You may have arrived here via a direct link to a specific post. To see the most recent posts, click HERE.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Taser recommendations to be examined by British Columbia

June 13, 2012
Rob Shaw, timescolonist.com

The use of Tasers by police officers will be put under the microscope by a special committee of provincial politicians.
Eight government and Opposition MLAs were quietly appointed to study the issue, amid a flurry of other business on the last day of the spring session of the legislature.

The MLAs will focus on recommendations made by Justice Thomas Braidwood on Tasers, as well as how those recommendations have been implemented throughout the province, said Murray Coell, the Liberal MLA for Saanich North and the Islands and the committee convener.

“The direction we were given [by the legislature] was basically to look at the recommendations of Justice Braidwood, that’s the starting point,” Coell said.

MLAs will also consider “the scientific research into the medical risks to persons against whom conducted-energy weapons are deployed,” according to the committee’s terms of reference.

The politicians have the power to call witnesses, gather evidence and travel throughout the province, though it’s not known to what extent they will exercise those abilities.

Coell said it is reasonable to assume that police officials would be called to give evidence.

The first meeting is scheduled for July 18, and the committee must produce a report within a year.
Braidwood released recommendations on the use of and training surrounding Tasers in 2009.

The provincial government accepted them all and, in late 2011, approved new mandatory policing standards for Taser use, as well as crisis intervention and de-escalation techniques.

The Braidwood commission then went on to examine the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, who died after police repeatedly Tasered him while restraining him face down on the floor at Vancouver International Airport on Oct. 14, 2007.

The video of the incident sparked international criticism, and Braidwood ultimately said the actions of the four RCMP officers involved were shameful and not justified.

The officers have since been charged with perjury, and B.C. has launched a civilian Independent Investigations Office to handle police-involved serious injury and death cases.

“Clearly, given the death of Robert Dziekanski, given the serious concerns raised about the Taser … the committee has the chance to bring forward some good recommendations,” said NDP justice critic Leonard Krog, who is also a committee member.

The MLAs will also conduct a random audit of the police misconduct cases handled by B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner.

Coell said the government is doing “due diligence” in examining the office’s performance.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Warren, MI Police Department drops Tasers after shocking letter from manufacturer

June 10, 2010
Norb Franz, Oakland Press

Macomb County’s second-largest police force has dropped Tasers from its daily weaponry.

The Warren Police Department recently discontinued use of the stun guns after Arizona-based Taser International notified the city that the “general useful life” of the 152 devices carried by officers has expired.

After receiving an email that X26 and M26 Tasers more than 5 years old with certain serial numbers are past the recommended “deployment lifecycle,” police administrators and training division staff weighed whether Warren — which is Michigan’s third-largest city and has the most criminal incidents in the county — should eliminate Tasers, after six years of use.

Police Commissioner Jere Green cited multiple reasons for his decision to order all patrol officers, shift commanders and others on the street to turn in their Tasers. Warren’s top-ranking police administrator emphasized he will not risk officers’ safety if there’s potential for a delay when a Taser trigger is pulled; that use of Tasers failed to produce the desired results nearly a quarter of the time they were deployed; and that he doesn’t have the money in his budget to replace the aged models with new ones.

“If it doesn’t work, it’s going to give the bad guy time to go to plan B,” Green said. “We don’t have much wiggle room on the road for mistakes.”

The Taser model used by Warren police fires two barbs with 25 feet of wire. If both probes penetrated the target’s skin or clothing, the device delivers 50,000 volts for five seconds. All were purchased using drug forfeiture funds.

Police officials said their review found that the Tasers were used unsuccessfully 23 percent of the time they were used by Warren officers. The failures ranged from batteries and cartridges that became disconnected, to both probes not striking the target, to suspects wearing several jackets preventing complete penetration.

“It wasn’t really a no-brainer,” Green said. “It was a tough decision to make.”

Use of Tasers, formally regarded as an electronic control device, is touted as a non-lethal use of force. But the devices and police have made headlines together when a person dies after being struck.

