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Sunday, January 30, 2011

San Francisco police seeking to revisit Taser debate

January 30, 2011
TERRY COLLINS, Associated Press
San Francisco Chronicle

In the wake of at least three recent officer-related shootings — including the video-recorded wounding of a knife-wielding man in a wheelchair — the San Francisco Police Department is reviving efforts to equip officers with less-lethal electric stun guns.

It comes nearly a year after the Police Commission narrowly rejected the department's proposal to even explore using the devices commonly known as Tasers, citing safety and liability concerns.

Interim Chief Jeff Godown and a team of experts will try again in February to persuade the seven-member commission to grant permission to the department to study bringing in Tasers possibly by early next year.

"I hope we give a stellar presentation to the commission, allow the public to have comment and allow us to go out and do research," Godown said last week.

Use-of-force experts say that a solid case made by the department could win over a commission with several new members citing Tasers as an alternative to deadly force. Critics acknowledge that Tasers are less lethal than guns but say they still pose a health risk, including death.

Amnesty International estimates that about 400 people have died from being shocked with a stun gun. Steve Tuttle, a spokesman for Taser International Inc., said those numbers are misleading. He said medical examiners have said Tasers contributed to fewer than 50 of those deaths.

More than 12,000 law enforcement agencies across the country use Tasers, Tuttle said.

Critics may also cite recent legal rulings involving the use of Tasers.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in December that police must have reasonable grounds for using stun guns. The San Francisco-based court said a Southern California officer used excessive force in firing a stun gun to subdue an unarmed motorist for not wearing a seat belt during a 2005 traffic stop.

Nearly every major city police department in the U.S. uses stun guns. San Francisco is among a handful of cities, including Detroit and Memphis, that do not.

San Francisco's Taser initiative was rekindled earlier this month by then-police chief George Gascon after two officer-involved shootings within a week involving men with knives.

He said officers were justified in shooting a man in a wheelchair who had been slashing car tires with a knife before he stabbed an officer Jan 4. He suffered nonfatal wounds when police shot him.

Gascon, who is now San Francisco's district attorney, said that shooting — which was caught on cell phone video, aired on the Internet and made national headlines — could have had a different outcome if officers were equipped with Tasers.

"A Taser more than likely would have ended this scenario probably at the earlier stages, but we don't have them," Gascon said.

On Dec. 29, officers fatally shot a man who was carrying a knife when they responded to an alleged stabbing of a teenage girl at the man's residence. The man was later described as having a history of mental illness.

David Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh who studies Tasers, believes that San Francisco police, if the Taser initiative is approved, should create a very detailed policy, training and oversight.

"It's an educational process and San Francisco has a long history of citizen involvement with police affairs," Harris said. "These things are not toys."

Kelli Evans, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, who testified last year against Gascon's Taser proposal, said: "Tasers only make sense in a narrow category of high-risk incidents in police departments with stringent training, adequate safeguards, strong accountability systems and a high degree of transparency. San Francisco isn't there yet."

She also wants police to resume officer training for dealing with mentally ill suspects. Police say their training program, suspended last summer, is being revamped.

In seeking permission to use Tasers, Gascon cited a recent study of officer-involved shootings in San Francisco over five years, which indicated that up to one-third of all incidents could have been avoided if Tasers were used.

"I underestimated the political environment that I was operating under," Gascon recently told reporters about the commission rejecting his request last year.

Police Commission President Thomas Mazzucco, who said he is undecided after voting for Tasers last year, said there are compelling arguments on both sides.

"Everybody needs to take a deep breath and see what works for the citizens and the officers," Mazzucco said.

Gary Delagnes, president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, said officers strongly support the use of stun guns as another useful tool.

"They've been long overdue. We thought we had them last year, but the some members of the commission were able to knock it down," Delagnes said. "We hope to prevail this time around."

Steve Ijames, a retired police officer from Missouri and expert in non-lethal tactics, believes Tasers are more effective than bean bag shots or pepper spray, especially among suspects who are highly tolerant to pain.

Ijames, who has trained law enforcement officers in more than 35 countries, also recommends police departments use Tasers with tiny video cameras attached to grip of the gun for more accountability.

The camera is activated as soon as the officer takes the Taser out of the holster and turns off the safety.

"It just shuts people's mouths about what actually happened," Ijames said. "It removes all doubt."

Saturday, January 29, 2011

9th Circuit hears 2 big ECD cases

January 29, 2011

Less Lethal Issues in Law Enforcement
- Sponsored by TASER International
(that says it all)

with Capt. Greg Meyer (ret.)

On December 14, 2010, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard appellate arguments on two recent, important TASER cases (Brooks v. Seattle; and Mattos v. Agarano). Both of these cases had been decided favorably for law enforcement earlier in 2010 by different three-judge panels of the 9th Circuit. Plaintiffs appealed those decisions, and were considered by an en banc hearing of the 9th — meaning there were 11 judges on the panel instead of the usual three). Some months from now, the court will publish its rulings on these cases.

The Brooks case involved a pregnant woman who was drive-stunned by an officer three times (arm, shoulder, side of neck), with a patrol supervisor present and with warnings and verbal persuasion attempts before and between each drive-stun; then she got out of the car. The Mattos case involved a wife who was TASERed with darts when she put herself between her husband and the officers who were trying to arrest the husband at a domestic-violence incident.

I attended the appellate hearing and made a few notes. It was very obvious that the judges on the panel did not know or understand much about TASERs and how they work. But some of their points were quite interesting.

One judge said, “I know there's no risk of death from pepper spray...” Then he wondered rhetorically whether the TASER can result in a heart attack.

Another judge — who is a former Los Angeles police commissioner, thus he had at least some familiarity with TASERs — said, “Maybe every judge on the panel should be tased so they know what it feels like.”

No argument from me!

One judge quickly corrected one of the plaintiff's attorneys who asserted that police must use “minimal force” under the involved agency’s policy. The judge not-too-gently reminded the attorney that “reasonable force” (not “minimal force”) is the national legal standard for reviewing use of force, and that she didn't care what the department's policy was. [Does your agency policy reflect the legal standard?]

The head judge on the panel considered other options besides TASER use on Brooks (who had braced herself in the driver seat by gripping the steering wheel and actively resisting efforts to remove her from her car when she had been arrested). The judge said that if you pull her out of the car, you could dislocate her shoulder, or cause a variety of other significant injuries.

The Brooks plaintiff's attorney asserted that Brooks could not get out of the car on her own after she received a drive-stun on the arm, the shoulder, and the base of the neck. [Since the judges collectively didn't seem to know much about TASERs, no one knew what to say to that plainly wrong assertion.]

The Brooks plaintiff's attorney talked about the TASER warnings that the officers used with Brooks, recounting that they verbally warned her that it would hurt, and they demonstrated the spark. But he characterized the warning process as “taunting her with the TASER.” [The judges didn't seem to buy that, or much of what he was trying to sell.]

In the Mattos case, the plaintiff is the wife of a domestic violence suspect. The wife put herself between the husband and the officers who were arresting the husband. The wife pushed an officer and got tased with darts from close range, and later testified that she “may have” extended her arm toward the officer. The plaintiff's attorney asserted that the officer could/should have shoved the wife to push her back, not use a TASER.

