June 05, 2008

Details exposed in the taser enquiry


Taser inquiry sifting dozens of complaints

One story of heart attack victim, another of man shocked eight times among submissions alleging abuse

The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER -- Germain Quesnel sat in an RCMP cell for an hour, believing he was having a heart attack.

He had just received two blasts from a police taser to his chest because Staff Sergeant Lorne Malkoske said he wouldn't move away from the cell door.

Mr. Quesnel, who had had two previous heart attacks, asked for his nitroglycerin medication but officers believed he was just trying to get out of jail.

An hour later he was taken to hospital where doctors confirmed he'd had a heart attack.

The report of Mr. Quesnel's tasering appears in RCMP and Complaints Commission documents submitted to a B.C. public inquiry into the use of tasers.

"I sincerely apologize to you for his actions. Your concerns were raised with [Sgt. Malkoske] and he was told that his conduct was not acceptable. He has assured me this will not reoccur," said a letter sent to Mr. Quesnel from a senior RCMP officer about the March, 2003, incident.

That letter is now among dozens of submissions to the inquiry. It was submitted by another man who says the same sergeant assaulted him with a taser two months later.

In his submission, Phil Spicer, 58, admits he was drunk when police squeezed his 6-foot-5, 275-pound frame into the back of a police car.

But it was the way the Richmond RCMP staff sergeant attempted to get him out of the vehicle that set off Mr. Spicer's four-year crusade over alleged police misuse of tasers.

With his hands cuffed behind his back, Mr. Spicer was shocked eight times by Sgt. Malkoske.

As Mr. Spicer's lawyer, Wayne Guinn, explained in a letter to Richmond RCMP, "The problem arose when officers tried to fit too big an object into too small a place ... they created the trouble."

Mr. Spicer's lengthy submission includes police reports, a letter from the RCMP Public Complaints Commission and his allegations of excessive force in a B.C. Supreme Court lawsuit, as well as details of Mr. Quesnel's ordeal.

His story is among about three dozen sent to the inquiry from people who feel police abused their authority by using the weapon as a compliance device.

Neither Sgt. Malkoske nor Mr. Quesnel could be located for comment.

Former B.C. appeal court judge Thomas Braidwood is conducting a two-part inquiry at the behest of the B.C. government after the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver airport last October.

Mr. Braidwood has already held public hearings for the first phase of his inquiry and a report is expected later this year. The second phase of the inquiry, looking specifically at Mr. Dziekanski's death, will begin when other investigations are complete.

About 2,800 tasers are being used by more than 9,100 RCMP members across the country. Municipal and provincial police forces, correctional officers and, in the case of Vancouver, transit police, also use conductive energy weapons.

Mounties have wielded the electronic guns more than 3,000 times since their introduction in December, 2001. Mr. Dziekanski was the 18th person in Canada to die after a taser strike.

Lorraine McLeod of Edmonton wrote to the inquiry about her nephew. "I believe the taser weapon is in the hands of police officers who are not trained to its lethal force," she said.

Taser International maintains that the weapon itself is not lethal. The question is one that will be examined by the commission.

Ms. McLeod's nephew, Jason Doan, 28, stopped breathing after he was shocked three times in August, 2006. He died a few weeks later in hospital.

"This tragedy with my nephew Jason happened to a man who needed help - not death," she stated.

Police responded to a report of a man smashing car windows and said they used the taser after an officer was hit with the wooden handle from a pitchfork.

Alison Beil wrote to the commission to say her son was "tortured" when the University of Victoria student was awakened in his home by Saanich Police and jolted five times.

And Margaret Hantuik told the commission that she called Victoria police herself when she was worried her son could hurt himself. The Grade 12 student, who has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism, was stressed from exams and in a manic state. The slight, 125-pound teen was already in the hospital when police officers used the taser.

"I strongly believe my son was tasered for expediency. The officers wanted to get on their way," she wrote to the commission.

"How could three strong, middle-aged officers not have held a slight, terrified lad, calmed him a bit and then shut the door?" she asked.

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