Two people have died after being shot by a Taser fired by Warren police.

Last September, Richard Kokenos, 27, of Warren, died after a city police officer stunned him with a Taser as he attempted to break out of a squad car after being handcuffed, according to media reports.

A neighbor of Kokenos on Kendall Street said Kokenos had appeared “freaked out” while knocking at his door, asking to use a telephone. When the neighbor returned with a phone, Kokenos knocked on a door next door, went to a third house before returning to the second house, then walked to nearby Eureka Street, where he reportedly was seen slamming his body against the home.

In the other incident, Robert Delrico Mitchell, 16, bolted from a car during an April 2009 traffic stop by Warren police on Eight Mile Road. Mitchell was cornered by officers inside a vacant house on Pelkey Street in Detroit. Officers ordered him to show his hands after he told police he was 15 years old, Warren police said. An officer tried to grab him, but the teenager pulled free, police said. Mitchell pushed away and turned like he was heading to the front door to run again, and one of the two additional officers who arrived at the house fired a Taser, detectives said.

Mitchell fell unconscious. Police said officers and paramedics performed CPR, but he died.

The incident triggered a public outcry from Mitchell’s family and members of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality. Ten days after her son’s death, Cora Mitchell filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the city of Warren and its police department, claiming police violated his constitutional rights and used a “code of silence” to cover up the incident.

An attorney for the family alleged the Taser was a factor in the teen’s death. Attorney William Goodman died of “cardiac arrhythmia induced by (a thin heart wall)” with the “use of an electrical delivery device a contributing factor.”

A toxicology test showed Robert Mitchell had marijuana in his system, but the illegal drug was not a contributing factor in his death, Warren police said.

In 2007, 47-year-old Steven Spears, a bodybuilder and hairdresser from Shelby Township, died after he was involved in a tussle with police that included the deployment of a Taser by township police. Autopsy reports attributed his death to cocaine use. Spears’ family filed an excessive force lawsuit against the township and settled the case for $1.95 million.

Green, the Warren police commissioner, stressed the Mitchell case was not a factor in his order to halt Taser use by the city’s officers.

Warren also is engaged in a lawsuit filed by the city against Taser International.

The decision leaves officers in Warren without the device intended to temporarily incapacitate suspects who resist arrest without making direct contact. Patrol officers and shift commanders still carry batons and chemical spray.

Cpl. Matt Nichols of the Warren police training division said nearly all officers eagerly turned in their Taser and only about three officers expressed concern about being ordered to turn in their Taser. “Once we explained it … they freely handed it over,” Nichols said.

Warren could have purchased Taser’s newest model designed for law enforcement use at a cost of approximately $800 including the holster, four cartridges and after a $250 trade-in allowance.

A Taser International spokesman did not return a phone call seeking comment for this report. In an email to Warren police, the company wrote: “We were contacted by several agencies seeking help in determining how many of their Taser ECDs are approaching or have passed the recommended five-year lifecycle. We learned that we could better serve our customers if we took the time to run a proactive analysis of agencies’ ECDs so they could better plan for the future.”

Last month, Michigan became the 45th state to allow residents to arm themselves with Tasers. Under the new law, anyone trained in the use of a stun gun and with a license to carry a concealed pistol can carry a Taser for personal protection.

The consumer model reportedly can incapacitate a person reportedly with 1,200 volts for 30 seconds — far less electricity than the police model.

Use varies around Macomb

A Macomb Daily survey of police departments in Macomb County showed all make Tasers available to patrol officers and commanders, but in a few departments carrying the stun guns is optional. Several communities keep only enough for each shift.

The Fraser Public Safety Department has had Tasers since about 2005, Lt. Dan Kolke said.

“When a Taser is over five years old, we’re just getting rid of it and buying a new one,” he said.

Utica Police Chief Dave Faber said the city’s officers have been equipped with Tasers since 2004. He said the devices are tested daily to show they are charged.

“I don’t see a need to take them out of service,” Faber said. “We’ve had no problems with anyone not wanting to use them.”

