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Saturday, February 28, 2009

RCMP debriefing raises questions at Taser inquiry

February 27, 2009
CBC News

Concerns have surfaced that officers involved in the death of Robert Dziekanski may have tainted their own testimony when they shared their versions of events during an RCMP critical incident debriefing session.

The Braidwood Inquiry, which is underway in Vancouver, was set up to probe the circumstances of Dziekanski's death after four RCMP officers used a Taser to stun him five times in October 2007.

On Thursday, inquiry commissioner Thomas Braidwood ordered the four RCMP officers involved to provide details of what they said to each other at an RCMP debriefing session following the incident at Vancouver International airport.

Surprise answer

It's standard practice for lawyers at the inquiry to ask witnesses whether they've discussed what happened with anyone else involved; for most witnesses, the answer has been, "No."

But Const. Bill Bentley surprised the inquiry on Thursday when he was asked the same question by Don Rosenbloom, the lawyer for the government of Poland.

"We did have what's referred to as a 'critical incident debrief' where we all told our version of the events that transpired that evening," he said.

Bentley said that, along with the four officers involved in Dziekanski's death, a psychologist and staff representatives were present, but he could not remember when it took place.

Rosenbloom then wanted to know whether the officers were comparing notes.

Bentley told Rosenbloom the meeting was mainly to discuss their feelings and emotions.

"Did you learn anything new at that meeting you didn't already know about the events of that night by listening to your fellow officers?" Rosenbloom asked.

"No," Bentley responded.

Standard practice

Walter Kostecky, the lawyer for Robert Dziekanski's mother and a former RCMP officer himself, said these kinds of post-incident meetings aren't uncommon, but this one was different.

"The question about this particular debrief is, why are all four of the police officers telling their story to each other? And that raises a lot of questions about just how much you can rely on the fact that their evidence is untainted," said Kostecky.

The revelation of the meeting was also surprise to the inquiry's lead counsel Art Vertlieb, who said it had never come up during months of planning and preparation.

The inquiry has asked the RCMP to immediately provide any records of how the meeting was arranged, and what was said.

Mounties looking like Keystone Cops

February 28, 2009
By Don Martin, Calgary Herald

Police officers have three primary serve-and-protect obligations--investigate threats to civilian safety immediately, use their weapons responsibly and tell the truth faithfully under oath.

While the vast majority do their dangerous duty professionally, elements of the RCMP struck out on all three fronts this week to create the unfortunate optics of Dudley Do-Right joining the Keystone Cops.

In a strange series of random events, RCMP failed to perform due diligence in investigating reports of two SOS-signalling skiers lost for 10 days in the Rockies, police representatives staged a bizarre defence of Taser safety while refusing to produce the studies to bolster their case and several RCMP officers were clearly nose-stretching, if not engaging in a conspiracy of fabrication, while testifying at the Robert Dziekanski fatality inquiry.

The force's public relations hell dawned Tuesday when a parade of police association representatives arrived in Ottawa to "demystify" the Taser for national media, arguing it's a weapon that deserves a spot on every police belt.

The timing was awful. Three hours away, the Dziekanski inquiry was watching slow-motion footage of the Polish immigrant's multiple Taser-zapping and sudden death.

Yet the officers in Ottawa were adamant. Pay no attention to the video of that man twitching behind the glass, they basically argued. The Taser is an essential enforcement tool and totally safe--and they've got 150 studies to support that. Ontario Provincial Police commissioner Julian Fantino spun the purpose of their publicity campaign this way: "We decided it was time to set the record straight to give you and the public accurate information as best as we can and to demystify and bring some honesty and integrity into reporting."

But with respect, one reporter wondered, what studies have the RCMP used to prove the Taser poses all the takedown risk of a knuckle-wrapping? "Do your own homework," Chief Fantino fumed. "We've looked at them, consulted and validated them."

(This denied request for information is apparently part of RCMP culture. The federal information commissioner this week gave the force failing grades in meeting its information access obligations, listing it as one of the worst federal offenders for denying requests.) The only greater mystification than those alleged studies was the date they picked for their campaign kickoff.

To be hailing the Taser miracle at the precise moment an RCMP officer was squirming under Dziekanski inquiry fire in Vancouver was a publicity juxtaposition only a fiendish enemy of the technology could've arranged. Police testimony started changing on the fly as amateur video put the fib to facts which clearly seemed to have been negotiated in secret by responding officers seeking cover from their actions.

Add this discomfort to the RCMP's admitted failure to order a search for a missing couple in the B. C. backcountry last week, which resulted in a woman's tragic death, and you have a humiliating one-week triple whammy of lousy news for an RCMP that supposedly cleaned up its act after changing commissioners in 2006.

The lousy optics didn't have to gush forth this way.

There are a number of studies clearing the Taser of killer capabilities, which police representatives should've produced on demand, and police do support national rules governing Taser use to reduce risks to police or public safety.

And while the infamous Taser video suggests the inquiry will eventually find Dziekanski was the victim of aggressive police deploying Tasers excessively, contrite admissions of this ugly reality would've salvaged police reputations better than their apparent falsehoods of desperation.

RCMP might also want to update mountain rescue manuals to insist multiple SOS signals in snow-covered backcountry are reasonable signs of somebody in distress and thus search-worthy. After all, the force should be with us, not putting Canadians at risk of injury or neglect.

EDITORIAL: Quick on the trigger

February 28, 2009
National Post

Canadians still don't know the full truth about the split-second decisions RCMP officers made in the middle of the night a year-and-a-half ago at Vancouver International Airport, when they Tasered distraught Polish traveller Robert Dziekanski, who subsequently died while being pinned to the ground and arrested. But many details are emerging, thanks in part to a phalanx of lawyers representing the federal government, the RCMP, the Polish government, Mr. Dziekanski's mother-- all of whom are able to use the benefit of hindsight and slow-motion video to pull apart the officers' every flinch and gesture.

We will admit to being disappointed in the testimony of the two officers who have already appeared before the inquiry headed by Commissioner Thomas Braidwood. While insisting their actions were justifiable, Constables Bill Bentley and Gerry Rundel admitted this week that when they and two colleagues approached Mr. Dziekanski shortly after 1:25 a. m. on the morning of Oct. 14, 2007, they had no pre-arranged strategy for dealing with him and made little more than cursory attempts to communicate with him. Nor did they have any detailed information on the prologue to the incident, gleaned from airport staff, that might have explained why, within seconds of their arrival on the scene, they might be tempted to shoot Mr. Dziekanski five times with a conducted-energy weapon.

Const. Bentley was even forced to admit under cross-examination that his initial assessment of what had occurred was wrong. He had written in a notebook shortly after Mr. Dziekanski's death that "Subject grabbed stapler and came at members screaming." While insisting he still believed that account to be "accurate at the time" -- whatever that means -- he admitted last week at hearings in Vancouver that Mr. Dziekanski was neither screaming nor lunging at officers when they Tasered him.

While both constables still maintain that a very agitated Mr. Dziekanski appeared "combative" when they subdued him -- and Const. Rundel claimed he feared for his safety -- little either man said would seem to contradict the damning version of events Canadians saw on an amateur video recorded at the time by another passenger, Paul Pritchard. To wit: that officers walked quickly to the waiting area where Mr. Dziekanski paced back and forth frantically, cursing Polish and throwing furniture and a computer. After making no more than the most basic efforts to communicate with the man, who spoke no English, they moved quickly to their stun guns and fired charge after 50,000-volt charge into the suspect, even as they held him immobilized on the floor and one officer put his knee on Mr. Dziekanski's neck.

It seems likely the officers are sticking as much as possible to their original stories to keep from being crucified at the inquiry or being hung out to dry by Mountie brass as the sole culprits in this melodrama.

There is lots of blame to go around in the Polish visitor's death. Why, for instance, did he spend nearly six-and-a-half hours in the international baggage claim at the airport without any employee -- either from the Canada Border Services Agency, the airport or an airline -- seeking to help him? Why were offers of help from a Polish-speaking airport employee ignored? Why was the airport's own emergency response team not called to the scene?

We will wait for the conclusions of the Braidwood inquiry to become public before making up our minds on culpability. But since the four officers responsible for the "takedown" are the only four participants whose actions have been caught on tape, they would be right in fearing that they are being made scapegoats. Their actions cannot be taken in isolation, but as a symptom of practices and training standards in place within the RCMP as a whole.

Since the Dziekanski incident, the RCMP has significantly changed its policy on the deployment of Tasers. In particular, the new policy contradicts the one in place in the fall of 2007 concerning the lethality of conducted-energy weapons, "particularly for acutely agitated individuals." This would seem to be a backhanded admission by the national police force that its former policy, which suggested Tasers were the best way to subdue unhinged subjects, was wrong.

Because police have been granted the power to use deadly force in our society, their every use of it should be examined, in excruciating detail if necessary. To protect the rights and lives of citizens -- and to ensure Canadians never lose their faith in police judgment and actions -- officers must work constantly to ensure they never misuse their power.

If the Dziekanski officers acted rashly and excessively, they should be disciplined. But as it is unlikely they were the only ones to blame, if they are to be punished, any others who failed their duty should be sanctioned, too.

EDITORIAL: Show us that tasers save lives

February 28, 2009
The Province

The canadian association of chiefs of police and the canadian police association called on all officers nationwide to be authorized and trained in the use of this weapon, calling tasers "A valuable use-of-force option available to police to reduce the risk of injury or death."

Julian Fantino, the Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police, told reporters that "Tasers save lives," and that 150 studies worldwide prove "there is no direct link in any case" between the use of a Taser and a death. When asked to reveal the studies, Chief Fantino offered the glib response that he had no intention of doing the media's homework.