The head judge stated [quite accurately] that there are divergent views on what level of force TASER represents. He asked rhetorically, how do we determine what the effects of the TASER are? [I don't think today's hearing did much to clarify the issue. There are obviously multiple ways to use the TASER, and apply the current for varying periods of time. The court seems mostly in the dark about such details, and the questions asked the various judges reflected a general lack of knowledge about typical TASER effects.]

The Mattos plaintiff's attorney plainly stated that he was comfortable with the TASER at the same level as pepper spray, as he sees them both as intermediate force options! [I’ll give the plaintiff’s attorney a point for that one. The 9th Circuit has previously characterized the TASER as an “intermediate” level of force, which dovetails nicely with my belief over three decades.]

One judge said that some people argue that TASER effects are equivalent to the shock one gets from walking across a carpet and touching a doorknob. [This is a total misinterpretation of a traditional TASER training reference that is meant merely to point out that high voltage in and of itself is not dangerous. The concept does not speak to TASER effects.]

The defense attorney [that’s our side, folks] in the Brooks matter got in the last word when he pointed out to the judges that when determining reasonableness, it is important to consider the potential effects of alternative force options. [This was in the context of much research that has shown that TASER use results in fewer and less severe injuries to officers and suspects compared to several other police tools and tactics.]

I was honored to coordinate a nationwide effort on short notice to get the support of law enforcement organizations for an amicus brief (which most of us call a “friend of the court brief”) to counter the briefs submitted by the ACLU and the National Police Accountability Project (an arm of the National Lawyers Guild). Our brief was late, thus not technically accepted by the court. But it was obvious to me, as I listened to the judges’ questions, that they had read it. Thank you to all who stepped up to the plate and put in lots of hours (at no charge) on behalf of law enforcement.

Special thanks to Steve Ijames, Sid Heal, Jeff Chudwin, and Don Kester for helping round up support of some great organizations to support the amicus brief, including: National Tactical Officers Association, California Association of Tactical Officers, Illinois Tactical Officers Association, Kansas City Metro Tactical Officers Association, Mountain States Tactical Officers Association, Ohio Tactical Officers Association, Pennsylvania Tactical Officers Association, Rocky Mountain Tactical Team Association, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs and District Attorney Investigators, the Los Angeles County Police Chiefs Association, and the City of Burbank. And VERY special thanks to attorneys Steve Renick (who wrote the brief), Gene Ramirez and Missy O’Linn (all of Manning & Kass, Ellrod, Ramirez, Trester LLP of Los Angeles) who jumped in and worked miracles to get our brief done!

Some months from now (perhaps many months!) we'll see what the 9th Circuit does with the Brooks and Mattos cases.

That's it for now! Please stay safe... especially important after a terrible January for police across the country.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Police chief wants Tasers for all frontline officers

To think that Tom Kaye (Owen Sound, Ontario Chief of Police) continues to hold any credibility as the chair of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police committee on tasers just boggles the mind. It's embarrassing. Where do I register a no-confidence vote? "Hadn't read up on the Firman case?" Hullo!! Dr. Michael Pollanen attributed Firman's death to "cardiac arrhythmia PRECIPITATED BY ELECTRONIC CONTROL DEVICE DEPLOYMENT in an agitated man." Could it get any clearer? A coroner's inquest isn't going to change that outcome Tom. How can the chair of a taser committee in Canada NOT have "read up on" such a significant case? That's only one of your major gaffes in this interview (see below) - anyone whose been following along can identify all of them.

Tom, you're either a) TERRIBLY misinformed or b) you think the Canadian public is REALLY stupid. If you manage to push your agenda through, the Canadian public is in grave danger. How about doing the right thing and inviting some PUBLIC DISCOURSE/CONSULTATION? I know of several very well informed people who would be delighted to participate.

See also Excited-Delirium's post from February 2009 (some of us are keeping track of this crap): Look what we have to deal with

January 26, 2011
Scott Dunn, Owen Sound Sun Times

Owen Sound Police Chief Tom Kaye said he looks forward to the day when all frontline officers carry a Taser.

Kaye made the comments to reporters after presenting a report summarizing use-of-force incidents to the police services board Wednesday.

In 2010 there were 20 incidents, generating 27 reports, when force was used by city officers to a degree that met provincial reporting requirements. Such circumstances include drawing a gun with the public present, using any weapon on a person and using physical force causing an injury requiring medical attention.

A Taser was fired twice and displayed eight times in 2010, Kaye said. Sometimes officers used a mode that shows electricity crackling in the device, Kaye said.

Tasers were never used in the "push/stun" mode, in which the weapon was physically jabbed into someone, he said.

Kaye also chairs the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police committee concerning the controversial conducted-energy weapons, which an SIU official said caused a Collingwood man's death last June.

"It's our hope that every frontline officer at some point in time gets issued with a Taser," Kaye said.

Kaye's department is now tracking the use of the Taser both when it is fired, as required by the provincial government, but whenever it is drawn, which isn't a provincial requirement.

Officers started tracking where on the subject's body the Taser's metal probes strike, "so that we can use that to refine our deployment of Tasers in the future," he said.

"So we're looking to build our business case for government by tracking all of that information."

Special Investigations Unit director Ian Scott attributed the death of Aron Firman outside a Collingwood group home June 24 to the use of a Taser by and OPP officer. The officer was cleared.

He cited Ontario's chief forensic pathologist, Michael Pollanen, who attributed Firman's death to "cardiac arrhythmia precipitated by electronic control device deployment in an agitated man." He had underlying health issues which may have predisposed him to arrhythmia, Pollanen found.

Kaye downplayed any conclusion that Tasers kill people. He said he didn't know how that diagnosis could be made because Mr. Firman was found, Kaye understands, with vital signs absent.

"It's my understanding that if someone is already down and vital signs absent, you cannot tell in any subsequent medical examination or autopsy," that the Taser caused the death, "because there are no telltale signs on the heart muscle."

Kaye also said he hadn't read up on the Firman case and it remains to be seen what conclusions an inquest draws.

He said he knows more than six Ontario inquest juries, and six or eight others across Canada, have recommended all frontline police officers be issued a conducted energy weapon.

"I know that in the United States there are a number of their medical examiners that have made the same pronouncements.

"And in every particular case they've had to withdraw their cause of death as having been that because it's unsubstantiated."

Kaye said the national police chiefs' association position on Tasers is to wait and see what conclusion the Firman inquest produces.

Other Owen Sound Police Services use-of-force details Kaye provided:

• Guns were drawn and pointed at a subject four times, including one case in which two guns were pointed during the same arrest. Police did not fire their guns at a person last year.

• Twice a gun was drawn to deal with a vicious or dangerous animal, and twice a firearm was discharged to destroy an injured or sick animal.

• Hands were laid on subjects to gain control three times, a baton and pepper spray were used once each.

• There were 19 times no injury resulted to the subject or officer.

• None of the times force was used resulted in serious injury requiring reports to the Special Investigations Unit, the civilian arms-length police oversight agency.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Portland police chief wants to know: How should his officers use their Tasers?