The Utica Police Department has seven Tasers, which are signed out by officers at the start of their shift.

New Baltimore Police Chief Timothy Wiley said the Tasers purchased by the city in 2004 were replaced in 2009. The seven units are assigned to the department’s road patrol officers and commanders, and the city’s school resource officer.

In the St. Clair Shores and Richmond police departments, carrying the stun guns is optional.

New Haven Police Chief Michael Henry and his Romeo counterpart, Chief Grag Paduch, both carry a Taser.

Henry said his village’s police department traded in Tasers for new models four years ago.

“The ones we turned in were operating well. We didn’t have any problems,” he said. “My concern was the warranty had expired on them.

“That means more liability for the (village) government.”

Taser International’s recommendation that older models be replaced has been a controversial topic in Michigan police administrative circles.

“Some say it might be a sales pitch by the company. Others say there’s nothing wrong,” Richmond Police Chief Dave Teske said.

At the annual Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police convention in February, Taser touted its latest models designed for law enforcement agencies.

Center Line Public Safety Director Paul Myszenski said his department’s Tasers are more than four years old.

“We have no reason to get rid of them, but we will address that when we get to that five-year mark,” said Myszenski. He noted that officers still have a baton and pepper spray on their belts.

“The biggest tool an officer has is his mouth and his brain,” said Myszenski, explaining that officers can often talk an uncooperative suspect into complying with police orders. “Nothing’s going to be 100 percent. There’s always risk involved.”

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

OPINION: Whatever Happened to Justice? Supreme Court OKs Police Tasering Pregnant Women

by John W. Whitehead

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”—Martin Luther King Jr.

Once again, the United States Supreme Court has proven Clarence Darrow, a civil liberties attorney and long-time advocate for the Constitution, correct in his assertion that “there is no such thing as justice—in or out of court.” In meting out this particular miscarriage of justice, the Supreme Court recently refused to hear the case of a pregnant woman who was repeatedly tasered by Seattle police during a routine traffic stop simply because she refused to sign a speeding ticket.

Malaika Brooks, 33 years old and seven months pregnant, was driving her 11-year-old son to school on a November morning in 2004, when she was pulled over for driving 32 mph in a 20 mph school zone. Instructing her son to walk the rest of the way to school, Malaika handed over her driver’s license to Officer Juan Ornelas for processing. However, when instructed to sign the speeding ticket—which the state inexplicably requires, Malaika declared that she wished to contest the charge, insisting that she had not done anything wrong and fearing that signing the ticket would signify an admission of guilt.

What happened next is a cautionary tale for anyone who still thinks that they can defy a police officer, even if it’s simply to disagree about a speeding ticket. Rather than issuing a verbal warning to the clearly pregnant (and understandably emotional) woman, Officer Ornelas called for backup. Officer Donald Jones subsequently arrived and told Brooks to sign the ticket. Again she refused. The conversation became heated. The cops called in more backup. The next to arrive was Sergeant Steven Daman, who directed Brooks to sign the ticket, pointing out that if she failed to do so, she would be arrested and taken to jail. Again, Malaika refused.

On orders from Sgt. Daman, Ornelas ordered a distraught Brooks to get out of the car, telling her she was “going to jail.” Malaika refused, and the second cop, Jones, responded by pulling out his taser electro-shock weapon, asking her if she knew what it was and warning her it would be used on her if she continued to resist. Brooks told him “No,” and then said, “I have to go to the bathroom, I am pregnant, I’m less than 60 days from having my baby.”

Jones and Ornelas then proceeded to discuss how best to taser the pregnant woman and forcibly remove her from the car. One officer said, “Well, don’t do it in her stomach; do it in her thigh.” Opening the car door, Ornelas twisted Malaika’s arm behind her back. Desperate, Brooks held on tightly to the steering wheel, while Jones cycled the taser as a demonstration of its capacity to cause pain.