Here are some questions for the nation's police departments to consider: If Tasers save lives and if Tasers are safe, then why are they so controversial? What evidence is there to support the argument that Tasering someone saves lives? And finally, why would the two largest police organizations in this country come out with guns blazing on the Taser issue at the same time as the Braidwood Inquiry is looking into the weapons's safety?

There probably is a place for Tasers in the law-enforcement arsenal, but more study has to be done to determine what that place might be.

The Braidwood inquiry is a big part of that study.

For the police to come out now and boldly suggest more Tasers are needed is, at once, bullying, egregious and insensitive.

Policing the use of tasers

February 28, 2009
Globe and Mail

Your editorial calling for civilian authorities "to follow the lead of the RCMP and write narrower rules for taser use" (Dangerously Blank Slates - editorial, Feb. 25) did not acknowledge the position of the Canadian Association of Police Boards.

CAPB is the national association for civilian oversight bodies of municipal police services. Public interest and confidence requires that police leaders, civilian and uniform, set a high standard for the use of conducted energy weapons. Police authority derives from, and is legitimate because civilian authority empowers policing authority, including the use of force. It does not work the other way around.

We've called for a national working group of stakeholders to review best practices with a view to developing national standards, including clear policies, internal reporting mechanisms and public accountability for the use of such weapons by municipal police services.

Standard reporting is needed regarding the various types of uses of force, any serious consequences, circumstances in which force was used, complaints, and disposition of conduct issues. This would be a useful tool for police services, boards and commissions to hold themselves accountable to the public in regard to an aspect of policing that has drawn much public scrutiny.

president, Canadian Association of Police Boards

Friday, February 27, 2009

Safety minister rejects calls for a moratorium on Taser stun guns

See Excited-Delirium.com's challenge to Peter Van Loan, Canada's PUBLIC SAFETY MINISTER.

February 27, 2009
Janice Tibbetts, Canwest News Service

OTTAWA -- Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan on Friday rejected calls for a moratorium on Taser stun guns saying they are a relatively safe use of force compared to more deadly options.

While acknowledging the controversial shock guns are a weapon and therefore carry a risk, he said police should have access to them nonetheless.

"If officers are properly trained and if the Taser is properly used in the proper circumstances, it can be safe, it can be safer than the alternative," Mr. Van Loan said in an interview with Canwest News Service and Global National. "I believe that obviously shooting someone with a gun is going to be far more lethal than the use of a Taser and as an alternative I think it's something that should be available to the police."

Earlier this week, the opposition Liberals called on the government to impose a moratorium pending the outcome of a public inquiry in British Columbia into an October, 2007 death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski after RCMP officers zapped him several times at the Vancouver airport.

RCMP Commissioner William Elliott, acknowledging this month Tasers carry a risk of death, said the Mounties have reined in their policy so the shock guns can only be used to subdue suspects who pose a safety risk to the public or police.

Mr. Van Loan agreed Tasers, like other weapons, are not risk free.

"You can kill someone with a night stick, you can kill someone with the butt of a gun, you can kill someone with your fist, so any of these things can represent obviously some kind of risk and I think the commissioner in his evaluation of it was simply stating the obvious," the minister said.

He also acknowledged police are human beings capable of mistakes and "the right decision will not be made every time" when judging whether a Taser should be fired.

There are no common standards for Taser use among police forces across Canada and Van Loan said it is not up to the federal government to tread on provincial jurisdiction over municipal and provincial policing by insisting on common practices.

Earlier this week, the Canadian Police Association and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police held a joint news conference to defend the use of Tasers amid mounting criticism. The two police groups said there is no clear evidence that Tasers kill, and police need them to enhance public safety.

Police acknowledged, however, that Tasers, like other methods of force such as pepper spray, have been blamed for triggering a pre-existing medical condition called "excited delirium," which carries the risk of death.

The federal Liberals disputed the contention that Tasers don't kill and urged the federal government to impose a moratorium on RCMP use of the shock guns until the B.C. inquiry issues its findings.

Amnesty International has also called for a moratorium, pending further study on the safety of Tasers, which the group charges "are simply being used too often and too fast, when too little is known about them."

The guns have been blamed for being a factor in more than 20 deaths in Canada.

Tasers remain effective tool: NRP

February 27, 2009
Posted By GRANT LAFLECHE, The Standard, St. Catharine's

The number of times Niagara Regional Police have used Tasers dropped by more than half in 2008 as a result of changes to the rules under which officers can deploy the often controversial weapons.

The service has also pulled older model versions of the conducted energy weapon from service while they are tested to ensure they can be used safely.

While the changes reflect a response to ongoing concerns over the safety of the weapons and a public inquiry in Vancouver into the death of a man Tasered by the RCMP, local police say the weapons are still an essential part of their arsenal.

"Our goal is to use the least amount of force necessary (to apprehend someone)," NRP Deputy Chief Joe Matthews said. "We believe the conducted energy weapon is an effective tool to protect both the public and our officers."

On Thursday, the NRP released a report on the use of Tasers in 2008 and detailed the changes made by the service as a result of ongoing concerns over the weapons.

Tasers discharge 50,000 volts into a target, usually through two darts attached to the weapon by cords that are fired into the person.

A Taser can also be used directly against a person without the use of the darts.

The most significant change to NRP policy is the rules governing when the weapons are used.

Before July 2008, NRP officers were permitted to use Tasers when a suspect was determined to be actively resisting an officer, Matthews said.

In Ontario, the actions of police officers are determined by a "use of force" model, he said. In that model, someone who is actively resisting is someone who physically tries to prevent an officer from doing his or her job, but does not pose a threat.

"The example I like to use is someone who is going to be arrested but says, 'No, you can't make me go,' and hangs onto a lamp post or something," Matthews said. "They are not posing a risk to the officer or to anyone else."

After the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police reviewed Taser use in the province last spring, it recommended a change to that policy. The NRP, as with several Ontario police departments, complied. Since July, NRP officers carrying Tasers can use them only when a suspect displays "assaultive behaviour."

Matthews said under the use of force model, assaultive behaviour occurs when someone poses a risk to police officers or a citizen.

The NRP report also said it pulled older models of the X-26 Taser from use to be tested.

Matthews said in December 2008, a CBC report indicated some X-26 Tasers made before 2005 were discharging more volts than they should. As a result, any X-26 Taser made before Dec. 31, 2005, was taken out of service and sent to a lab for testing.

"We are still waiting for results," Matthews said. "The lab we identified is currently dealing with a backlog because of the number of services testing these devices."

The deputy chief said the changed rules resulted in the Tasers being used in 44 incidents in 2008, down from 98 in the previous year.

Currently, only NRP supervisors and members of the tactical unit are authorized to carry Tasers.

Matthews said that is a rule set out by Queen's Park and won't change until the provincial guidelines are altered.

The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police recommends all uniformed officers carry the weapons.

"That is a recommendation we support," Matthews said. "However, I am not aware of any changes coming from the province at this time."

- - -

Niagara Regional Police Taser use

Number of incidents a Taser was used:

2008 44 2007 98 2006 87

2005 50 (First year Tasers were used. Data were only collected for a six-month period.)

2008 Taser use breakdown: Total incidents: 44 Total discharges of Tasers: 54

Location of Taser use:

Outdoors 52 per cent

Indoors 29 per cent

NRP cells 14 per cent

Hospitals 5 per cent

91 per cent of those Tasered were men. Four per cent were women and four per cent were animals.

Source: NRP report Conducted Energy Weapons Statistics for 2008

RCMP memo warned of public taping of Taserings before Dziekanski

February 27, 2009
Chad Skelton, Vancouver Sun

VANCOUVER - Just weeks before the Tasering of Robert Dziekanski was caught on a bystander's video and shown around the world, B.C. RCMP warned its officers that the availability of cheap cameras and sites such as YouTube could expose them to unprecedented public scrutiny.

"The proliferation of video cellphones and easy access to Internet video sites such as YouTube makes it a simple matter for RCMP operational actions and behaviour by members to be instantaneously publicized to the world," states the report, obtained by the Vancouver Sun through the Access to Information Act.

"This creates intense scrutiny of member actions, without the filter of at least the theoretical balance that might be afforded through traditional news media telecasts.

"In addition, postings on outlets such as YouTube often quickly make it to standard news media outlets such as radio, television, and the print media."

The report, completed in mid-September 2007, goes on to note that recordings of police operations could lead to "increasingly more public exposure of RCMP member actions that some may perceive to be inappropriate."

One month after the report was written, on Oct. 14, 2007, Dziekanski died at Vancouver International Airport. A video of the incident, recorded by bystander Paul Pritchard, later became public, sparking international media attention and public outrage. B.C. RCMP spokeswoman Const. Annie Linteau said there was no particular incident that sparked the report's warning about amateur video.

The inquiry into Dziekanski's death has heard that the four RCMP officers felt threatened because the Polish immigrant had been wielding a stapler and had taken a "combative stance."

Despite discrepancies between the video evidence and the police statements, one officer denied that there was a coverup.

Dziekanski was Tasered five times for a total of 31 seconds, although the electrical probes may not have made full contact at all times. He died at the airport.

Dude, don't Tase me for this one

Well, it's nice to see that someone at The Belleville Intelligencer is making a little more sense today than the editor was yesterday. I must say, though, that yesterday's editorial and today's viewpoint from City Editor Chris Malette makes the paper appear more than a little schizophrenic. Can they really have it both ways?

February 27, 2009
City Editor, The Intelligencer

Not sure about you, but I always thought Mounties were a rough and ready bunch who always got their man -- not some bunch of two-bit rent-a-cops who Taser some poor schmuck to death so they can get back to their Tim's before it cools.

A simple request -- for any of my cop pals, cops who don't know me and would rather see me Tasered or any cop who may pull me over in the next little bit, please don't take any of this personally. I get along pretty well with most coppers, but this Taser business has still got me stumped.