January 26, 2011
Maxine Berstein, The Oregonian

A motorist wanted on a felony warrant and driving a stolen vehicle suddenly bails out of the car and is about to scale a fence in a residential neighborhood. Should a pursuing Portland police officer use his Taser on the suspect to stop him?

Should an officer in the city's downtown who is trying to clear the entertainment district at club-closing time use a Taser against a man who is intoxicated and not following instructions, and then balls up his fists at officers?

Police Chief Mike Reese is seeking community input on what the criteria should be for officers to use their stun guns.

Portland's current policy -- which allows police to use a Taser when a person engages in, or displays the intent to engage in physical resistance -- is more permissive than other cities' and model guidelines.

Deputy City Attorney Dave Woboril says Portland's current guidelines are not precise enough and need to be improved to better guide officers. The review also comes in light of recent court opinions by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The federal appeals court ruled in late December that police can be held liable for using a stun gun against an unarmed person who poses no immediate threat.

Woboril is meeting with local citizen groups to gauge their opinions, and threw out the two scenarios to get people talking at a recent meeting of the Community and Police Relations Committee of Portland's Human Rights Commission.

"The Taser directive doesn't quite work for the Police Bureau," Woboril said.

Assistant Chief Larry O'Dea said the chief has asked for input to learn: "What are the community expectations?"

Tasers are considered a "less-lethal" weapon, designed to temporarily incapacitate or restrain a person when lethal force is not appropriate. In 2005, the bureau issued Tasers to all of its officers. They're used in two ways.

They can fire barbs attached to wires that transmit electricity to A suspect. Each press of the trigger activates the stun gun for one cycle, which typically lasts five seconds. If a second cycle is needed, the officer can pull the trigger again to send an additional wave of electricity through the probes attached to a suspect.

The Taser also can be used in a stun mode, where the gun is pressed directly against someone's skin to shock them.

In contrast to other municipalities, Portland's policy allows Taser use when the subject shows only the intent to resist police.

According to guidelines issued by the Police Executive Research Forum, a Taser should be used only on people who are actively resisting, being actively aggressive or to prevent the subject from harming themselves or others, according to a City of Portland audit.

Five of eight police agencies that city auditors studied have the stricter threshold, including Cincinnati, Colorado Springs (Colo.), Denver and San Diego police, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's office.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon doesn't think the Police Executive Research Forum's guidelines are tight enough, according to Dave Fidanque, executive director. The ACLU says police should only use Tasers if they encounter active physical resistance where there is a likelihood the situation will escalate to a need for deadly force. The Ashland Police Department is the only one in Oregon to adopt this stricter policy.

"This chief especially puts value on how our policies and procedures reflect what the community wants," bureau spokeswoman Lt. Kelli Sheffer said.

Anyone wanting to provide input about the proper use of Tasers by Portland police may contact the commander of the precinct where they live, and participate in their precinct advisory committee.

Portland has three precincts. The addresses and phone numbers are as follows:
North, 449 N.E. Emerson, 503-823-5700.
Central, 1111 S.W. 2nd Avenue, 503-823-0097.
East, 737 S.E. 106th Avenue 503-823-4800.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

RCMP acted appropriately in arrest of B.C. man who died following arrest: report

OH REALLY???? Robert Knipstrom, as far as I know, was pepper sprayed and then tasered AT LEAST SIX TIMES by the RCMP - please explain to me how THAT is considered reasonable!! And the "official" cause of death? Acute ecstasy intoxication (ok, I get that) and the "not-very-helpful" "excited delirium".

See also Taser Death Delay

January 25, 2011
The Canadian Press

OTTAWA - The watchdog over the RCMP says Mounties acted appropriately in the arrest of a British Columbia man who was hit with pepper spray and a Taser before dying five days later.

In an interim report, the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP says officers "acted reasonably" in subduing Robert Knipstrom during the November 2007 incident in Chilliwack, B.C.

However, the complaints commission has several concerns about breaches of protocol in the subsequent police investigation.

The report says two Mounties were called to a shop where Knipstrom was behaving erratically and a violent struggle soon ensued.

The Canadian Press obtained a copy of the complaints commission's November 2009 report under the Access to Information Act.

The RCMP has yet to respond to the findings.

Report clears RCMP of wrongdoing in death of man Tasered and pepper sprayed

January 25, 2011
Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA - The watchdog over the RCMP says Mounties acted appropriately in the arrest of a British Columbia man who was hit with pepper spray, a baton and Taser stun guns before dying five days later.

In an interim report, the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP says officers "acted reasonably" in subduing Robert Knipstrom during the November 2007 incident in Chilliwack, B.C.

Constables called to the scene "exercised their use of force options in a manner consistent with the law and RCMP policy," says the November 2009 report by then-complaints commission chairman Paul Kennedy.

However, the complaints commission had several concerns about breaches of protocol in the subsequent police investigation.

"It is difficult for both the police and the public to critically examine violent encounters between the police and a member of the public," the report says.

The Canadian Press obtained the commission's initial report under the Access to Information Act. The RCMP has yet to respond to the findings. Once it does, the commission will issue a final report.

The events began Nov. 19, 2007, when Knipstrom was allegedly involved in a hit-and-run accident in Chilliwack, the report says. He continued on to an equipment rental centre to return a machine.

A witness to the accident, meanwhile, apparently followed Knipstrom to the store and called the RCMP. Upon their arrival at the shop, Knipstrom was behaving erratically. He brushed past one of the officers and adopted a boxer's stance with fists clenched.

A constable tried to restrain Knipstrom, who was "pushing, punching and lunging" at the officer, the report says. The constable used pepper spray, a Taser and his baton, while a second one hit Knipstrom with pepper spray and a Taser — reportedly to little or no effect.

Eventually, backup arrived and Knipstrom was restrained and handcuffed. He was taken to hospital in Chilliwack but lost consciousness and did not regain it before dying Nov. 24.

The arrest occurred just days after the November 2007 release of the now-infamous video of Robert Dziekanski being zapped with a Taser at the Vancouver airport. The Polish immigrant's death prompted intense scrutiny of the potent police weapons.

The officers who arrested Knipstrom appropriately requested and obtained medical treatment for him, the report says.

A team of Mounties — none of whom knew any of the three members involved in the arrest — looked into the incident, consistent with force policy at the time. Since the Knipstrom report was completed, the RCMP has instituted a policy of no longer investigating itself in cases of serious injury or death.

The complaints commission report says all relevant witnesses were interviewed. However, it expresses concern that an RCMP staff relations representative — the closest thing the force has to a union representative — was allowed to meet with officers before they made statements about the events.

In addition, early on in the probe, one of the constables involved in the arrest was assigned to interview the two main civilian witnesses, creating a conflict of interest.

The report also takes issue with the fact a number of interviews were conducted by another Mountie of the same or lower rank. It recommends that all interviews of members involved in serious incidents be conducted by officers of a higher rank to avoid the potential for intimidation of the investigator.

Still, the complaints commission says there was no evidence to support a prosecution of the officers, and it was reasonable for the RCMP not to submit a report to Crown counsel for review.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Taser launches new stun gun for wildlife

Published in the Toronto Sun, under the banner NEWS-WEIRD

January 21, 2011
By QMI Agency - Toronto Sun

Problem bear sneaking around your trash can? Don't get mad, get a Taser.