With the taser in a “drive-stun” mode, Officer Jones then pressed the taser against Brooks’ thigh while Ornelas held her hand behind her back. Brooks, in obvious pain, began to cry and honk her car horn—hoping someone would help. Thirty-six seconds later, Ornelas pressed it into her left arm. Six seconds later, he again stunned her, this time on the neck. After being tasered numerous times, Brooks’ pregnant body eventually gave way. As Malaika fell over and out of the car, the officers dragged her onto the street, placing the pregnant woman face down on the pavement, handcuffing her and transporting her to jail.

While Malaika Brooks’ ordeal with the police did not seem to negatively impact her unborn child—she gave birth to a healthy baby girl two months after the altercation—Malaika bears permanent burn scars on her body where she was tasered by police. Thus, looking to the courts to hopefully right the wrong against her, Malaika sued the arresting officers, charging them with use of excessive force and violating her constitutional rights.

Unfortunately, this is where what happened to Malaika Brooks at the hands of the police—behavior that should be roundly condemned and prohibited—becomes yet another example of the cowardice of our justice system and the corrupt nature of life in a police state. Even though the Ninth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals recognized that Malaika posed no threat to anyone, nor did she pose a physical threat to the officers, that none of her offenses were serious, and that officers clearly used “excessive force” against her, the justices granted qualified immunity to the officers—a ruling that the U.S. Supreme Court ostensibly upheld when it refused to hear the case. In doing so, the courts have essentially given police carte blanche authority when it comes to using tasers against American citizens.

Indeed, this case highlights a growing trend in which police officers use tasers to force individuals into compliance in relatively non-threatening situations. Originally designed to restrain violent criminals, tasers are now used with impunity against individuals who pose no bodily harm to the police. Rowdy schoolchildren, the elderly, and mentally ill individuals are increasingly finding themselves on the receiving end of these sometimes lethal electroshock devices. Cops who have been shocked in the course of their training have described being tased as “the most profound pain,” and “like getting punched 100 times in a row.”

Police looking for absolute deference to their authority are quick to utilize tasers. For example, there have been a number of incidents where suspects of minor crimes and even completely innocent people were electroshocked into compliance by cops. In Florida, a 15-year-old girl was tased and pepper sprayed after being taken off of a bus following a disturbance. In Arizona, a run-away 9-year-old girl was tased as she sat in the back seat of a police car with her hands cuffed behind her back. In Oregon, police tased a blind and partially deaf 71-year-old multiple times in her own front yard. In another instance, a Florida woman, 12-weeks pregnant, was tased after refusing to submit to a strip search at a jail. She spontaneously miscarried seven days later. In Texas, a 72-year-old great-grandmother was tased after refusing to sign a speeding ticket.

While law enforcement advocates may suggest otherwise, these incongruous and excessive uses of force by the police are quickly becoming the rule, not the exception. A 2011 New York Civil Liberties Union report showed that of the eight police departments surveyed across the state, over 85 percent of taser uses occurred in cases where suspects were not armed. Incredibly, 40 percent of taser uses were aimed at the elderly, children, the mentally ill, or the severely intoxicated. And despite claims that tasers de-escalate tense situations, a Michigan State University study shows that suspects are more likely to be injured in incidences where police use stun guns (41% of the time), rather than when no stun gun is used (29% of the time).

Moreover, although tasers are touted as being non-lethal, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests otherwise. A study recently published by the American Heart Association has determined that taser shocks applied to the chest can lead to cardiac arrest. According to cardiologist Byron Lee, “This is no longer arguable. This is a scientific fact.”

Since 2001, over 500 people have died after being stunned with tasers. In a 2008 report, Amnesty International reviewed hundreds of deaths following taser use and found that 90 percent of those who died after being struck with a taser were unarmed. In late 2007, the United Nations Committee Against Torture declared that the use of tasers constituted a form of torture. Yet despite all of the evidence that tasers are dangerous, taser technology continues to rapidly advance. One of the most recent advances in taser technology is the X12 Taser shotgun, which fires taser rounds at a distance of up to 100 feet, adding nearly 80 feet in range compared to a regular handheld taser. It would not be a stretch to envision police using the X12 against protesters simply exercising their right to free speech and assembly under the First Amendment.