I've followed coverage of the public inquiry into the 2007 death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver airport and have determined the four hapless Mounties had better not represent standard operating procedure for Tasering someone. If a few seconds of shouted commands prompts a dose of buzz juice from a ray gun, someone has to rewrite the manual.

I had a cop friend explain how you have split seconds to decide to deploy the Taser. Some are quicker than others to use it, he said. But think about the training these coppers have -- they are given instructions on how to do a quick mental checklist of the perp's behaviour before they use any manner of restraint or submission methods at their disposal.

Of course, the 9 mm deterrent is the biggie, but every-one's pretty much in agreement we don't draw on or shoot at suspects like the blue-suited pistoleros in the lower 48. But we sure have taken a shine to their handheld bug zappers, eh?

In the Dziekanski case, last December, Crown prosecutors announced that the use of force in this case was "reasonable in the circumstances" and that none of the officers would face criminal charges.

The four cops in this case gave non-English-speaking Dziekanski a few seconds to obey their English commands and when he didn't comply, they stunned him like a slaughterhouse veal calf. Swell.

One of the Mounties, Const. Gerry Rundel, said at the time, Tasers were considered safe and were on the lower end of the use-of-force guidelines, below pepper spray and batons.

He told the inquiry that he and his three fellow horsemen were called from their dinner break to deal with the unruly Polish traveller -- who'd been in transit for more than a day and trapped at the airport, confused as hell, for more than 10 hours -- and that, when Dziekanski became agitated, they felt "threatened" and feared for their safety.

Apparently, the big Pole picked up a stapler. Yes, a stapler. You know, the classic weapon of movie thugs everywhere -- a Bostich model A-200 Cop Whacker.

'Tase him, he's got office supplies!'

Crikey. It'd be laughable if it wasn't so damned tragic.

Here's a suggested game plan for this incident -- calm him down after determining if someone could communicate with him and, after the four officers working together couldn't calm him, bull rush the guy, bring him to ground, cuff him and then see if he's a little more compliant? Was that considered in this case? Nah.

Tase the guy -- not once, but twice -- and then stand around with your faces hanging out for, oh, nine or 10 minutes before medical help arrives?

The Canadian Police Association and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police came out in defence of Tasers Tuesday, declaring that every officer in the country should be authorized to carry one.

But the top cops also admitted that officers have used Tasers too often, stunned peaceful suspects, and not been transparent enough in reporting how they've used the weapon.

This all comes at an unfortunate coincidence of the trail of a Saskatchewan man into the murders of RCMP constables Robin Cameron and Marc Bourdages and the attempted murder of Const. Michelle Knopp.

No one denies cops have a tough job, have to make life and death decisions on occasion and have a variety of tools at their disposal.

But, in this case, the Mounties chose the easy, hassle-free way to bring an unruly man to heel and it cost a stranger from a strange land his life.

Fantino's act grows tiresome

February 27, 2009
MICHAEL DEN TANDT, The Standard (St. Catherines)

Julian Fantino is a big man with big ambitions. For the past 40 years he has trod the thin blue line with firmness and resolve. It's time he stopped doing that. He should be -- what's the word? Fired.

The Canadian media has always had a love-hate relationship with Fantino. Mainly it's love. Why? He's brash, tough-talking and unafraid to speak his mind. Among senior public servants he stands out like a neon sign. He's Don Cherry in a much more tasteful suit.

He is also, increasingly, an embarrassment.

Does Canada have a pressing national problem with the use of Tasers by police? Not so much. Indeed, as Tom Kaye, vice-president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, said in Ottawa this week, most police forces now agree about how the devices should be used.


It's simple: In cases where a suspect actively resists arrest, and it looks as though an innocent citizen or a police officer could be hurt, the Taser is a good option. In such situations it can and has saved lives, no question.

What Canadians do not wish to see (and this no doubt includes the vast majority of police officers) is cases in which suspects are tasered when they are not fighting and pose no apparent threat to anyone. That's what happened in the case of Polish immigrant Robert Dzienkanski.

As we all know he was surrounded by four Mounties at Vancouver airport in October of 2007 and tasered repeatedly. It was caught on video. There was no preamble and there were no apparent efforts to calm him with speech or body language before he was zapped. Afterwards he died. At last count there have been more than 20 similar deaths in Canada.

Proponents of the Taser, Fantino and Kaye among them, cite numerous studies -- 150 is the number they posited this week -- that prove the device has never directly caused anyone to die. There is no reason to disbelieve this. The voltage and amperage of these devices are not sufficient to kill a person.

The cases in which people have died following tasering, in other words, involved other factors -- a weak heart perhaps, a heart murmur, a stroke brought on by intense anger, fear or stress. People can die suddenly for any number of reasons, as Fantino said this week. Hit someone hard enough with your bare hand and there is a possibility their heart will stop.

But all that misses the point -- deliberately so, it seems to me. Few reasonable people would argue that Tasers should be banned outright, any more than they would argue that police should not carry firearms. It's a question of establishing clear guidelines for their use. The RCMP, in the wake of the Dzienkanski case, has done so. And so have most other Canadian police forces.

The upshot? There is no crisis. Nationwide, we're getting to a common-sense solution. But rather than acknowledge this (as Tom Kaye did Tuesday, to his credit) Fantino spent much of his national news time picking fights with and belittling anyone who dares to disagree with him.

Critics of Tasers, Fantino said, have never walked a beat and could not even pass basic police training. Gasp! Really? And is that the new standard for public criticism of the administration of justice in Canada? That we all be police officers or retired police officers?

True, a basic fitness requirement would rule out most journalists, because we tend to be reedy, unhealthy and flabby. Too much computer time. But what about everyone else? What about shopkeepers, bus drivers and gas station attendants? What about waitresses and university professors?

Is Uncle Julian going to make us all do pushups and crunches and run laps so that we may earn the right to disagree with his eminence? Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is no Charles Atlas, let's be honest. Is that why the Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police regularly tells his boss which laws he should write?

Enough already. Fantino clearly loves politics. It's time he pursued that full-time.

EDITORIAL: No time to expand Taser use

February 27, 2009
Times Colonist

A credibility gap is growing over Taser stun guns -- the police tool that has been linked to the deaths of more than 20 people in Canada.

Police say Tasers are safe and Canada's two main police organizations want all officers countrywide to be authorized and trained to use the weapons.

We're not that confident. As more information is revealed at the inquiry into the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport in 2007, it is becoming more difficult for police to justify their current use of the shock devices.

Tasers have become the guilt-free weapon of choice in the police arsenal. Officers continue to insist that the stun guns cause no lasting harm.

The Canadian Police Association insists Tasers save lives -- and they do, to a point. If an angry, armed person can be taken down with a Taser rather than a gun, or an officer can defend himself from an attacker by using a Taser, lives are saved.

Officers put themselves at risk every day, working to defuse dangerous situations. They deserve our support and should have all the tools that could make their work safer and easier.

But police have responsibilities as well -- and one of the most important is that they not use excessive force. They need to assess every situation independently and decide on the appropriate measures. It's not a matter of reaching for the Taser just because they can, and asking questions later. Officers should use their Tasers only when that level of force is needed.

That did not happen in the Dziekanski incident. Four police officers made no attempt to subdue a single individual who could not speak English and who was armed with nothing more than a stapler. Within seconds of arrival they zapped him, then zapped him again and again.

The officers had given evidence that Dziekanski held the stapler above his head in a threatening manner and screamed at them. The claims were proved false by video of the incident. The officers who have testified told the inquiry that they would not have done anything differently and did not act too quickly.

If this attitude is held by many others within Canada's police forces, stringent policies on Taser use are essential.

We need to know that these weapons are being held in responsible hands, not being used by officers who simply don't want to bother with less-dangerous methods of obtaining information or subduing overtired or stressed individuals.

One small detail saves us from RCMP's deception

February 27, 2009
By Ian Mulgrew, Vancouver Sun

RCMP Const. Bill Bentley did his best to appear sincere, but he stepped from the witness box Thursday at the public inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski leaving suggestions of a coverup hanging heavy in the air.

He was the second of four officers involved in the Taser-related death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver airport to acknowledge his memory is faulty and his notes and statements made in the wake of the tragedy cannot be trusted.

Both Bentley and Const. Gerry Rundel were forced to modify their original versions of events in the face of an amateur video that belied their accounts as set down in notes made the night of the fatal confrontation or in later statements to investigators.

They claim lack of sleep and stress caused them to misrepresent what happened.

That is hard to believe. They are supposed to be professional police officers and this is their stock in trade.

It has been a bad week for the national police force at the provincial inquiry conducted by former B.C. Court of Appeal justice Thomas Braidwood.

Even Bentley's attempted apology Wednesday was dismissed as insincere, a stunt to dampen criticism of his colleague's hard-hearted and embittered performance.

The young officer was talking about photographs he had taken Oct. 14, 2007, shortly after Dziekanski was jolted five times with a Taser.

Realizing he was out of time for the day, his lawyer David Butcher abruptly asked if the cop had anything to say to Dziekanski's mother, Zofia Cisowski.

Bentley sat silent for a moment before replying: "That I'm sorry for her loss and that my heart goes out to her and her family."

Cisowski, who has sat in tears for much of the testimony by the officers, was more insulted than touched.

Outside the courtroom, she said: "I was close to him, and I said I didn't accept. I don't accept any sorry, it's too late."

Who can blame her?

What is emerging at the inquiry about the culture within the RCMP is far more troubling than even the horrifying video that captured the 40-year-old man's agonizing final moments.

The Mounties seem to have gone out of their way to portray Dziekanski as more aggressive and menacing than he was to after-the-fact justify their use of the conducted energy weapon.