Taser International, the company known for making its stun gun, widely used by law enforcement agencies in North America, has unveiled a new weapon that will soon be available for wildlife managers.

The Taser Wildlife Electronic Control Device is a three-shot, semi-automatic Taser designed specifically to incapacitate large animals from as far away as nearly 11 metres.

With a retail price of $1,999.95, the wildlife stun gun is said to be nearly indestructible by the elements, able to survive "sea spray, rain, dust, electrostatic discharge and even short-term water submersion."

In a release about the product earlier this week, Taser International said that "published research has shown that wildlife managers sometimes need to use tools to modify animal behaviour to avoid dangerous human-animal conflicts and the loss of animal life."

Wildlife Taser NOT RECOMMENDED by Alaska law enforcement

Jan 21, 2011
Craig Medred, Alaska Dispatch

An Anchorage Police Department officer zapped a black bear with his Taser in Alaska's largest city last summer. The 100,000 volts flipped the bear on its back. The bear got up and ran off.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game then warned that to Taser bears is a no-no, and the APD put out a press release telling people so. Months later, though, a state wildlife official revealed he'd been using his Taser on bears for years in an effort to see if they could be trained to avoid people.

Fish and Game did add the warning that people shouldn't try that trick at home, although bear man Charlie Vandergaw had been using similar training techniques on bears for decades. Yes, Vandergaw used a cattle prod instead of a Taser, but an electrical shock is an electrical shock.

And now, for those who want to get in on shocking bears or other big animals, Taser International in Arizona has just the thing: a Wildlife Taser.

For the weak of heart, Taser's "Wildlife Taser" trumps Vandergaw's cattle prod. The former will knock a bear on its butt. The latter might just make a wild bear mad, though it seemed to work well enough on Vandergaw's semi-domesticated bears.

Fish and Game, however, is sticking to its position that shocking the animals is a no-no. Tasers should only be used by professionals, the agency says.

And the Wildlife Taser has come under attack on at least one blog that reviews the latest high-tech gadgets.

A writer for Gawker Media's Gizmodo notes use of the device wouldn't be limited to bears; it could be used on any sort of big game: " ... from elk to moose, deer and grizzlies. This would be laughable if it wasn't so obviously cruel. Taser has a point -- a very small one -- in that some bears' lives might be saved if fishermen and other adventurers in grizzly country replace the firearms they sometimes use to defend themselves from attack with Tasers. But research about bears shows that they are rarely aggressive, and most dangerous encounters are the avoidable result of human stupidity or bears' desperation, rather than rogue animals inured to humans. As for other animals -- like bison -- there's plenty of visual evidence that it's the people who are the instigators, not the animals. My worry? That this weapon, despite its high price tag (almost $2,000), could encourage a new breed of ugly, empty-headed tourist behavior: will people approach animals they should keep away from knowing that if they have an animal-felling Taser they can get away with it? Given the way regular Tasers have been misused -- with their use sometimes a first resort and then being used to deliver repeated stun shocks to boot -- it's hard to see how this hardware could encourage a better relationship between people and animals."

And, as all real Alaskans and those elsewhere who've watched Discovery's "Sarah Palin's Alaska" know, there are simpler, cheaper and easier means than a Taser for maintaining the proper relationship between people and wildlife. You get a gun; you shoot them (if you can hit them and provided that you possess proper subsistence hunting licenses, you eat them.

Thus end any worries about the animals causing problems.

Yukon to get RCMP oversight council for public complaints, Taser use

According to a friend who sent this report to me: "Beware! this is hardly a step forward. The way this worked for years in Alberta was that if there was a hot potato issue where people kept complaining to a Minister, they appointed a committee of party faithful who acted as a barrier for the MInister, since all citizens were instructed that the only avenue of approach was the committee, which had no power whatever but could stonewall for a couple of years. And the noble committe-spawning MInister looked flawless."

January 21, 2011
By Justine Davidson, The First Perspective

WHITEHORSE A territorial police council will be formed in the coming months for oversight of the RCMP, in the wake of a sweeping review of the territory's police force.

Justice Minister Marian Horne has committed to enacting the first of 33 recommendations to come from the review, saying she will ``definitely'' create the police council.

The council will likely participate in the selection of the Yukon division's commanding officer, and have access to reports on issues such as public complaints against the RCMP and the use of shock weapons such as Tasers.

The council will not, however, be an arm's-length body with powers of investigation, inquest or prosecution. Its members will report to the minister and can make recommendations, but not binding decisions or orders, Horne said.

The council will be made up of the deputy minister of justice, who will head the group, and six members appointed by the minister, three of whom will be nominated by First Nations.

Horne said the council should be set up within a couple of months.

The oversight body was a key recommendation in the report released last week. The territorial government already announced that the RCMP holding cells will be replaced with a secure assessment centre.

With a full-time medical staff, the new facility aims to prevent tragedies such as the 2008 death of Raymond Silverfox, who died after spending 13 hours in the drunk tank, vomiting almost constantly but never receiving any help.

The assessment centre will be attached to the a new jail currently under construction. Both the jail and the holding facility are scheduled to open in the spring of 2012.

One suggestion made by Chief Supt. Peter Clark following the Silverfox affair, but not included in the review, was that the minister incorporate into the territorial policing agreement the power for the minister to dismiss officers if they lose the public's trust. A number of Canadian municipalities with policing agreements have such clauses, but Horne said it is not under consideration.

``We're more concerned with the review and going forward with the recommendations in the review,'' she said.

In report also recommends the establishment of a complaints co-ordinator, who would help walk people through the complaints process and that the Yukon call in a civilian investigation agency _ not another police force _ whenever a police officer is under investigation.

For their part, officers have said they need more government services in rural communities, where the police often fill the role of court sheriff, social worker, dog catcher and more, in addition to their police work.

``So the RCMP steps up, and we are glad to step up,'' Clark said, but often those different roles compromise the officers' professional boundaries.

Officers shouldn't be the ones with the keys to the courthouse, for instance, Clark said, nor should they be the ones to take children into custody on behalf of the territorial children's and family services branch.

``It creates tensions and confusion,'' he said.

``I am not aware of any underfunding in any of our communities,'' Horne said when asked if rural officers can expect more support ``If it were so, we would be funding. We are not underfunded in our communities or our justice department.''

Stu Whitley, the deputy minister of Health and Social Services, told a news conference last week his department will be looking at how they can better support the RCMP's work outside Whitehorse.

The RCMP may also see major changes in the way officers are recruited and trained to work in the North. Many First Nations communities say the officers who serve them need to learn about their history and their culture when they arrive. (Whitehorse Star)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Dallas officer is among several suing Taser, alleging injuries during training

January 19, 2011
By JASON TRAHAN, Dallas Morning News

A Dallas police officer has filed the latest in a string of lawsuits around the country that claim jolts of electricity received during Taser training caused fractured backs and other severe injuries.

The makers of the popular stun gun, however, say that their products are safe and credit them with saving lives by providing officers with a nonlethal option to guns when confronting unruly criminals.

Dallas police Officer Andrew Butler’s lawsuit, filed Jan. 6 against Taser International, is thought to be the first of its kind in Texas. He alleges Taser did not fully disclose the risks associated with being shot with the device in the academy to his police trainers. The city of Dallas is not a defendant.

