved in things, there is going to be full scrutiny and this makes everybody better."
Frank Cleo Sutphin, 19, San Bernardino, California
October 18, 2009
SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — Police say a 19-year-old man has died in Southern California after officers used a Taser to subdue him at a board-and-care facility.
A San Bernardino police department statement says the man died at a hospital early Saturday.
The department says officers had been summoned to the facility to investigate a fight involving three people late Friday night.
Police say officers separated the trio but "one of the subjects became combative and a Taser was deployed to control him."
The man was having trouble breathing, and police called paramedics. He was pronounced dead at a hospital about an hour later.
The man's name and cause of death haven't been released.
Posted by Reality Chick at 11:03
Saturday, October 17, 2009
October 17, 2009
Kingston Police officers will follow the lead of other large police agencies in Canada and start aiming their Tasers lower.
Taser International, the maker of the electric stun guns, issued a directive recently suggesting that the weapons should not be aimed at the chest.
Tasers deliver a jolt of electricity that momentarily incapacitates a person. The recommendation was designed to lessen any controversy about whether the guns affect the heart.
"We have issued an interim direction," Kingston Police Chief Stephen Tanner told the police services board yesterday (wed).
Only sergeants and specially trained tactical officers in the Kingston department carry Tasers.
"We will err on that side of caution," Tanner said.
October 17, 2009
DOUG MILLROY, Sault Star
After proclaiming the safety of its stun gun product for years, Taser International, it seems, is finally accepting that its weapon can have lethal consequences.
It has issued a directive that officers should not aim the weapon at a targeted person's chest in order to avoid impact to the heart. As a result, police forces across Canada have begun to change their policies concerning use of the Taser.
The change is all well and good, but I think we will have to wait a while to see how much of a difference it will make in cutting back the death toll.
In a new training bulletin Taser International said it had lowered the recommended point of aim from centre of mass to lower centre of mass for front shots and that police officers should now target the back, legs or abdomen.
The company seems to be saying that aim is what will now count.
I believe that can be taken into account, all right, but the most important aspect will still be how police approach the use of the Taser, a conducted energy device which sends out a jolt of electricity through the barbs that strike a target.
Will some officers still be as indiscriminate with its use as they were in the case of Robert Dziekanski, who was Tasered by RCMP after he had become distraught when he was unable to make contact with his mother, whom he had come to visit, after he arrived at Vancouver International Airport.
Receiving reports that a man, who apparently couldn't speak English, was throwing furniture around, four RCMP officers attended and within 30 seconds of their arrival deployed the Taser. They zapped Dziekanski five times, leaving him writhing in agony on the floor with death following.
I said in a column on Nov. 8, 2008, that I thought it was incumbent on us to provide and allow police the use of the best equipment available. However, even though I saw the merits of the Taser as a police tool I couldn't escape the nagging thought that something had been going wrong, very wrong.
The Dziekanski case was a prime example.
Retired Judge Thomas Braidwood, appointed by the B. C. government to examine municipal police forces' use of the weapon after Dziekanski's death, slammed the government and B. C. police for not properly studying the potential dangers of Tasers and not training officers adequately in their use.
One of his key recommendations was to raise the threshold for using a Taser from "active resistance" to an officer suffering bodily harm or being threatened with imminent bodily harm..
The active-resistance standard in the province was open to broad interpretation and the discretion of officers.
For example, if a person suspected of not paying a Sky Train fare was told by a transit police officer, "Come here," then turned to walk away, that, according to a story in a Vancouver paper, was considered sufficient grounds for a Taser to be deployed.
That, of course, is ridiculous.
Police forces have upgraded their policies since Braidwood's initial report but I am afraid that no matter what policy is laid down and how strongly it is worded, the use of the Taser will still be decided by the officer or officers on the scene. Some, no matter the policy, will still be prepared to use it far quicker than will others.