The police officers involved gathered several weeks after the event and shared their stories and experiences.

But mostly from an emotional point of view, as Bentley put it; not so they could all sing from the same song sheet. Hmmmm.

I am coming to believe that if the video did not exist, the original slanted police version of what happened here might very well have carried the day.

Dziekanski was calm when the four Mounties confronted him. Yet, quickly, in an intimidating manner, they encircled him and within 26 seconds of arriving on the scene they Tasered him.

Dziekanski began to scream and his body convulsed with involuntary spasms. As he fell to the ground, he was Tasered a second time.

While he continued howling and writhing on the floor, Dziekanski was jolted three more times.

Even Bentley acknowledged that once Dziekanski was down, there was no need for a second discharge.

After the two zaps delivered via probes on the end of two wires, the Taser was apparently held against Dziekanski's body and discharged in "pain compliance" mode. In all, it was purportedly discharged in total for 31 seconds -- longer than the officers gave themselves to assess the situation or "build rapport," as Bentley put it.

Neither officer was able to clearly explain the urgency or what Dziekanski did to warrant their explosive response.

Lawyer Walter Kosteckyj, who represents Dziekanski's mom, and Don Rosenbloom, lawyer for the Polish government, hammered the RCMP over their reaction and response to the disoriented Polish immigrant.

The Mounties appear to have been looking for a fight that night and afterwards to have cast Dziekanski as a man running amok to justify their actions.

Lawyer Kosteckyj -- a former Mountie -- sniped: "You've heard of the CYA principle?"

"Cover your butt, yes," Const. Bentley replied. "There was no coverup, if that's what you're getting at."

No, none whatsoever: Thankfully in this case, someone had a camera.

Supreme Court could decide the future of Tasers

February 27, 2009

With a Washington County deputy struggling to force him to his feet, Jesse Buckley didn't kick, flail his cuffed hands or try to run.

He wept.

That was enough for Buckley, arrested after refusing to sign a speeding citation, to receive three, 50,000-volt shocks from Deputy Jonathan Rackard's Taser as he screamed and rolled around on the ground.

Recorded by a camera from inside Rackard's police cruiser, the 2004 North Florida incident has been seen by more than 25,000 on YouTube.com and could become an integral part of the controversial debate over the increased use of shock devices.

The clip is evidence in the case of Buckley v. Haddock, a complaint submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court that could lead to the high court's first ruling on Tasers.

Should the high court decide to hear the case, Florida will find itself back in the forefront in the ongoing debate over the use of stun guns, which temporarily paralyze their victims. Police say the weapon is the safest way to quash a tense situation or bring down an unruly subject. But medical experts debate its health hazards or lack-there-of and judicial panels continue to issue rulings on cases involving alleged abuse of the weapon.

Miami was the city Taser International, the largest manufacturer of stun guns, chose to launch its civilian push in 2005.

Likening Rackard's use of the weapon to a cattle prod, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida filed the petition earlier this month after an 11th Judicial Circuit panel last year ruled the use of the Taser against Buckley was not excessive.

Maria Kayanan, associate legal director of ACLU of Florida, said that as it stands, the ruling could sanction abuse of the weapon by Florida's law enforcement.

But just as important, attorneys say, is that a Supreme Court ruling on the case could affect Taser use by law enforcement throughout the country.

''Any ruling by the Supreme Court on use of a Taser would have significant nationwide implications,'' Kayanan said.

It was in Gainesville where Andrew Meyer made ''Don't Tase me, Bro'' a catch phrase after a clip of University of Florida police shocking him with a Taser during a John Kerry Q&A made it onto YouTube.com.

And last December, Miami-Dade and Broward counties received the dubious notoriety of making an Amnesty International list of the top-10 counties where the most Taser-related deaths occurred over an seven-year period.

The recently released USA: Less than Lethal? report reviewed 334 deaths in the United States involving Tasers between 2001 and 2008. Of those deaths, 52 were in Florida. Six died in Broward and five in Miami-Dade.

Researchers behind the study have called for greater regulation in the use of stun guns and further research.

''It should be considered a potentially lethal weapon and there hasn't been enough research yet,'' said Angela Wright, an Amnesty International researcher. ``There has to be strict control of their use.''

In Broward County alone, there are more than 2,500 Tasers available for law enforcement officers, as every police department has purchased the weapons. Even the quiet village of Key Biscayne purchased an order of the stun guns in January.

Steve Tuttle, spokesman for Taser International, said the comparisons to torture devices and statements that research has been scant are misleading.

Tuttle noted that the Amnesty International study was admittedly unscientific and that of the 334 deaths reviewed in the study, an overwhelming majority were found to have been caused by a high dosage of stimulants or preexisting health disorders.

Tuttle acknowledged that as a law enforcement tool, a Taser can be abused just like a baton or pepper spray, but he also said if a Taser is used in an improper way, it is difficult for law enforcement to hide the truth.

''No other product has a chip that records the time, rate and duration of an application,'' Tuttle said. ``We put that in there as a law enforcement tool. It's an audit that's a double-edged sword. If an officer is lying, he's going to get caught.''

And even as some studies question the use of Tasers, independent research done by universities such as Florida Gulf Coast University and Wake Forest University suggest the weapon not only is safe for use, but also saves officers and suspects from injuries.

''Right now, it does seem to be the best tool for the job and success rates are pretty high,'' said Charlie Mesloh, director of the Weapons and Equipment Research Institute at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Mesloh reviewed Taser deployments among Orlando police and Orange County sheriff's deputies during a three-year period and said he found that an officer would have been justified in using a gun during 500 out of 4,303 cases in which a Taser was used.

Even critics agree that the Tasers can serve a useful role, often leaving the debate to focus on how and when the device should be used and on whom.

''That is the critical question because the Taser can produce benefits and has potential for detrimental outcomes,'' said Lorie Fridell, a board member of the ACLU of Florida and a criminology professor at the University of South Florida.

But weighing the pros and cons is difficult because there is no way to quantify how many lives the device has saved.

''It's so much easier to measure the number of people who have died after Taser use than it is to measure and document lives that were saved because a Taser was used,'' Fridell said.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Mountie denies coverup at Taser inquiry

February 26, 2009
Neal Hall, Canwest News Service
VANCOUVER -- The lawyer representing the Polish government at the Braidwood inquiry punched a large hole on Thursday in the police justification for using a Taser against an immigrant at the Vancouver International Airport in 2007.

Richmond RCMP Constable Bill Bentley conceded under vigorous cross-examination that one of his colleagues could be seen on video using a hand signal to direct Robert Dziekanski to stand by a counter.

Const. Bentley denied he was part of an RCMP coverup of the circumstances surrounding Mr. Dziekanski's death, which made headlines around the world.

A day earlier, Const. Bentley testified he feared for his safety after Mr. Dziekanski disobeyed a police command, threw up his arms in the air and appeared to walk away from the officers, which he saw as an act of defiance.

But lawyer Don Rosenbloom, representing the Polish government, took Const. Bentley through an amateur video of the incident frame by frame, pointing out that Mr. Dziekanski, after "shrugging," is directed by another officer, RCMP Corporal Benjamin Robinson, to stand over by a counter.

Mr. Dziekanski does so and is surrounded by the four uniformed officers. When Mr. Dziekanski grabbed a stapler off the counter and swung it in front of him, Const. Bentley pulled out his police baton.

At the same time, RCMP Constable Kwesi Millington fired his Taser at Mr. Dziekanski, who was exhausted after leaving Poland about 30 hours earlier.

Mr. Rosenbloom asked the officer if he thought he and his colleagues handled the situation inappropriately.

"No, I don't think we did," Const. Bentley told the inquiry, which is probing the death of Mr. Dziekanski on Oct. 14, 2007.

The witness said he thought Mr. Dziekanski was only Tasered twice. He didn't realize the Taser was fired five times for a total of 31 seconds, although the probes may not have connected to Mr. Dziekanski's body the entire time.

He recalled the first shot failed to cause Mr. Dziekanski to fall, so Cpl. Robinson told Const. Millington: "Hit him again."

But Const. Bentley conceded when the video was played, Mr. Dziekanski falls to the ground screaming after six seconds.

"So the second Taser shot was not necessary," Mr. Rosenbloom suggested.

"Yes, perhaps," Const. Bentley replied. He said under further questioning that his initial police statement was erroneous when he stated two other officers brought down Mr. Dziekanski because he was "fighting through" being Tasered.

The lawyer pointed out that Mr. Dziekanski had no voluntary control of his muscles as he fell as he was Tasered.

Const. Bentley said Mr. Dziekanski's screaming and the look on his face suggested he was "fighting through it."

Mr. Rosenbloom suggested the look on Mr. Dziekanski face and his screaming could have been caused by the extreme pain of the Taser.

"It could be both. It depends how you interpret it," Const. Bentley replied.

Asked by Mr. Rosenbloom if he had ever discussed the incident with the three other Mounties involved, Const. Bentley said he did - at a critical incident debriefing weeks after the incident. He couldn't recall the date but it might have occurred after the amateur video was publicly released, he said.

A police psychologist attended, along with two other officers, including Richmond RCMP Corporal Nycki Basra, Const. Bentley added.

"Everyone gave their version of events," he said of the four officers, adding they talked about their feelings caused by the incident.

Commission counsel Art Vertlieb later arose to tell commissioner Thomas Braidwood, a retired judge, that it was the first time he had heard of the debriefing and asked the RCMP to produce any notes or record of the meeting.

Earlier in the day, under questioning by Walter Kosteckyj, the lawyer representing Mr. Dziekanski's mother, Const. Bentley denied he was involved in a coverup.