“I love my department. I love being a cop. But I dodged a bullet,” said Butler, who was able to return to patrol after he had surgery to replace a fractured vertebra. “I can’t live with having knowledge that this can harm an officer and not do something.”

The dangers of Tasers have been known for years. In Dallas, the deaths of at least two drug-addled suspects who were stunned during arrests have been connected in part to shocks from the devices.

But in recent years, police officers around the country have begun filing lawsuits claiming they were hurt when taking a Taser shot. The stun guns are regularly used on recruits in training at many police academies.

“That has been the secret injury that Taser doesn’t like to talk about,” said Robert Haslam, a Fort Worth attorney who is chairman of the American Association for Justice’s Taser Litigation Group.

Several dozen lawsuits by police officers have been filed, but only one has gone to trial. Taser prevailed in that 2005 Arizona case because the officer had a pre-existing back condition, said John Dillingham, the Phoenix attorney who represented the injured former Maricopa County sheriff’s deputy. Dillingham said the half-dozen other cases of injured officers which he’s handled have been dismissed, but he declined to talk about settlement agreements.

“There’s no reason for an officer to take a hit in training,” Dillingham said. “The only reason to demonstrate it is that it works and it’s safe. You don’t need to get shocked to know that.”

Taser has a long history of aggressively fighting legal claims that its devices cause injury or death. When asked about Butler’s suit, spokesman Steve Tuttle said the company does not comment on pending litigation.

“We continue to stand by the independent peer reviewed medical studies that have shown that the Taser electronic control devices are generally safe and effective,” he said.

The company has sold 514,000 devices to more than 15,800 law enforcement and military agencies, Tuttle said. Half of the about 2.3 million times that Tasers have been used were in training environments and other voluntary situations, according to the company.

Some departments require rookies to experience the device before they are allowed to carry it, but others let officers decide for themselves whether they want to take the “ride,” as the 50,000-volt zap is sometimes called.

In Dallas, being stunned is optional, but peer pressure in the hyper macho environment of police training often leaves few bystanders, people familiar with the training say. Fort Worth police require rookies to get zapped, but have logged no injuries, officials there said.

“If Taser were honest with the officers about the incidents of injury, I don’t think that officers would be so willing to get this,” said Mark Haney, Butler’s attorney.

“I’m not saying there’s not a place in the law enforcement for a less-than-lethal option,” said Haney, who also serves as a municipal judge in Pantego. “I think a Taser is better than a 9 mm every time. But police officers need to understand these consequences and limit the risks in training.”

Dallas police Assistant Chief Floyd Simpson, who supervises training, said that he was unaware of cases in which officers around the country had alleged they were hurt by Tasers. He said he would review information in Butler’s case, but had no immediate plans to stop officers from taking voluntary zaps in training.

“I don’t support it or disclaim it, but the philosophy is, you get Tased so you understand what happens physiologically, and so you can testify if need be. But there is no requirement to take the shot. However, in the classes, there’s always a willing participant.”

Prohibiting officers from taking a zap in the academy would put the department in an odd situation where officers routinely use the device on the public, but are not allowed to experience it firsthand, Simpson said.

“All I can say is, we haven’t had an issue doing what we do. I think our trainers are very prudent and are aware of the weapon and its capabilities. Can someone get hurt? Sure,” he said. “But we haven’t had a real big problem with that in Dallas.”

He added, though, that it is possible to have effective training without having officers feel the device’s voltage firsthand. “We get trained with firearms, but I don’t think that anyone has an expectation that officers get shot in order to use it.”

Butler served as a Dallas police officer from 1997 to 2000, but quit to start a family. He re-entered the Dallas police academy as a rookie, and was in Taser training in 2009. He and others in the class signed waivers before they were shocked with the device.

A video of Butler’s training session shows several officers, men and women, volunteering to be stunned. When it was Butler’s turn, an instructor used the device on his lower back. A pair of officers on either side lowered him to the ground as the electricity flowed.

Seconds after the shock was over, Butler, fueled by adrenaline, sprang to his feet, but within hours, the former Marine could barely move his back or arm.

Butler and his attorney say he later had to have surgery to repair fractured vertebrae that were crushed when his back muscles contorted from the Taser shock.

He now has metal plates in his spine, but is back on patrol. “The Taser is a great tool,” he said. “But I’ll never get one of those shocks again. The value is not worth the risk.”

Even Taser’s adversaries in court recognize they have use in police work.

“The number of police officer injuries has been relative low in proportion to the number of Tasers in use,” said Peter Williamson, the California attorney who was part of the legal team that in 2008 was the first in the nation to win a product liability verdict against Taser on behalf of a man who died after he was stunned by police in California.

“But our concern is that the officers be properly apprised of the risks of the devices so they can make informed decisions about how to use them.”

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Father calls for OPP crisis team

January 19, 2011

COLLINGWOOD -- The father of a man who died after being Tasered by a Collingwood OPP officer wants to see the detachment create a team to deal with people in crisis.

Aron Firman, 27, died last June after an officer sent to investigate a disturbance call used a Taser on him.

Firman was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic.

His father, Marcus, says his son's death would not have happened had the OPP had a mobile crisis intervention team in place.

On Monday, he and solicitor Julian Falconer pitched the idea of a team to the Collingwood Police Services Board. The board accepted the recommendation in principle and will see whether the idea could work.

"It's baby steps, and putting in place (what's needed) to make it happen," Firman said after his deputation to the board. "It's better to be proactive than reactive, because if they're reactive, then what's the risk and liability of not doing something?

"This is not about guilt, this is about putting something in place to protect the most vulnerable people."

The concept presented to the board would be to have a two-person team, one a plainclothes officer, and the other a mental health nurse. The team could be called out to de-escalate situations where police have been called to an incident involving a person in crisis.

Firman pointed to the crisis intervention team created by the Toronto Police Service as a result of the Edmund Yu inquest -- Yu was a mentally-ill man shot to death by police on a TTC bus in 1997 -- that dealt with more than 300 cases in 2010, "all of which were resolved without the use of violence."

Firman also asked the police services board to approach the G&M Hospital to participate.

Falconer, who has been hired by the family to represent them at any future inquest, and has worked on behalf of other families in similar circumstances, told the board the need to implement the team is "a human need to prevent future tragedies."

He also pointed to the deaths of two other individuals -- Doug Minty and Levi Schaeffer -- that occurred around the same time as Aron Firman's, "and each one suffered from a mental disability."

None were criminals, said Falconer, and died as a result of "a misperception of what was happening," because of their disabilities.

In the Firman case, the province's Special Investigations Unit found there weren't grounds to charge the officer who used the Taser and the use of the device was justified by the situation.

"This is not a one-off, this is not a fluke," said Falconer. "You have the opportunity to make an important change. This is not about doing battle (legally), but about an opportunity to institute a change.

"Had the mobile crisis team been available (for Aron Firman), it would have made a tremendous difference," he said. "We ask a lot of our police, but they don't sign up to be counsellors or psychiatrists -their primary focus is to enforce the law... and expecting them to (get involved) in complicated matters when they're not specialized is unrealistic."