I also wonder just how accurate police will be with the Taser under the new directive. Will they be able to pinpoint the abdomen, arm or leg? In regard to zapping the person in the back, I suspect this would only happen when there are enough officers present to surround the suspect and if that is the case, surely they could take the target down without using the Taser.
B. C. Civil Liberties executive director David Eby says the weapon should be banned and that changing the targeted area on where to aim is not enough.
"We are disappointed that police have to wait for the company to issue a directive before making these changes," he said. "Admittedly that is a step towards limiting the use, but it's hard to imagine in what situation it makes sense to aim at a suspect's back."
Amnesty International says from 2003 to 2008, 26 people died in Canada after being jolted by stun guns. The total in the United States was 330 between 2001 and 2008.
These totals had not gone unnoticed by former city police officer Ken Slewidge, who has been attempting to market an alternative weapon, a pepper gel officers would swipe on a target's eyes.
In an e-mail in response to my 2008 column he said police have difficulty defending the use of the Taser in situations that have alternatives.
"The entire concept of police use of force is progression through the circumstances. If the news reports of the individuals who died demonstrated that the situation was going to lead to the imminent death of someone, then for sure spray or Taser, no problem," he said.
"But police will surround a house for hours if a person is inside with a gun. Why can't the same tactic be scaled down to a person in the room that is upset? I'm sure that containment for 15 or 20 minutes would de-escalate a scene . . .
"I personally have had many wrestling matches over my 30 years that resulted in a sore back, shoulders and knees. But I would not trade these injuries for a chance to be the subject officer in a wrongful-death allegation."
I think the majority of the officers in forces across the country would agree with him.
The problem is, as I seem to keep repeating, there will be those who will still use the Taser when it isn't really required, such as in the Dziekanski case where evidence has now been brought forward that RCMP discussed using the Taser before they even got on the scene.
Slewidge said he was pleased with the Braidwood report, saying the justice understood what most Canadians have been implying to law enforcement all along, that CEDs have their place, but not in incidences other than the most serious. He said he hoped police agencies world-wide would eventually understand the logic of Braidwood's findings.
"Police agencies must realize that it is the police who need to keep taking the risk to save lives," he said in an e-mail. "Police cannot keep a rational of doing anything that may provide death to anyone, other than those individuals that fully put themselves in such a serious situation that exhausts all other options."
I'm willing to give Taser use a couple of years grace but if there is evidence at that time that it has not been brought under control, then I will be joining those, like Eby, who believe the Taser should be banned.
Friday, October 16, 2009
Merriam Webster definition of SYLLOGISM:
1 : a deductive scheme of a formal argument consisting of a major and a minor premise and a conclusion (as in “every virtue is laudable; kindness is a virtue; therefore kindness is laudable”)
2 : a subtle, specious, or crafty argument
3 : deductive reasoning
October 16, 2009
Editorial, Globe and Mail
The manufacturer of the taser acknowledged the uncertainty over whether the weapon is deadly, then argued at the inquiry into Robert Dziekanski's death that it most certainly is not. That death, and the Taser company's new directives to aim away from the chest, show why there should be a high threshold before police can use this dangerous weapon.
Taser's faulty syllogism goes like this: People have always died in police custody. They still die in police custody. Therefore the taser does not kill them. Does this follow? No. Yet this is what a lawyer for Taser International of Scottsdale, Ariz., argued at the inquiry before former appeal-court judge Thomas Braidwood in Vancouver this week.
Taser added a false argument to the faulty syllogism: It is speculative to say the taser caused or contributed to the death of Mr. Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant who was tasered five times at the Vancouver International Airport in October, 2007. Why? Because he was in an "acute emotional, physical and physiological crisis the night he died," says Taser.
Yes, and then the RCMP shot this man five times with 50,000 volts of electricity - five seconds each shot - smack in the middle of his medical crisis. He was shot, he died. What is so speculative?