He testified his recollection of the events leading to Mr. Dziekanski's death changed after seeing the amateur video on Nov. 14, 2007, so he contacted police investigators to give another statement on Nov. 22.

"You've heard of the CYA principle?" asked Mr. Kosteckyj.

"Cover your butt, yes," Const. Bentley replied. "There was no coverup, if that's what you're getting at."

Const. Bentley said seeing the video "refreshed my memory and I wanted to set the record straight."

The cause of death of Mr. Dziekanski, 40, was listed as "sudden death following restraint."

He had no drugs or alcohol in his system that night. He had spent about 10 hours in the airport, unable to find his mother.

He had never been on a plane before and came to Canada to live with his mother, who had waited hours at the airport but eventually returned home to Kamloops after being told by officials that her son could not be located.

The Crown announced last December that no charges would be laid against the officers, who were justified in their use of force.

The inquiry will resume on Monday with the testimony of Const. Millington, who deployed the Taser.

Raphael Alexander: The Dziekanski Debacle

February 26, 2009
The National Post

Prior to the Braidwood Inquiry, there was already some damning information regarding the October 2007 homicide of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski by four RCMP officers. There was ample eyewitness testimony, as well as a video tape that the RCMP seized and did not release publicly for several months. In that video one can see a distraught Mr.Dziekanski who appears frustrated, frightened and confused. His actions do not seem aggressive, but defensive. Here is a man who doesn’t speak any English, has been trapped in an airport without any help for 10 hours in a strange country whilst trying to find his mother, and he begins to “lose control”. In the video one can see the four RCMP officers approach Mr.Dziekanski, and by all observable universal body language, appears to surrender. And yet within 30 seconds of confrontation, the Polish immigrant is writhing on the floor while four officers pin him to the ground. In what would be yet more horrific revelations, the RCMP officers did not administer CPR and refused to allow first responders to attempt resuscitation.

Not only were none of the officers charged, they were not even placed under suspension, and their fraternal leadership issued an immediate statement backing up the actions of officers. In fact the crown even said that the police used “reasonable force” under the circumstances. Reasonable force, as it turns out, that is becoming less and less reasonable under witness testimony in the Braidwood Inquiry.

The first mistake appears to be the fact that the four officers approached the man without any game plan whatsoever. Without any consultation with local witnesses or on scene security, Constable Gerry Rundel testified “I don’t recall anything being said” before they proceeded to question the man. A witness even told the Constable that Mr.Dziekanski did not speak English, yet the officers have testified they approached him and asked him questions in English without seeking a translator.

The next thing the officers did was blast Mr. Dziekanski, five times, without any warning at all. Even had the man been able to speak English, the officers simply blasted him with the taser, later testifying there was “no time” to decide on any other course of action. And yet in the very rules of engagement involving these weapons, it warns against multiple taser blasts, and to allow the victim space to breath and recover from the shock after engagement. The fact that Constable Rundel told the Inquiry “[we] acted and responded appropriately” should send shivers down the spine of every Canadian, because it means that not only will these police officers escape responsibility for the negligent homicide of Mr.Dziekanski, they cannot even admit to the errors in judgment that led to the murder.

We hear that there was “no time” to assess Mr.Dziekanski prior to his murder. And yet here was a man who had been in the airport for 10 hours without causing any injury to an individuals person, nor was he aggressive to anyone in particular [he was violent with inanimate objects]. If one thing is clear from the video, time was not a factor at all to these officers. Had they interviewed eyewitnesses, security guards, or called for the area to be cordoned off and an interpreter called, it is a certainty that Mr.Dziekanski would be alive today.

We’re also led to believe that four RCMP police officers, supposedly trained in these types of confrontations, felt their safety was in great peril and needed to act immediately by tasering the victim five times within 30 seconds of meeting a man who didn’t speak any English. Four men trained in subduing aggressive criminals did not decide to consult one another, or the eyewitnesses, or back off and try to calm Mr.Dziekanski down. No. They were clearly all of one mind: take Robert Dziekanski down first, and ask questions later. And what was the source of their terribly irrational fear of one single man with a chair being held as a shield in front of him? A stapler, we’re to believe. Four highly trained men were afraid of a single man in an area free of any other bystanders, because he had a “glazed look” in his eye and was holding a stapler.

The epic failings in Mr.Dziekanski’s homicide doesn’t stop there. Even as Richmond firefighters testified that the RCMP police wouldn’t take the handcuffs off an unconscious and unbreathing Mr. Dziekanski, the airport manager failed to call their own emergency on site airport EMS crew. And now, instead of admitting the mistakes that were made, and perhaps working toward finding ways to eliminate future incidents, the police in question say they “regret” what happened, but wouldn’t have done anything differently. This means that anyone who is having a bad day [say, for instance, you have a horrible flight and your luggage is lost and you get angry and upset enough that security or RCMP respond] can wind up in a pine box because you’re tasered on contact.

Trying to deflect the blame for these events is appalling. There is no justification for the way Canada failed Mr. Dziekanski, but we certainly don’t have to continue failing his memory by obfuscating what happened. The sooner we admit that the police can make grievous errors causing death, the sooner we can find a way to mitigate future incidents, and allow his mother to begin healing. An admission of wrong-doing from the RCMP and an apology to Sofia Cisowski is in order.

EDITORIAL: Keep politicans away from taser guidelines

Here is the DISTORTED LOGIC I am up against in my own city - the old, dusty "tasers are better than guns" argument. Today's editorial in the Belleville Intelligencer clearly shows how poorly educated the editorial staff are on this subject.

Quite coincidentally, just a couple of weeks ago, I briefly met the Intelligencer's new Editor, Bill Glisky, at a local business mixer. I followed up a few days later with an e-mail to him, to introduce him to my alter-ego (Truth not tasers) and to invite him to get together with me to talk "tasers".

I guess this is his way of saying "no thanks - our narrow minds are made up. Tasers are ... better than guns."

Today, I'm embarrassed to be a citizen of the city of Belleville.

To read some more reasoned and intelligent editorials, see, for example:

Toronto Star: Police stun guns need a high bar

Globe and Mail: Dangerously blank slates

Vancouver Sun: Police agencies wrong to shoot the messenger

February 26, 2009

Benjamin Franklin once quipped, "In this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes." To this list, we would like to add two more certainties: that given a choice, getting hit by a Taser is better than getting shot and given a choice we are better off having police decide such issues than politicians.

An inquiry is currently under way in the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, who was stunned by a Taser at Vancouver's airport and died.

In part due to the outcry from this inquiry, Canada's main police associations have launched a vigourous defence of Tasers and declared that every officer should be authorized to carry one.

The Canadian Police Association and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police held a news conference Tuesday to outline a 13-point position paper on conducted energy weapons.

They spent almost the whole event defending the devices, and lashed out at claims they're potentially deadly. They cited two cases where Tasers might have stopped people from killing themselves.

To their credit, the police also acknowledged that Tasers had been used too often. And they conceded that the weapon has been used in cases where suspects presented no threat.

"Everybody is basically coming around to the point where they've agreed that there has to be some active resistance on people's behalf," said Tom Kaye, vice-president of the association of police chiefs.

"It's got to be some kind of assaultive, combative behaviour. There's got to be some threat to the officers or some threat to the public ... I'm not saying that's always been the case."

To help officers use the weapons more responsibly, the associations are calling for better training and for government-mandated guidelines on Taser use, training, and transparent reporting.

The police associations' guidelines dovetail with a new RCMP policy announced this month that Tasers should only be used in cases involving threats to officers or public safety. The new rules clearly set out that Mounties can't zap suspects for simple resistance or refusing to co-operate.

That makes sense to us, as does the call for better training and clear guidelines on how to use Tasers.

What doesn't makes sense are opposition critics suggesting a national review to establish guidelines before more police get Tasers. Those critics seem to be ignorant of the alternatives here -- which in too many cases is a police officer risking his own life or having to draw his gun to deal with a situation.

As bad as Tasers might be -- and clearly their use can have serious consequences -- they are still many, many times safer than guns.

Given a choice between a officer feeling the need to draw his gun and that same officer instead being able to draw his Taser, we will take the Taser every time.

Amnesty International has decried an information vacuum surrounding Tasers and wants their use limited until it sees satisfactory studies on their potential impact.

The problem is we know the potential impact of the alternative and we don't think that alternative is acceptable.

Nor do we think it acceptable for people sitting comfortably in government offices to be making decisions that can put police officers lives at risk.

The police know what they are doing -- their willingness to adjust their policies on Taser use shows that. Politicians should butt out and let them go about doing it.

My response:

Government should set standards for use of Tasers
Re: Keep politicians away from Taser guidelines (Feb. 26)

For years, I have advocated for needed changes to the way Tasers are used in Canada, after my brother was Tasered and died in 2004. In addition to maintaining a website which is sourced daily by police, government, media and ordinary people worldwide, I have also -- by invitation -- spoken to a House of Commons committee and various media on the subject.

At a time when not only our media but Canadians in general appear mostly unanimous in their condemnation of the egregious overuse and abuse of Tasers in this country, the editor chose to drag out the crusty old "Tasers are better than guns" argument.

That argument is so 10 years ago, when Tasers were initially approved for use in Canada as an alternative to lethal force.

However, in the intervening years, our police have loosened their policies to the point where today, Tasers are used not as an alternative to lethal force, but as an unpredictable weapon of mass convenience, used in a vast majority of cases where lethal force would never be considered.

When did certain death by bullet or potential death by Taser become our only two choices?

In mid-February, the RCMP finally admitted Tasers do carry a risk of death and announced the federal police force has tightened its policies.

Little more than a week later, while announcing a joint Taser report from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the Canadian Police Association, police conceded the weapons have been incorrectly used, but proceeded to attack the weapon's critics.