Board chairman Paul Montgomery noted the pair "made a compelling case in principle . . . (but) implementation is another question.

"Obviously it's a good idea; I just don't know whether or not it would be possible."

The municipality might have to review its contract with the OPP.

"It deserves an examination," added Collingwood OPP detachment commander John Trude.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Taser unveils weapon designed to use with animals

January 18, 2011
The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Taser International Inc. will sell a version of its electroshock weapon designed to control animals that pose a threat, the company said Tuesday.

The Scottsdale, Ariz., company makes weapons that send less-than-lethal amounts of electrical current through the target to immobilize them. The technology is already in widespread use by law enforcement and the military. But this weapon, called the Taser Wildlife Electronic Control Device, is the first Taser product intended to control animals without killing or maiming them.

"Just as our Taser technology is a safer and more effective option to stop dangerous individuals, the Taser Wildlife ECD is an extension of Taser's technology to save animal lives," said Rick Smith, the company's co-founder and chief executive officer.

The device, intended to be used on larger animals with thick hides, has a slightly higher charge output than the Taser X3, which was designed to be used on humans. It has a range of 35 feet and is designed to withstand sea spray, rain, dust, electrostatic discharge and brief immersion in water.

The weapon will be on display at the SHOT hunting trade show in Las Vegas until Friday. It will cost $2,000 when it goes on sale in March. The Taser X3 costs less, at $1,800, but unlike the Taser Wildlife does not come with cartridges.

Shares of the company fell 6 cents to close at $4.75 Tuesday.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dallas PD Trainee Goes a TASER Too Far

January 11, 2011
Andrea Grimes, Dallas Observer

A Dallas Police Department officer filed suit last week against Taser International, alleging that during training exercises, he was Tased to the point of breaking his back. According to court documents, Andrew Keith Butler received a five-second Tasing from the electronic stun guns during a January 2009 training session, and as a result, Butler's "muscles contracted uncontrollably causing him to suffer injuries, including a compression fracture of his back caused by the muscle contractions."

Court documents allege negligence on behalf of Taser International, which the suit says had reason to believe the application of its products could cause serious injury, but that the company misrepresented the danger to the DPD trainees:
"Prior to Plaintiff's injuries Defendant was aware that numerous police officers had been injured in Taser training as a result of having the Taser applied to the officers including knowledge of compression fracture injuries arising from muscle contractions similar to Plaintiff's injuries. The nature and extent of these type injuries during Taser training and the possible risks of fracture injuries arising from the application of the Taser was misrepresented in the Taser training of Defendant."

Butler, who is in his 30s, is seeking damages for "conscious physical pain and suffering" as well as physical impairment, disfigurement, lost wages and medical care. Butler's lawyer, Mark Haney out of Fort Worth, says his client's injury came directly from the Taser-induced muscle contractions in Butler's back and that Butler will have "problems in the long term." Butler has already undergone surgery, Haney tells Unfair Park, and "has made as good a recovery as he is going to make."

Haney says that Butler (along with other cops suffering from similar injuries) submitted to the Tasing voluntarily because certified Taser trainers made the eletroshock seem "harmless."

Read the full complaint HERE.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

EDITORIAL: Public airing would clear odour around case

January 11, 2011
Belleville Intelligencer

The odour surrounding boxer Shawn O'Sullivan and his run-in more than a year ago with Belleville police is beginning to be, if not yet foul, at least a little bit funky.

Police arrested O'Sullivan on Nov. 28, 2009 following a scuffle with a neighbour. Charges of mischief and assault against O'Sullivan were withdrawn May 13 after he agreed to a six-month peace bond preventing him from contacting the man.

During his arrest, O'Sullivan was shocked by a Taser. But the Olympic silver medallist insists he was also beaten by police and, contrary to police reports, did not resist arrest.

O'Sullivan's lawyer, Bill Reid, filed an official complaint May 27 with Ontario's Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) which then forwarded it to city police for review. Following the internal review, Belleville Deputy Police Chief Paul VandeGraaf ruled O'Sullivan's complaint was "unsubstantiated."

The OIPRD, which then reviewed the report submitted by Belleville police in September, held that Belleville police investigators' conclusion was not unreasonable.

Reid called the OIPRD findings "interesting" but not "surprising."

He said the ruling indicates the OIPRD's "hands are tied" in that they seem to be saying it is not their mandate to rule if VandeGraaf made the correct decision.

Our concern is that while neither VandeGraaf nor the OIPRD are saying the officers involved did anything wrong -- and we aren't saying that either -- neither are they giving ringing endorsements about their innocence.

And that unfortunately leaves the aroma that maybe something just isn't right here.

O'Sullivan can still appeal the ruling at the divisional court, or he can file a civil lawsuit against the Belleville police. But both these options cost considerable time and money.

Had, however, the initial investigation been held publicly and openly, the questions circling about this issue, while maybe not entirely cleared up, would at least be aired in a way that people could make their own determination.

The argument against that is it would parade the officers involved in front of the public and possibly tarnish their names, despite the fact there had not been a determination of wrong-doing.

However, the alternative is leaving the same tarnish, aided by speculation brought on by the process which keeps all such information sealed.

Those charged by police with crimes get their day in court when they get to tell their side. Both the public and police would be better served by a system that allowed for the same when it is the police whose actions are being questioned.

Police win round 2 vs. O'Sullivan

January 11, 2011

Former Canadian Olympic boxer Shawn O'Sullivan once again has his back against the ropes.

O'Sullivan is considering his options after Ontario's Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) ruled in favour of Belleville police, which determined O'Sullivan's complaint of police brutality was "unsubstantiated."

O'Sullivan's lawyer, Bill Reid, said according to the OIPRD, the test on review of the report submitted by Belleville police in September is based mainly on "reasonableness", not "correctness."

He said without deciding the correctness of the decision filed by Belleville Deputy Police Chief Paul VandeGraaf, the review panel essentially held that it was not unreasonable.

Reid called the findings "interesting" but not "surprising."

He said it is something he would like to "explore" because the ruling indicates that the OIPRD's "hands are tied" in that the review panel seems to be saying it is not its mandate to rule if VandeGraaf made the correct decision.

"I'm not sure if that's correct," the lawyer said in an interview.

Reid has been adamant the report from VandeGraaf didn't disprove the fact "excessive force" was used in arresting his 48-year old client.

"It's a bit disappointing when you think the Belleville police were the ones who investigated themselves," he said.

O'Sullivan can now appeal the ruling at the divisional court. He can also file a civil lawsuit against the Belleville police, Reid said. "I think he's stepping back and considering all his options," Reid said. "Another option is just to let it go." He went on to say that, "there's not a clear and compelling case here. It's a question of credibility."

Police arrested O'Sullivan on Nov. 28, 2009 following a scuffle with a neighbour. Though criminal charges of mischief and assault were withdrawn May 13, O'Sullivan agreed to a six-month peace bond preventing him from contacting the man.

Police and O'Sullivan have both said publicly he was shocked by a Taser or similar stun-gun device during his arrest. But the Olympic silver medallist claims he was also beaten by police and, contrary to police reports, did not resist arrest.

Reid filed an official complaint May 27 with OIPRD which then forwarded it to city police for review. Following the internal review, VandeGraaf ruled O'Sullivan's complaint was "unsubstantiated."