While it is tempting to paint all law enforcement officials as brutish thugs, I truly do not believe that is the case. I have known many honorable law enforcement officials who sincerely struggle with how best to balance the demands placed on them by higher ups in government with the need to treat those around them with respect and dignity.

As John Lennon once remarked, “The trouble with government as it is, is that it doesn’t represent the people. It controls them.” Indeed, the varied expressions of the government’s growing power—the excessive use of tasers by police on non-threatening individuals, allowing drones to take to the skies domestically for purposes of surveillance, the government’s monitoring of our emails and phone calls, and on and on—which get more troubling by the day, are merely the outward manifestations of an inner, philosophical shift underway in how the government views not only the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but “we the people,” as well.

What this reflects is a move away from a government bound by the rule of law to one that seeks total control over the populace through the imposition of its own self-serving laws on the populace—laws carried out by a police force hired to do the government’s bidding.

Taser use not "relevant factor" in tattoo artist's death

June 5, 2012


The use of a Taser stun gun on Edmonton tattoo artist Trevor Grimolfson was "not a relevant factor" in his death, according to a fatality inquiry report obtained by CBC News prior to its release later this month.

The two-page report into Grimolfsen's death on Oct. 29th, 2008 also contains no recommendations, which concerns his mother Beverly."All you can get are recommendations and you don't even get one to prevent a similar death? Not even one?" she asked. "That's what my son would want. He would not want anyone else to die like that."

Trevor Grimolfson, 38, died after police tried to subdue him outside his tattoo parlour at 153rd Street and Stony Plain Road. Officers were called after Grimolfson rampaged through a nearby pawnshop and assaulted the store owner.

Police used the Taser on him three times. Grimolfson lost consciousness after he was put in handcuffs and was pronounced dead by the time he arrived at the Royal Alexandra Hospital.

In his report, fatality inquiry judge Frederick Day wrote that the last use of a Taser needs to be within 15 seconds of a loss of consciousness for it to be considered a factor in someone's death.

In Grimolfson's case, "a few minutes passed, not seconds, from the time of last Taser use to time of unconsciousness; therefore, the Taser use is not a relevant factor," the judge wrote.

The medical examiner found that Grimolfson died of "excited delirium" triggered by "multiple drug toxicity." He was found to have high levels of the street drugs ecstasy and ketamine in his blood.

Beverly Grimolfson plans to protest outside of future fatality inquiries with relatives of others who have died after Taser use.

During the inquiry, she recommended that researchers at the University of Alberta conduct studies on the effects of the device.

"Something has to be done to get proper testing going here and that's what I'm going to focus on," she said.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Opera focuses on Dziekanski before being Tasered by RCMP

May 31, 2012
Aly Thomson, Canadian Press

HALIFAX -- Repeatedly seeing video of Robert Dziekanski being stunned with a Taser by RCMP officers on national television inspired J.A. Wainwright to write an opera about the tragedy.

"Quite frankly, I got tired of seeing Robert Dziekanski die," said Wainwright, a poet and author.
"I wanted to see him live."

The opera, set to première at the Scotia Festival of Music on Thursday in Halifax, tells the story of Dziekanski, an immigrant from Poland who died in 2007 after being repeatedly stunned by Mounties at the Vancouver airport.

His death attracted international attention when it was captured on video by a traveller.

Wainwright, who wrote the opera's libretto, said he felt Dziekanski became part of a "media circus where we saw him die over and over again."

"I wanted to deal with him as a human being rather than an image on the screen," Wainwright said in a telephone interview from his home in Halifax.

The story is told through the imagined voices of Dziekanski and his mother, Zofia Cisowski.

The opera, titled I Will Fly Like a Bird, begins in Poland on the eve of Dziekanski's departure, where he is celebrating with friends and discussing his aspirations after arriving in Canada, said John Plant, the opera's composer.

The opera then moves into the flight itself, followed by the incident at the airport and finishes with a elegy of sorts from Dziekanski's mother, said Plant.