Taser wants its weapon to be given the benefit of any doubt that exists. But it is plain the benefit should accrue to the people who might be shot. If the weapon has been wrongly accused, it will get over it. The people who have been killed, on the other hand, won't.
Taser acknowledged the uncertainty in a bulletin last month, saying that while the risk of a heart attack is extremely low, complicating factors of drug use or underlying cardiac problems may exist, and police should aim at the pelvic area. The RCMP has passed the directive on to its officers. It is a good directive. It will make it harder for police to rely on this weapon, because at 15 feet, the optimal shooting distance, it may be more difficult to aim accurately. (Keep in mind the two wires with barbed hooks that it shoots are designed to go into the body a metre or so apart, thus creating a vector of electricity.) It should also make those provinces that have not yet reconsidered their guidelines for taser use, in light of the findings from an earlier inquiry related to Mr. Dziekanski's death, take a second look.
The taser may kill, or contribute to a death, and yet it has been used on people such as Mr. Dziekanski, distressed but posing no threat to anyone. It should be used only in situations where there is a serious risk of physical harm.
October 16, 2009
Ian Mulgrew, Vancouver Sun
Bullies and liars should be drummed out of the RCMP and other police departments. That should be former justice Thomas Braidwood's No. 1 recommendation.
Now that he has retired to write the final report of his public inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski, the commissioner must deal with the ugly picture that has emerged.
The four heavily armed Mounties overreacted with a probably illegal amount of force when they Tasered and manhandled the tired and confused 40-year-old Polish immigrant exactly two years ago Wednesday in Vancouver International Airport.
The evidence of the last year's hearings establishes that after Dziekanski died, the officers misconstrued what happened in an effort to limit their culpability and forestall potential criminal charges.
Their memories, notes and testimony are belied by the now famous amateur video by Paul Pritchard that captured Dziekanski's agonizing final moments. It is Canada's Rodney King moment, a continuing viral YouTube j'accuse.
Rather than circling the wagons as they have, the national police force should remember Oct. 14 as a day of infamy.
Maybe the first Taser shot can be justified; maybe even the second, which was administered while Dziekanski was writhing on the floor screaming in blood-curdling agony. But the third?
How about the fifth?
Watching those burly Kevlar-vested officers standing over Dziekanski's motionless body wondering what to do next, it was difficult to believe it could get worse.
But it did.
Using too much force to subdue a suspect is one thing. Refusing to remove handcuffs to facilitate medical aid for an unconscious man turning blue is downright criminal.
Rather than own their behaviour, the four officers went on to massage their recollections and craft misleading statements.
The response of their organization was not much better.
No one in the RCMP can be proud of how this was handled -- and the new commissioner didn't do any better by seemingly defending these four clowns with his walk-a-mile-in-their-shoes comment.
This kind of brutal, unthinking and deceitful behaviour cannot be tolerated. There should be no place for such men or women in a modern police force.
Yet we see it too often, not just in this tragedy.
Look at the recent case in Burns Lake where the Mounties roughed up a suspect without cause, dragged their feet on disclosure and delivered testimony the judge dismissed as beyond belief.
Or consider the latest civil finding against two Vancouver Police Department officers who smashed a sober 47-year-old civic worker's face into the ground and then falsely claimed he had been belligerent and drunk.
Of course, there's the outrageous case of the Mountie who committed perjury testifying about why he shot dead unarmed 29-year-old Kevin St. Arnaud in Vanderhoof.
These are unfortunately but a few of what are many instances in recent years of police officers overstepping the bounds and then trying to cover up their misconduct.
It's clearly time for Braidwood to state the obvious.
Whatever else he recommends early next year when he delivers his report, the commissioner should emphasize that cops can be forgiven mistakes but they cannot be excused for unleashing unwarranted violence and lying about it.
We must be able to trust police and have faith in them to use good judgment before force. That seems self-evident, but it manifestly needs to be said.