Reid said there were "inconsistencies" in the statement provided by the officers on scene regarding O'Sullivan's conduct. "If you match those inconsistencies, I think there is a strong argument that what Shawn was saying actually happened," he said, noting that there was also some evidence of unreasonable force. "Their (police) evidence was conflicting on certain parts. There was certainly room to make that point."

Reid said it is difficult for a review panel to decide what side of the evidence to go with when analysing the investigation done and conclusions drawn by the police. "There were clearly some mistakes; the question is how significant were they in the decision," he said. "The OIPRD felt they didn't render the decision unreasonable."

Friday, January 07, 2011

A Cost-Benefit Analysis Of Getting The Shit Tasered Out Of You At CES

January 7, 2011
Brian Barrett, Gizmodo

Live Taser demos! Easily one of my favourite parts of CES. But is getting Tasered worth it? You do walk away with this Taser hat and commemorative coin!

On the other hand, well, here’s the release you sign. Gulp.

That font’s pretty small, so let me call out some of the salient bits:

Any use of force, physical exertion, capture, control, restraint, or incapacitation involves risks that a person may get hurt or die.

Unintential Deployment Hazard. Unintentional ECD [Ed: Electronic Control Device] activation could result in death or serious injury to the User, force recipient, and others.

Hazardous Substances. The ECD contains components that contain chemicals known to the State of California and others to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm. Do not disassemble.

Adverse physiologic or metabolic effects may increase risk of death or serious injury.

Incapacitation, Falling, and Startle Hazard. ECD use may cause muscular contraction, Neuro Muscular Incapacitation (“NMI”), startling, and falling, which could result in death or serious injury.

Fracture to bone, including compression fracture to vertebrae, may occur.

And that’s just the first page! The second is more of the same, plus the usual about how you can’t sue if you’re injured and your family can’t sue if you die. Oh, and something about permanent scarring and puncturing of organs.

But hey, nice hat bro!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Texas man dies after police taser him

January 5, 2011: Kelly Wayne Sinclair, 41, Amarillo, Texas

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

EDITORIAL: Homeless, possibly mentally ill, shot dead

A tragic and terribly familiar path leads to another fatal shooting by Portland police

Here we go again. Investigators, the news media, the public will scrutinize every second, every choice, every move made by the two Portland police officers who shot dead a homeless man who apparently came at them with a knife Sunday afternoon.

All the focus, all the questions will be about the last moments of the man's life. Why didn't he follow their commands to drop the knife? Why didn't the Taser fired by police stop him? Did police have no other choice but to use lethal force? Why the four-hour delay in reporting the shooting to the public?

Of course, those questions need to be pursued. However, by now, after all the recent police shootings involving people on the street who had suffered from mental illness, Portlanders ought to know that focusing solely on the police response -- their training, their procedures, their decision-making -- only takes a community so far.

And it's not far enough.

Why not widen the lens, consider the years, months, days, minutes, before the officers confronted the homeless man at the abandoned carwash in Southeast Portland and pose hard questions too seldom asked: Why was he living on the streets? How long had he been homeless? Did social service agencies have prior contact with him? What was done, if anything, to find housing for him? Did he suffer from a mental illness? If so, had his illness ever been diagnosed or treated? Was he on medication? Was he taking it?

Moreover, what led him to twice threaten to kill a security guard at a business near the carwash? Had he ever made violent threats before? What set him off? What, if anything, did social workers, mental health professionals, anyone with any public agency, know about him? What had they done in response?

Again, this is not an argument against police accountability and thorough scrutiny of every police shooting. Rather, it is an acknowledgement that such tragic shootings will continue as long as Portland requires its police force to be the one -- and too often only -- response to the people that all of us see wandering the streets with untreated illnesses.

Sunday's shooting reminded us of a conversation we had with Police Chief Mike Reese shortly after his appointment to lead the Police Bureau last year. Reese talked about transforming police training from a "fear-based model" to one founded on "competency and confidence," where a mentally ill man isn't treated like a bank robber. He also pledged to continue a pilot program in which an officer is paired with a mental health care crisis worker to locate and get help to people who may have fallen through the mental health system or are off their medication.

Reese also described driving downtown with his wife and discovering a man standing in the middle of a street raging at the trees in the Park Blocks. "Give him a lot of room," he advised his wife, who was driving.

And that, in one sentence, describes what this city, what all of us, have too often done with the homeless and mentally ill. We keep our distance, we give them a whole city of room, until something snaps, a threat is made, a weapon is displayed.

And then we send in the police to confront them and their illness.

There has to be a better way.

Ineffective tasers lead to shooting deaths

January 3, 2011
Jennifer Anderson, Portland Tribune

... Re the Dec. 27 shooting death of 34-year-old Marcus Lagozzino in Southwest Portland, and the Jan. 2 police shooting death of a homeless man at an abandoned Southeast Portland car wash: In both incidents, police used Tasers, but the devices were ineffective. “Tasers don’t work well when people are wearing bulky clothing,” Reese said. They also don’t work when the person is “very intent on committing a violent act,” he added. A November city audit on the police bureau’s five-year-old Taser program noted that they are effective 80 percent of the time.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Police Taser Camel With Behavior Problem

January 2, 2011

Mississippi police were continuing to monitor a camel that has a history of attacking people and damaging property Saturday after a bout of belligerent behavior forced a police officer to use a Taser to subdue it, the Sea Coast Echo reported.

The camel, which lives on a farm for domesticated animals in Kiln, Miss. was spotted by a woman driving by who noticed it was standing outside of its fence on Dec 4.

When she pulled into the farm’s driveway to alert its owners, she said the animal began attacking her car. Terrified, she called police.

Deputy Ed Merwin told the Echo he tried to chase the single-humped beast away from the car, but was unsuccessful.

"As I approached the animal in an attempt to run it away from attacking the female's car, the animal turned and started to come towards me," the paper quoted Merwin as saying.

"I tried to chase the animal away so the female could get her car to safety outside the gate,” he continued. “The animal was not complying with my commands. At this time, the animal was Tased once. It fled to the other side of the property."

The camel’s owner, Donna Berdine, offered to pay for the scratches the camel left on the car, the report said.

Following that incident, police received an additional complaint after the camel knocked a man down on Christmas Day, sending him to the hospital.

Hancock County Sheriff Department Major Bobby Underwood said the situation is unprecedented in the small town.

"In my 42 years in law enforcement, I've never had to deal with a camel problem," the paper quoted Underwood as saying. "I've been told the camel is really gentle. I don't know what got him fired up. We are going to continue to monitor the situation."

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Officers refuse to answer questions in death of man shot with Taser

Families finally gain a voice at coroners inquests in Las Vegas, but police refuse to cooperate

See also Families Gain Voice at Coroner Inquests

December 31, 2010
Joe Schoenmann, Las Vegas Sun

In the first test of the county’s new rules for reviewing police-involved deaths, officers connected with the Dec. 11 death of a suspect who was shot with a Taser are refusing to cooperate with investigators.

Their refusal to make voluntary statements to Metro’s Force Investigation Team is on the advice of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, said Chris Collins, president of the officers union. From Collins’ standpoint, not only is the officers’ refusal to cooperate the right thing to do, it marks the beginning of the end of the coroner’s inquest system.