But the piece does not directly portray when he was shot with the Taser, nor does it evoke any of the political backlash felt by the RCMP after the incident, said Wainwright.

"It doesn't focus in any direct way on the Taser, although it's alluded to metaphorically and very powerfully in the music."

Plant said the human emotion involved in Dziekanski's story was easily translated into a musical piece.

"This was such a trauma... not just for the people involved, but for Canadians as well, to know that this sort of thing could happen," said Plant, who has been writing the music for the opera for more than two years.

"To give Robert a voice and to give his mother a voice, opera can do that very powerfully."

"He was a man filled with hopes and aspirations, coming to a new country to live with his mother, and they were destroyed," he said.

Plant said Cisowski is planning on attending the première of the opera.

"She's very pleased that her son is being honoured in this way and, of course, we're very honoured that she's coming to hear it," said Plant, who will also be playing the piano on Thursday.

The performance will be a concert opera, meaning the vocalists will not be in costume or acting.
It's currently the only planned performance, but Plant said he's hoping to take the show across the country.

The 33rd annual Scotia Festival of Music runs from May 27 to June 8.

Sister of dead Vancouver man targets police Taser accountability

May 30, 2012
Mike Howell, The Vancouver Courier

Next month marks an anniversary Patti Gillman wishes could be for a happier reason than learning about her older brother's death in a downtown hotel.

Eight years ago, 44-year-old Robert Wayne Bagnell died in the Old Continental Hotel at 1390 Granville St. after police attempted to arrest him in a washroom.

"It just brings a deep sense of loss and sadness," said Gillman, by telephone from her home in Belleville, Ont., who lost her brother June 23, 2004.

Vancouver police officers twice fired a Taser at Bagnell, handcuffed him and unsuccessfully used "zap straps" to tie his feet together before using a "triangular bandage" to restrain his legs.

He became unresponsive and died at the scene. To this day, Gillman doesn't believe a Taser was necessary in the arrest of her brother, noting he was 136 pounds and in medical distress when officers arrived at the hotel. "I don't think it helped," she said of the stun gun.

Gillman's belief and her crusade to make police officers more accountable for use of the Taser is detailed in a blog she started after her brother's death. The purpose of Truthnottasers is to track Taser-related deaths in North America and create public awareness about the weapon, said Gillman, who works for a non-profit association that supports people with intellectual disabilities.

Gillman contacted the Courier after reading a recent story posted on the paper's website that revealed the VPD had dramatically curtailed the use of the Taser since her brother's death.

Police have used the Taser only twice this year compared to a recorded high of 93 times in 2006. The year of Bagnell's death, police fired the Taser more than 20 times, according to incident reports posted on the VPD's website.

"Any time it's used by a police officer, it's a case of Russian roulette," she said. "With a gun you know what you're going to get, with a Taser you just don't."

In the lead-up to her brother's arrest, tenants heard incoherent yelling and the sound of porcelain smashing in the washroom. One tenant suspected Bagnell, who had a history of prescription and illicit drug use, of experiencing an overdose.

Dr. Laurel Gray, who conducted the autopsy on Bagnell, considered the role of the Taser, a stun gun that delivers a high-voltage electrical charge. But she concluded the cause of death was consistent with "restraint-associated cardiac arrest due to or as a consequence of acute cocaine intoxication and psychosis."

The details were revealed at a coroner's inquest in 2006 and 2007, which coincidentally was the same year Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski died at the Vancouver International Airport after RCMP officers fired a Taser at him several times.

Gillman has kept in contact with Dziekanski's mother, who bought Gillman a laptop so she could continue to write on her blog about police departments' use of the Taser.

Though stun guns are still used by officers, Gillman believes if her brother experienced the same breakdown today as he did in 2004, he might still be alive.

"I think at the time [the VPD] were so unclear about what the Taser could do or how it worked or what the outcomes could be," she said, noting the family dropped a lawsuit against the VPD because it cost too much. "He wasn't an angel, not at all, but he didn't deserve to die."