What we are left with is a palpable credibility gap and a disconnect between what Canadians want and what police would impose.

That is why now is precisely the right time for government to step in and mop up this mess. The need for stringent nationwide policies and oversight measures has never been so great.

Police officers do have a difficult job and they deserve nothing less than clear, unequivocal guidelines.

You opened your editorial with a quote from Benjamin Franklin about the certainty of death and taxes, and so I close with another quote from Franklin: "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Taser's Delirium Defense

By Bernice Yeung
Mother Jones - March/April 2009

By all accounts, Patrick Lee was having too good a time at the Mercy Lounge, a Nashville rock club. He'd commenced the September 2005 evening by dropping a few hits of acid. Before long, the 21-year-old was tripping and determined to climb onstage. A bouncer eighty-sixed him and called the cops, who, according to witnesses, found Lee outside the club, babbling incoherently. Things went downhill fast. Lee made a move toward an officer and was hit with pepper spray. He ran a few feet and stripped off his clothes. The cops deployed their Tasers­, jolting Lee 19 times in all. By the time paramedics arrived, witnesses say, he was unresponsive. He died 39 hours later. The cause, a county medical examiner concluded, was "excited delirium."

For the past five years, this has been a common conclusion in deadly incidents involving Tasers, and the nation's top seller of electric stun guns prefers it that way; Taser International Inc. has twice sued medical examiners who cited its products as a contributing factor in a subject's death. At the same time, the company aggressively promotes awareness of excited delirium, an ill-defined condition that helps it fend off lawsuits. Thanks partly to testimony from a cast of ED proponents, several with financial ties to the company, Taser has lost just one wrongful-death case at trial out of 33 filed against it since 2001. (Dozens more lawsuits are pending.)

Taser's lone courtroom defeat, which it may appeal, involves Robert Heston, a California meth user who died after 25 jolts. Last June, the family's lawyers convinced a jury that Heston most likely died not of ED, but rather of cardiac arrest due to metabolic acidosis—a temporary state in agitated individuals that may be exacerbated by excessive Tasering, recent animal studies indicate. But in January, a suit by Patrick Lee's parents was dismissed after Taser argued that excited delirium was the culprit. "We look at excited delirium as a responsibility-shifting mechanism," says Peter Williamson, an attorney for the Hestons. "It's a way for the police department, the officer, and Taser to shift responsibility to the victim."

The company insists its devices never kill, but Amnesty International, the only organization to have compiled data on the issue, says there have been 334 fatalities following Taser jolts since 2001. In 69 of these cases, autopsy reports specifically cited ED as a cause of death.

"Of all in-custody deaths [not involving firearms], excited delirium syndrome is the most common form," notes Vincent Di Maio, a Taser expert witness, retired Texas medical examiner, and coauthor of the 2005 book Excited Delirium Syndrome: Cause of Death and Prevention.

But as a medical condition, the term is meaningless. "We have no idea what any of the causes are, what the biology behind it might be, what underlies it, how being in this state leads to death with supposedly some intervention with a Taser or other force," says Matthew Stanbrook, a faculty member at the University of Toronto medical school.

Purported ED signs range from "bizarre" behavior to sweating and high body temperature, attraction to shiny objects or glass, foaming at the mouth, a penchant for disrobing, aggression, and superhuman strength. Such symptoms could result from "alcohol withdrawal, acute schizophrenia, bipolar disease, stimulant drug intoxication, psychological illness plus stimulant drugs, hypoglycemia, an infection of the brain. I could go on," says Christine Hall, a Canadian ER physician who researches in-custody deaths.

"The bottom line is this," says Andrew Dennis, a Chicago surgeon, part-time police officer, and medical researcher who coauthored three studies of Taser's effects on swine. "You have a lot of people who are acting psychotic, and often law enforcement is asked to deal with them. Some subgroup of this population is going to die, and we don't know why. This potential at-risk group is the quote-unquote excited delirium group. But there are no common threads to identify this at-risk group. As far as I'm concerned, everything discussed about excited delirium is conjecture."

None of these concerns have stopped Taser from talking up ED in training sessions, literature, and court filings. The company attends conferences for police chiefs and medical examiners, where it distributes ED-related literature, and has doled out free copies of Di Maio's book. It also sends unsolicited materials to medical examiners when an in-custody death occurs in their jurisdiction. In 2002, Taser released a statement for police to use if someone died in a Taser-related incident. "We regret the unfortunate loss of life," it begins. "There are many cases where excited delirium caused by various mental disorders or medical conditions, that may or may not include drug use, can lead to a fatal conclusion."

The expression first appeared in medical documents in the 1800s, and for a time it was associated with deaths in asylums. It fell into disuse during the 1950s and was revived in the 1980s, essentially to describe the agitated state of cocaine addicts. Since then, ED has been the subject of dozens of articles aimed at law enforcement. (Among the authors are Jeffrey Ho, an ER doctor whom Taser pays to conduct studies and testify—he got $70,000 during a recent 12-month stretch—and Mark Kroll, a member of Taser's science advisory board who has cashed in at least $2.5 million in company stock options.)

The term has also gained traction among medical examiners and coroners. "People are looking for an explanation for some of these deaths," notes Stanbrook, "and this syndrome provides an answer that's convenient." (In an unpublished survey last year by a national medical examiners group, 67 of 187 MEs said Taser's litigi­ousness would affect their conclusions in cases involving stun guns.) Last October, prompted by the term's growing popularity in law enforcement, the American College of Emergency Physicians resolved to study whether ED should be considered as a diagnosis.

Several people I spoke with credit Taser for helping popularize excited delirium. Dennis, the surgeon-cop, first heard the term, he says, at a company training session five years ago; Shao-Hua Lu, a psychiatrist who treats addicts at Vancouver General Hospital, hadn't heard of ED before 2007, when he began working on a Canadian government probe of Taser safety. "No [practicing] medical doctor would write down 'delirium' on a death certificate as a cause of death," says Lu, who trains Canadian Mounties to identify mental health problems, including various forms of delirium, in their subjects. "I don't understand why MEs would write that."

Taser insists that any corporate outreach involving ED relates to safe use of its products. "We don't teach anything about excited delirium," says spokesman Steve Tuttle. "We let law enforcement agencies know that they need to be aware of it."

But the company is remarkably tight with America's foremost ED training and advocacy business. The Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Deaths (ipicd) was cofounded by police trainer John Peters and an old acquaintance, Michael Brave, Taser's national litigation counsel.

At the time, Peters later stated in a deposition, he was reworking his firm's training regimen after hearing from other stun-gun merchants. "Some of the manufacturers said, you know, '[Police departments] are paying out lots of money in these lawsuits, and it's hurting us because they don't have money left over to buy our product.'"

In 2005, Peters filed corporate papers for the ipicd listing himself and Brave as the founding directors. Within six months, the institute was leading eight-hour sessions at Taser's Scottsdale, Arizona, compound, teaching cops to recognize ED and often touting Tasers as the most effective tool for subduing agitated individuals. In the first two years, Brave estimated in a deposition, Taser paid $70,000 to $80,000 for the sessions. To date, Peters says, the ipicd has certified some 10,000 officers worldwide as in-custody death prevention instructors.

Taser also pays the way for Peters and ipicd instructor David Berman to speak at outside conferences, directs business Peters' way, and helps plug the ipicd's annual conference in Las Vegas, where past presenters have included Taser-backed researchers and employees. A flyer for last October's three-day shindig, which drew 250 attendees, promised the "historic" opportunity to help form a "general consensus about excited delirium that will then be published in leading medical, legal, and law enforcement journals." As an expert witness for Taser, Peters charges $5,000 plus $2,750 per day; in 2007, he was paid about $42,000.

Peters sees nothing inappropriate about his Taser connections. "We are not aligned with them at all," he says, although "we did not distinguish ourselves enough" at the start. (Brave, now listed as an inactive director, says he remains a legal adviser at ipicd.) In any case, the institute will continue in its quest to entrench ED as a medical and psychological diagnosis, Peters says, "to quiet these folks" who don't believe it exists.

These folks include Heston attorney John Burton, who, not surprisingly, finds the ipicd/Taser bond problematic. "These guys want to help the police stop killing people, and they're trying to build a liability defense for when they do," he says. "The two things are in direct conflict."

Brave, for his part, has nothing but contempt for the company's critics. "How much more damage are we going to do to police officers by continuing to put forth this ignorant rhetoric?" he asks. "A druggie's mommy hires a plaintiff's attorney, and now we need to blame someone. Do we blame the person who sold them the drugs or the mommy who let them take the drugs or the kid who actually took the drugs? No. We blame the police and Taser, because they were present at the time of death."

Feds told RCMP to consider skipping Taser inquiry

February 25, 2009
Chad Skelton, Canwest News Service

VANCOUVER - Senior RCMP officers were advised to consider skipping the Taser inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski because B.C. has no authority to investigate a federal police force, according to internal e-mails obtained by the Vancouver Sun.

However, Deputy Commissioner Gary Bass, the RCMP's top cop in B.C., dismissed the idea, saying the force should voluntarily participate, regardless of jurisdictional concerns.

"Frankly, I don't care what Ottawa's position on it is at this stage," Bass wrote in an e-mail on Feb. 19, 2008, the day after B.C. Attorney General Wally Oppal announced the inquiry. "The provincial force will co-operate."

In an interview Wednesday, RCMP spokesman Sgt. Tim Shields said Bass's reference to Ottawa referred to the Department of Justice, which advised the Mounties they were not legally required to attend.

Two weeks before Bass's e-mail, on Feb. 1, 2008, B.C. RCMP Chief Supt. Dick Bent - deputy head of criminal operations - sent an e-mail to federal Deputy Commissioner Bill Sweeney, the RCMP's second-in-command in Ottawa.

