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Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Métis man's death due to drugs, not Taser: doctor

October 19, 2004
CBC News

A coroner's inquest in British Columbia looking into the death of man after he was shot with a Taser gun has been told the man probably died of a cocaine overdose.
Clayton Willey died 16 hours after he was subdued by a Taser gun in July 2003.

The RCMP were called to deal with Willey after reports of an altercation with security staff at a mall in Prince George.

Willey was restrained, handcuffed and then shot with a Taser at least twice. The Taser delivers a 50,000-volt zap and causes temporary loss of muscle control.

An autopsy determined the 33-year-old man had potentially lethal amounts of cocaine in his system when he died.

The first witness in the inquest, Dr. James McNaughton, said high cocaine abuse contributed to Willey's death and not anything the police did. The pathologist noted Willey suffered a severe heart attack 20 minutes after he was hit with a Taser on the day he died. McNaughton says a shorter interval of time between the two incidents would be needed to make a connection.

An RCMP probe has already cleared officers of any wrongdoing, but the dead man's sister still has many questions.

Bryna Willey says her brother had marks all over his body, a bruised head, missing teeth and internal bleeding after the altercation with security guards and police.

Most of all, she wants to know why police used the Taser to subdue her brother, when he was already wearing handcuffs.

"I think it's a hand-held electric chair," she said. "It's a death sentence."

The inquest will hear testimony in Prince George both this week and next.

Complaints about the way police use the subduing tactic have been on the increase. Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan is on the record as saying more research should be done about the effect Tasers can have on people.

On the worldwide stage, the human rights group Amnesty International wants police forces to suspend the use of Taser guns.

Several inquiries into the use of Tasers are about to begin across Canada. Willey's case is the first one.

Dirk Ryneveld, B.C.'s police complaints commissioner, has recommended standardized province-wide Taser training for police officers likely to use them in the line of duty.

Ryneveld made the recommendation after the death of Vancouver resident Robert Bagnell this July. Bagnell also had high amounts of cocaine in his system when he died.