And those that don't get it need to be quickly shown the door.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
October 14, 2009
Kelly McParland, National Post
Some years back I happened to attend a Congressional hearing in Washington that featured the CEOs of the top U.S. tobacco companies.
Henry Waxman, the ultra-Liberal congressman who is now busy trying to torpedo any hope of Congress crafting a workable health plan, was intent on embarrassing them. In an inspired move, he asked them to stand, raise their hands and swear under oath that they didn't believe smoking was in any way harmful to health.
Well, you have to earn your money, so they did as exactly as requested, standing side by side with their hands in the air, professing utter bewilderment at the suggestion all those people dying of lung cancer might have lived longer if they hadn't been sucking back 20 or 30 smokes a day. Surely it was all just a coincidence.
There is an oft-used photo of that moment, but perhaps David Neave has never seen it. Lawyers have to earn their money too, and Mr. Neave is the lawyer for Taser International, so on Tuesday he had to appear before the Braidwood inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski and profess with as straight a face as possible that there was no evidence "the Taser device caused or contributed to his death."
Nope, it was all just an unfortunate coincidence. Or maybe worse: a conspiracy against the good name of Taser International, those fine folks who manufacture devices capable of firing 50,000 volts of electricity into some poor sap's body.
"We say it is time this uninformed speculation about the role the Taser device may have had in this case be dispelled and the attack on Taser's reputation ended," intoned Mr. Neave.
Mr. Neave assured the hearing, which has spent months listening to details of Mr. Dziekanski's death, which came after he'd been zapped five times with a Tazer in the hands of a bunch of RCMP officers. A key bit of evidence is the famous video, which shows Mr. Dziekanski alive and well, if a bit upset. The cops arrive, Taser him five times, he turns blue and dies.
Hey, it could happen to anyone. The guy is fine, 100% healthy; he gets Tasered five times, which has absolutely no effect on him, but just happens to die of some completely unrelated factor at the exact same moment he's being Tasered by a harmless little electricity gun. I mean, what are the odds eh?
Mr. Neave had to make sure the inquiry understood just how tragic a coincidence it all was. The cops could have Tasered Dziekanski every 30 seconds for months on end and he'd have been just fine and dandy, if not for that unfortunate fatal attack he just happened to have at that moment.
As Canwest reported, "Neave said Dziekanski presented the classic profile of someone who dies during restraint by the police, as he appeared to be in a state of delirium prior to the incident, which was likely caused by alcohol abuse and withdrawal."
Oh sure, blame the alcohol industry, as if booze ever hurt anyone.
Neave noted that the poor ill-informed boobies who foolishly concluded Dziekanski's multiple tasering contributed to his death "had no scientific studies to back up their claims", while "experts" who said Tasers did not cause the heart to stop functioning had conducted studies to support their findings.
Wow, I mean is that convincing or what? Taser put forward "experts," not just drunks off the street like the commission used. Those "experts" had "studies" to prove their point, and we all know that "studies" conducted by "experts" are 100% fool-proof and not subject to doubt.
Now, you may want to recall that the tobacco companies survived for years on their 100% foolproof argument that there was no scientific proof connecting tobacco to cancer, and rolled out expert after expert to present studies backing up their claim. But don't make the mistake of concluding that the Taser industry is engaged in exactly the same old game, or that Mr. Neave was spouting utter nonsense on Tuesday.
This time it's really true. There is just no way that police killed Mr. Dziekanski with their Taser, no matter what the video and the evidence shows. I mean, who you going to believe, David Neave or your own eyes?
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
The truth about Robert Dziekanski’s death doesn’t come cheap: The Braidwood commission has cost B.C. taxpayers $3.7 million to date. But compared with other recent public inquiries, we’re getting “excellent value,” an expert says.
Photograph of Thomas R. Braidwood, QC by: Glenn Baglo, Vancouver Sun
Closing Submissions at the Braidwood Inquiry