The e-mail, obtained by the Vancouver Sun through the Access to Information Act, outlined Bent's concerns about the RCMP participating in a provincial inquiry.

"The obvious question is with respect to the jurisdiction of the province to have an enquiry into any federal government agency/department," Bent wrote.

The e-mail, which was copied to Bass, noted that Bent had recently had a meeting with RCMP Complaints Commissioner Paul Kennedy when the issue of jurisdiction came up.

"It was Paul Kennedy who said that there are a number of court cases which are clear that the provinces have no authority to investigate or hold enquiries into federal departments," the e-mail said. "He went on to say that it is his belief that even if we wished to co-operate, that the RCMP, or any other government entity, may not be able to waive that jurisdictional issue."

Bent closed his e-mail by writing: "Part of me feels that we need to be as transparent and co-operative as possible and hate to be seen as saying, ‘Sorry province, but you don't have jurisdiction.' " However, he added, "There are, as you well understand, larger issues here which potentially affect other federal government agencies, not just the RCMP."

Despite those concerns, Bass ordered the release of a statement the day after Oppal's announcement, confirming the RCMP would co-operate.

In an internal e-mail attached to that statement, Bass wrote: "I think we should avoid any legalistic jargon which leaves any room for suggestion that we may opt out at some point or under some circumstances."

Shields said Wednesday that Bass was always committed to participating in the inquiry, and Bent's e-mail was meant only to outline the legal issues involved.

"There was never a question that we would not participate," he said.

Shields added it is the B.C. RCMP's policy to participate in any provincial inquiry it is asked to attend.

"Technically, as it's written under the law, because we're a federal agency, we (don't) have to participate," he said. "But we . . . have a moral duty to be transparent, open and accountable to the citizens of British Columbia."

EDITORIAL: Tighten rules on stun gun use

February 26, 2009

We Canadians ask a great deal of our police officers. We expect them to be cool-headed, rational thinkers capable of calming a chaotic situation, and while we understand that they are capable of showing their negative emotions just like the rest of us, we do expect more of them. We expect them to quickly size up any difficult situation and, acting on the best information available, quickly restore order.

In addition, we accept that our police officers need to carry weapons -- notably guns, nightsticks and, only just recently, stun guns manufactured under the brand name Taser. And no reasonable person would suggest that our officers not use those weapons to protect their own lives or the lives of other citizens.

Lately, however, one of those weapons -- the stun gun -- has taken on a sinister reputation. Its use by Canadian police officers has been linked to more than 20 deaths, including that of a Polish citizen at the Vancouver airport in 2007. That death is currently the subject of a British Columbia justice department inquiry.

It is to be hoped that the police forces across this country learn from this inquiry, and accept whatever judgment is passed on the use of stun guns. The RCMP has already acknowledged that the use of stun guns could potentially kill, and has announced that Tasers will only be used on people who display a clear threat to the public or the police. Good for them.

In light of this, it is especially disturbing to read of the positions taken by the Canadian Police Association and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police who have launched a vigorous defence of the use of Tasers. Spokesmen for the two organizations spent much of a Tuesday news conference in Ottawa defending the use of the devices, and lashing out at critics' claims that the conducted-energy devices can be deadly.

Especially troubling, in light of evidence to the contrary, are comments made at the news conference by Ontario Provincial Police Chief Julian Fantino. "Tasers save lives and that's the bottom line." he said. "We decided to set the record straight.''

Yet officers at the news conference could not produce a single research document endorsing their point of view.

The facts are these. In most cases, when a stun gun is used on a young, healthy man, it acts to temporarily disable him without any long-term damage. But in some cases, perhaps if someone is weakened by disease or suffering from a pre-existing heart condition, the use of stun guns can and has been followed by death. There is almost no way a police officer responding to an emergency situation can know the medical history of an unruly citizen.

Guns, without question, can kill. Officers' nightsticks, depending on the nature of the altercation, can also deliver a fatal blow. And it's not inconceivable that an officer simply tackling a suspect could cause a fatal injury. While each of these scenarios is regrettable, the public understands that police need to be able to protect themselves and the community, and that the use of force is sometimes necessary to meet this goal.

What we now need from our police community is the acknowledgment that the use of stun guns can potentially be lethal, and that they should be used only in extreme circumstances.

Our police officers also have to understand that the public's criticism and concern about the use of Tasers is not an attack on the police officers themselves. It is a heartfelt plea for public safety.

Training taught officer any object can be a weapon, probe hears

February 26, 2009
Ian Bailey, Globe and Mail

VANCOUVER — The Braidwood inquiry into the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski received new lessons from the Mounties yesterday on how staplers can be dangerous weapons.

The probe into Mr. Dziekanski's demise in October, 2007, is focusing on the office implement, among other issues, because he was tasered and tackled by four Mounties after he began brandishing a stapler he had picked up during a confrontation in the international arrivals area of Vancouver airport.

Yesterday, Constable Gerry Rundel got into some specifics about why he thought the 40-year-old Mr. Dziekanski, exhausted after more than 24 hours travelling to Canada and 10 hours lost at the airport, was a danger because of the stapler.

Constable Rundel said his training taught him that any object - including a stapler - can become a weapon because it can be thrown or used to bolster a punch. He noted that Mr. Dziekanski had taken a combative posture against the officers, who were six to eight feet away.

"There's no doubt in my mind that he took up the combative stance," he said, "and he had every intent to injure, attempt to injure, harm police officers and anybody else in the public in the area that he would have access to was also a possibility.

"No doubt in my mind."

For the first time, the inquiry and the public are hearing from the four Mounties involved in the confrontation, which ended with the death of a handcuffed Mr. Dziekanski. The cause has been listed as "sudden death following restraint." No drugs or alcohol were found in his system.

When Mr. Dziekanski brandished the stapler, he was tasered twice, tackled, cuffed and tasered three more times. The inquiry heard yesterday that Mr. Dziekanski was tasered for a total of 31 seconds - one six-second burst; a five-second burst; a five-second burst; a nine-second burst, and a final six-second burst.

But it remained unclear yesterday how many of those blasts actually connected with Mr. Dziekanski and for what duration.

Constable Rundel, noting that police struggled to handcuff Mr. Dziekanski, said he feared what might have happened had the man fled the area where he was surrounded by police. "He could have injured, hurt other members of the public. He was not in a frame of mind that he was thinking rationally," he said. "The amount of energy I experienced that he had, if he was to use that in any other way on members of the public, that was a dangerous situation."

Constable Bill Bentley offered his sympathies to Mr. Dziekanski's mother, Zofia Cisowski, who was attending the hearing. "I'm sorry for her loss. My heart goes out to her and her family," he said.

Outside the inquiry, Ms. Cisowski flatly rejected the apology, and said she told Constable Bentley as much in court.

"I was close to him, and I said I didn't accept," said Ms. Cisowski.

"I don't accept any sorry, it's too late."

Constable Bentley also said the stapler was a threat, noting Mr. Dziekanski swung it at officers.

"Do you recall any staples being discharged?" Inquiry counsel Patrick McGowan asked Constable Bentley.


Constable Bentley added that Mr. Dziekanski picked up the stapler and swung it at officers. "That's all I remember," he said. Constable Bentley said he pulled out his baton when Mr. Dziekanski turned on the officers with the stapler. He was seen in a widely screened bystanders' videotape of the confrontation slamming the baton down on the floor near Mr. Dziekanski's head after he was cuffed.

EDITORIAL: Show us that Tasers save lives

February 26, 2009
The Province

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the Canadian Police Association issued a joint position at a Parliament Hill news conference Tuesday on the use of Tasers.

The groups' position called on all officers nationwide to be authorized and trained in the use of this weapon, calling Tasers "a valuable use-of-force option available to police to reduce the risk of injury or death."

Julian Fantino, the Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police, told reporters that "Tasers save lives," and that 150 studies worldwide prove "there is no direct link in any case" between the use of a Taser and a death.

When asked to reveal the studies, Chief Fantino offered the glib response that he had no intention of doing the media's homework.

Sounds a lot like the tobacco industry in the 1970s, doesn't it?

Here are some questions for the nation's police departments to consider:

If Tasers save lives and if Tasers are safe, then why are they so controversial?

What evidence is there to support the argument that Tasering someone saves lives?

And finally, why would the two largest police organizations in this country come out with guns blazing on the Taser issue at the same time as the Braidwood Inquiry is looking into the safety of these weapons?

There probably is a place for Tasers in the law-enforcement arsenal, but more study has to be done to determine what that place might be.

The Braidwood inquiry is a big part of that study.

For the police to come out now and boldly suggest more Tasers are needed is, at once, bullying, egregious and insensitive.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Statement of defence filed in case of girl tasered while in police custody

February 25, 2009
By Garett Williams
Miner and News (Kenora, Ontario)

OPP lawyers submitted a statement of defence in Kenora Tuesday requesting a $500,000 lawsuit be dismissed after a 14-year-old girl was shocked with a Taser while in custody in Sioux Lookout last summer.

The girl, who cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, was being held in custody in July 2008, awaiting a court appearance, when a Taser was used to bring her to compliance with officers’ orders to stop scratching paint off holding cell walls.

According to the initial claim, the girl has mental disabilities and was passing time, when officers warned her she would be charged with mischief if she didn’t stop picking at paint on the wall.

The youth was told she would be restrained in a prisoner’s belt to prevent further damage to the cell if she continued to pick at the wall.

Two officers entered the cell, one “lightly” taking hold of her arm to stand her up, when she began to fight back, the OPP defence said.

“The officers subsequently placed Jane Doe on the cell floor with minimal force in order to get physical control of her,” the defence said. “When Jane Doe continued to struggle and kick at the officers, the (officer) deployed a Taser drive for two to three seconds to her right thigh in order to gain compliance and have her cease the assault against the officers.”