The system, in use for 40 years, has come under fire in the wake of controversial shootings involving Metro officers, prompting Clark County commissioners to undertake a revision of the ordinance that lays the ground rules for the courtlike hearings.

“We believe the process to examine (the inquest system) and change the ordinance was the first nail in the coffin,” Collins said. “And I’m going to finish nailing it shut.”

Sheriff Doug Gillespie called Collins’ statements premature.

Although the officers involved in the incident that ended in the death of 44-year-old Anthony Jones refused to talk to Metro’s investigators, Gillespie said they did cooperate in other ways: They gave statements to their supervisors, which can be used in an inquest; they also go through an administrative examination of the incident, which cannot be used in the inquest.

County commissioners are expected to consider and possibly finalize additional changes to the inquest process at their meeting Monday. The key change being considered is the process of selecting the ombudsman, who acts as the representative at the inquest for victim’s family.

“That’s going to be critical, ultimately, to the success of the inquest process changes,” Gillespie said.

He noted that the police union’s objections to the inquest process aren’t new. It has long had concerns about officers giving voluntary statements to homicide investigators, similar to those raised by Collins and the officers involved in the Dec. 11 incident.

“In other cities, too, sometimes they don’t get voluntary statements, but they get the administrative and they are able to determine what happens. And the criminal investigation goes its path and the administrative goes its path.”

Complaints about the inquest system came to a head after two controversial shootings this year involving Erik Scott, a West Point graduate, at Costco in Summerlin, and Trevon Cole, who was unarmed when police shot and killed him at his home.

After those shootings, Commissioner Steve Sisolak pushed for creation of a committee to look at changes in the way the shootings are reviewed. Before the commission voted to accept many of the reforms this month, Collins warned commissioners that he would advise union members not to participate in the criminal investigations.

Officers’ refusal to participate was “my concern that I expressed over and over again,” Sisolak said. “They’re just following through with what they said they would do.”

On Monday, commissioners will consider requiring payment of the attorney/ombudsman and that the attorney not be involved in police use-of-force lawsuits five years before or after the inquest.

Other reforms agreed to by commissioners include:

• Allowing police officers to have a union attorney at inquests.

• Replacing juries with “inquest panels” and not giving them the option of reaching verdicts of justified, excusable or criminal.

• Letting attorneys for families and officers meet twice with a judge and prosecutor before an inquest.

Collins said he wants officers to avoid being questioned four times about the same incident — during the criminal investigation, at the inquest, and then, if there is a civil suit, a deposition, and at a trial.

To paint a picture of the problems that might arise, Collins gave a fictional example: After shooting a suspect, an officer tells homicide investigators he was 6 feet away when he shot; during the inquest, the ombudsman grills him and gets him to say it was “6 or 7 feet”; then a civil suit is filed and the officer has to go into a deposition and answer again; then he answers one more time during the civil trial.

Even though by the time the inquest is held, the district attorney has typically decided not to charge the officer, Collins said going through the questions four times is onerous.

“Now we’re saying ‘screw it’ — you only have to answer twice instead of four times: Answer in the deposition and the federal case and skip the homicide investigation and skip the inquest,” Collins said.

By skipping the inquest, officers will avoid the potentially embarrassing and uncomfortable situation of sitting in the witness chair and pleading the Fifth Amendment to every question, Collins said. He thinks officers will merely have to inform officials beforehand that they won’t answer questions, negating the need to show up to the inquest.

But that’s not how attorney Allen Lichtenstein, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, sees it. An officer who is subpoenaed “has to show up,” he said.

Lichtenstein added that even though officers involved in deaths may plead the Fifth, officers who are bystanders don’t have that right. And in agreement with the sheriff, he doesn’t see how the inquest reforms should change whether officers feel compelled to cooperate. For one, he said, few police-involved deaths result in civil suits. Even those that do can be quashed before they get to court.

“So there’s nothing really new, coroner’s inquests have always taken time and officers have always testified,” he said. “The only difference is that instead of being limited to questions by a friendly district attorney, they will now face someone who will ask questions that are tougher ... The union is just saying, ‘we don’t want to be asked tough questions.’ ”

No Tasers, no rise in Rockford (Illinois) police injuries

December 31, 2010
Chris Green, Rockford Register Star

ROCKFORD — When Rockford police officers began carrying Taser guns, advocates touted the less-than-lethal weapons as a means to reduce physical confrontations between officers and offenders.

But the Tasers were taken away in October 2009 after the manufacturer issued a nationwide warning advising against shooting someone in the chest. The bulletin said it opens the officer, the agency and TASER International to liability if heart damage, such as sudden cardiac arrest, or death occurs.

Critics predicted a spike in the number of injuries to officers as offenders, without the threat of a Taser, resisted arrest.

Fourteen months later, that has not been the case for Rockford officers.

In fact, charges of resisting and obstructing an officer have decreased each year since 2008 when 823 such incidents were recorded, followed by 440 in 2009 and 313 as of Dec. 1, 2010. The same downward trend was evident in cases of aggravated battery to a police officer: 75 in 2008, 58 in 2009, and 56 as of Dec. 1.

In a year that saw more than 160 deaths of on-duty law enforcement officers nationwide — compared with 117 in 2009 — Taserless Rockford officers have for the most part managed to stay safe.

Deputy Chief Greg Lindmark said Rockford officers are armed with something just as useful as a Taser and their service weapon, and that’s additional training on how to defuse a potentially volatile situation.

“Our Crisis Intervention Team has been called out 13 times this year,” he said. “That’s more than we’ve ever had.”

Deputy Chief Lori Sweeney also said every officer in the department this year has undergone at least eight hours of crisis intervention training.

“Good communication skills are key,” she said. “The first resource should be communications, and you work your way up the levels of use of force until you get the compliance that you need.”

Sweeney said basic CIT training entails teaching officers verbal skills and techniques to gain compliance, and how to be aware of a person’s behavior and any signs that may suggest mental illness and homelessness.

However, verbal commands are not always going to be the appropriate initial response by an officer.

“It’s the suspect’s actions that will create a reaction from an officer,” Sweeney said. “Sometimes the situation is so that you are automatically at deadly force.”

As of Dec. 30, deadly force was something Rockford officers did without in 2010. The last time officers used deadly force was the shooting of Mark Anthony Barmore in August 2009 inside a downtown day care center.

“The Barmore case did open up a lot of communications and awareness (between police and the community) to try to understand what happened,” Sweeney said.

In 2008, deadly force was not used, but that summer three people died after altercations with police: One, a Loves Park case, involved physical restraint and pepper spray; the other two cases involved the use of Taser guns.

In 2007, Rockford police used deadly force four times; three of the scenarios resulted in the death of a suspect.

While the use of Tasers is still being scrutinized as is TASER International’s request that the guns be fired at someone’s back or other parts of the body other than the chest, Sweeney said the weapons are still another viable option that officers should have to subdue a subject.

“We’ve been working with our city legal and union about the prospects of reissuing them,” she said.

Ohio man dies after he is tasered

January 1, 2011

December 31, 2010: Rodney Brown, 40, Cleveland, Ohio