The statement of claim alleges the youth was traumatized by the unlawful assault and battery, stating her leg “felt numb for a month.”

“The assault and battery on Jane Doe has led to considerable and ongoing mental distress,” the claim reads. “She does not understand why she was attacked by the police officers in such a manner or why a deadly weapon was used upon her without provocation. The assault and battery has left her anxious and distrustful of police and other authority figures.”

In August, the youth pled guilty to assaulting an officer and the provincial police deny she sustained the injuries, damages or losses alleged in the statement of claim and called the damages sought “excessive and remote.”

The case garnered attention from both the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth and Ontario NDP Leader Howard Hampton, who called for a moratorium on the use of Tasers on minors. A spokesperson for Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Rick Bartolucci said the government has no plans to restrict officers’ use of the device and front-line officers should have all law enforcement tools at their disposal.

The defence statement was submitted the same day the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the Canadian Police Association argued in Ottawa that Tasers save lives.

Dziekanski's mother rejects officer's prompted apology at inquiry

February 25, 2009

VANCOUVER, B.C. - Robert Dziekanski's mother rejected an apology from one of the Mounties involved in her son's death almost as fast as the words left the officer's mouth at a public inquiry Wednesday.

Const. Bill Bentley was talking about photographs he had taken at Vancouver's airport the night Dziekanski was stunned with a Taser and died in October 2007.

The judge told Bentley's lawyer that he was out of time for the day, prompting David Butcher to abruptly change topic and ask his client if he had anything to say to Dziekanski's mother, Zofia Cisowski.

"That I'm sorry for her loss and that my heart goes out to her and her family," said Bentley.

Outside the inquiry, Cisowski flatly rejected the apology, and said she told Bentley as much as he walked out of court. "I was close to him, and I said I didn't accept," said Cisowski. "I don't accept any sorry, it's too late."

Earlier, Bentley testified that Dziekanski's skin quickly turned blue as he lay on the airport floor within minutes of being stunned. Bentley also said he asked the three other officers whether any of them had a Taser well before they confronted Dziekanski. Bentley insisted Dziekanski was breathing, but his skin turned a light shade of blue within minutes.

He said he radioed a dispatcher for a routine ambulance less than three minutes after the first of five Taser jolts. Then, 12 seconds later, Bentley asked for the call to be upgraded, saying over the radio that Dziekanski was unconscious but breathing.

"Shortly after I made my initial call, his skin started turning a bluish colour," said Bentley, the second officer to testify at the public inquiry into Dziekanski's death. "I became deeply concerned so I upgraded the call to Code 3."

Bentley, who was trained in first aid, said he never told any of his colleagues what he saw, and none of the officers performed a proper breathing and pulse check. He said a security guard was checking Dziekanski's vital signs.

Bentley said he could hear Dziekanski breathing. "It's a loud breathing like when you go out for a hard run, you exhaust yourself physically, trying to catch a breath," he said.

By the time firefighters arrived, Dziekanski had no pulse, wasn't breathing and the fire captain on duty that night has said Dziekanski was likely already dead.

Bentley said as he approached, he could see broken furniture on the floor and felt Dziekanski, who he described as having wide eyes, was looking for a fight. "Law-enforcement experience, my gut instinct told me that he was going to start a fight with us," said Bentley, who had been on the force for less than two years at that time. "I turned my head back to the side, and directed a general question at the other officers, asking them something to the effect of, 'Do you have a Taser on?"'

Bentley said he was simply checking to see what tools would be available, and the officers hadn't yet planned how they would respond.

While he said Dziekanski looked like he wanted a fight, Bentley also described him as calm. "He wasn't doing anything else," said Bentley. "He seemed calm, his hands were at his side, I'd classify it as co-operative."

After he and other officers tried talking with Dziekanski, Bentley said the Polish man quickly became "resistant" when he turned away and flipped his hands in the air. He then turned around holding a stapler, and Bentley said he was swinging it at the officers.

"I thought I was going to be hit with the stapler," he said.

Bentley also said he didn't realize the Taser had been used more than twice until seeing a report from Crown prosecutors.

The Taser was used five times, and the inquiry heard that the weapon's internal computer indicated the 50,000-volt device was deployed for a total of 31 seconds. However, that records the length of the deployment, not necessarily the amount of time Dziekanski was shocked.

The Crown announced in December that Rundel, Bentley, Const. Kwesi Millington and Cpl. Benjamin Robinson would not face criminal charges. However, the inquiry's commissioner could still make findings of misconduct against the officers or anyone else involved.

He had a stapler in his hand

Editorial Cartoon
Opinion 250 News, Prince George, British Columbia

Mountie refuses chance to apologize at Dziekanski Taser inquiry

Vancouver Sun and Vancouver Province

VANCOUVER — The first RCMP officer to testify at the inquiry into the death of a Polish immigrant Tasered at the Vancouver airport ended his evidence Wednesday by refusing to apologize — even when offered an opportunity to do so by a lawyer for the Polish government.

The inquiry also heard evidence for the first time Wednesday morning that the actual Taser used against Dziekanski cycled for 31 seconds, including at least three jolts directly attached to the man’s skin, one of which lasted as long as nine seconds.

“I never heard anything from this officer (Const. Gerry Rundel) other than words in defence of what he had done,” said Don Rosenbloom, lawyer for the Polish government.

“I gave him what was his last opportunity before the commission to offer a mea culpa and apologize to the Canadian public and acknowledge certain improprieties were committed that night by those officers,” said Rosenbloom.

Rundel insisted that a bystander video backs up the version of events, which Rundel set out in two statements given to police, one on the night of the incident on Oct. 14, 2007, and the second four days later.

“The officer’s statement was patently absurd, as it is clear from the video that Mr. Dziekanski never raised the stapler above his head or made any threatening gestures before he was hit the first time by the Taser,” said Rosenbloom.

Rundel also testified that the Polish man was Tasered because he was trying to flee the scene.

“If he flees and got into the public area, I’d venture to say it could have gone bad,” Rundel said. “He could have injured other members of the public.

“That was a dangerous situation for the public.”

Rundel said there was no doubt in his mind that Dziekanski intended to try to harm the four officers who surrounded the man, and possibly harm members of the public.

The amateur video of the incident was played again in court for the witness, which caused Dziekanski’s mother to run out of the courtroom in tears.

Mountie thought Dziekanski would hurt officers

February 25, 2009
With files from The Canadian Press

With his hand clenched around a stapler, Robert Dziekanski posed a real threat to the four Mounties who surrounded him and to passersby at Vancouver's airport, one of the officers told a public inquiry Wednesday.

Const. Gerry Rundel has maintained that Dziekanski was holding a stapler up to his chest with his other hand in a fist just before he was stunned five times with an RCMP Taser in the early morning of Oct. 14, 2007.

"I venture to say I don't know where that could have ended, but it could have gone bad," Rundel told the inquiry into Dziekanski's death.

"There's no doubt in my mind that he took up the combative stance, and he had every intent to injure, attempt to injure, harm us officers and anybody in the public."

Rundel has already testified that he feared for his safety and saw the stapler as a weapon, but expanded Wednesday on just how much of a threat he perceived.

Don Rosenbloom, a lawyer for the government for Dziekanski's home country of Poland, suggested to Rundel that the man wasn't about to run away, and didn't pose a real risk to the officers forming a semi-circle around him.

Rundel replied that Dziekanski was unpredictable, and noted that it took multiple Taser jolts and four RCMP officers to finally restrain Dziekanski and put him in handcuffs.

"He was not in a frame of mind that he was thinking rationally," replied Rundel.

"The amount of energy that I experienced that he had, if he were to use that in any other way than resisting us, on members of the public, that was a dangerous situation."

Several witnesses who watched Dziekanski throw furniture around before police arrived have testified they weren't afraid of the man, including a woman who tried to calm him and a five-foot-tall janitor who walked by him without incident.

But Rundel insisted he felt Dziekanski was about to become violent, and said a bystander's video of the incident -- where Dziekanski's back is to the camera and his hands are out of view -- supports his story.

Rosenbloom disagreed.

"Faced with video footage, will you now acknowledge that you and your fellow officers fell far short of prudent conduct?" asked Rosenbloom.

"After looking at the video, I see the video fully supports my version of the events ... so my answer to your question is absolutely not," replied Rundel, who appeared to grow impatient with the questioning and asked the commissioner several times during cross-examination if he had to answer certain questions.

The Taser was used five times, and the inquiry heard that the weapon's internal computer indicated that 50,000 volts coursed through the probes for a total of 31 seconds. However, that records the length of the deployment, not necessarily the amount of time Dziekanski was shocked.

The Crown announced in December that Rundel, Const. Bill Bentley, Const. Kwesi Millington and Cpl. Benjamin Robinson would not face criminal charges. However, the inquiry's commissioner could still make findings of misconduct against the officers or anyone else involved.

Bentley's lawyer told the inquiry that he's worried the Polish government is considering legal action against his client and asked for restrictions to be placed on exhibits and transcripts.

David Butcher didn't elaborate and cited only "anecdotal information," but said he became concerned after Rosenbloom's cross-examination of Rundel.

"It became apparent to me that he, as an agent of the government of Poland, was taking an active part in securing evidence from this officer and presumably from the other officers," said Butcher.

Butcher asked the inquiry commissioner, retired judge Thomas Braidwood, to ensure official, certified transcripts and exhibits from the inquiry aren't "transmitted internationally," although he said he wasn't asking for a publication ban.

Copies of exhibits are routinely distributed to the media and transcripts are available on the inquiry's website.

Braidwood made no immediate decision on the request but noted official exhibits and certified transcripts wouldn't leave the commission without a court order.