A 2017 Toronto police report on Taser use in 2016 claims that no one died from Tasers in 2016 despite the fact that the Special Investigations Unit, the agency that examines police harm to civilians, is still investigating the death of 31-year-old Rui Nabico. On November 4, 2016, Nabico went into medical distress after Toronto police fired a stun gun at him. He was taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead. The young man only went into medical distress after being Tasered so the Toronto police report is clearly false. A piece of copaganda.
Tag Archives: taser
Inquest into Police Killing of Craig McDougall Sees No Racism Despite Mistreatment of Family, Eight Year Delay
Racism and policing have gone hand and hand in the Canadian context. From the settler colonial violence of the RCMP through contemporary practices from carding to assaults upon racialized people and communities. The settler colonial character of the Canadian state continues in the current context in the disproportionate arrest and incarceration of Indigenous people and the exertion of violence, often lethal violence, against them.
Not surprisingly the Canadian state and the various institutions of criminal justice have stridently denied claims of racism. Inquiries into police violence typically offer findings that diminish or deny the part of racism in police actions. Such an outcome was delivered again on May 12, 2017 with the results of the inquiry into the killing of Craig McDougall, a young Indigenous man, by Winnipeg police, a force with a long and notorious history of racist violence.
Twenty-six-year-old Craig Vincent McDougall was shot and killed by police outside his father’s home on Simcoe Street in Winnipeg on August 2, 2008. Police claimed to be responding to a 911 call when they arrived at the home in the early hours of August 2. They suggest that found McDougall outside the house holding a cell phone and a knife. One officer shot him with a taser. He was then shot with a firearm which killed him. A private investigator who examined the case has cast doubt on the assertion that Craig McDougall held a knife at the moment he was shot.
Incredibly, the victim’s family members were immediately arrested and put in handcuffs on the front lawn, an act of what criminologists term the dramatization of evil, designed to denigrate and humiliate people targeted by the system. Jonathan Rudin, an expert witness on Indigenous people, policing, and the criminal justice system, testified that the treatment of McDougall’s family after the young man was shot exemplified systemic racism as the victims were assumed by police to be criminals and were treated as such.
Still, despite the actions of police, the inquest concluded that there was no evidence of racism in the police actions. It offered the typical statist finding that police were justified in their actions. In the inquest report, Associate Chief Judge Anne Krahn wrote there was “no evidence of racism direct or systemic in the moments leading to the shooting of Craig McDougall.” The judge found the arrest of McDougall’s father and uncle to be a simple misstep. In her words: “there were missteps in the immediate aftermath of the shooting when Craig McDougall’s uncle and father were left handcuffed and detained without lawful authority.” Such is the normalization of racism in the Canadian criminal justice system. Atrocious actions become mere missteps.
Critics point out that treating the family members in such disrespectful and accusatory fashion exemplifies racism. One might add the little regard shown for the family or the community in the eight year delay between the killing and the inquest report. It could be suggested that such an egregious delay would never be accepted in the case of a killing (by anyone) of a white, privileged victim. Of course police, and police associations, seek to delay and divert inquests to benefit their own interests.
The inquest report even contradicts its own conclusions by making recommendations that imply racism by police. Among these recommendations are that the police service should consider delivery of implicit bias training for its members at regular intervals (a recognition of racist assumptions) and work with Indigenous organizations to develop programs.
Police agencies and their ideological supporters, often located in criminology and psychology departments in universities and colleges, have developed entire cottage industries producing pseudo-science and pseudo-forensics, phony analyses, concepts, and terms, to justify and excuse police killings of civilians. These pseudo-scientific projects have constructed their own literatures, bodies of ideas, and “expert” witnesses supporting dubious “diagnoses” used to “explain” how it is that victims of police violence came to be responsible (biologically or psychologically) for their own murders.
Among the most pernicious and extensively developed and deployed of these pseudo-scientific diagnoses are the notorious notions of excited delirium and so-called suicide by cop. Neither of these has any scientific basis or legitimate supporting evidence to back them. They offer little, in fact, beyond the statements of police “researchers” (cops and former cops who have used such work not only to support their colleagues and former colleagues but to claim positions in academia) and some compliant criminologists and psychologists and others supportive of police on ideological or opportunistic grounds (i.e. funding).
While the dubious claim of excited delirium has no psychological or medical basis it is routinely used to let police officers walk away from any accountability when they kill civilians. Despite the recognition that excited delirium has no basis in scientific, psychological or medical, reality, it is still used in investigative cases on police killings, often by coroners’ offices in the Canadian context, for example.
In Canada the excited delirium excuse was used to let killer cops off the hook in two cases within a three week period over October and November of 2016. These cases involved the police killing of Maurizio Facchin (50) in Burnaby, British Columbia, in 2014 and Simon Chung (34) in Edmonton, Alberta, in 2013. Both cases involved the use of tasers by police and the men went into fatal distress only after a taser was used on them. Chung was also subjected to attempts by two Edmonton police to restrain him forcefully. He was tased twice by an officer while restrained, including one blast that lasted 28 seconds (Parsons 2016). In both cases the role of the taser in the men’s deaths was acknowledged yet both deaths were ruled accidental.
Notably in the case of the police killing of Simon Chung one of the officers claimed to suspect that the victim was experiencing excited delirium yet chose to restrain and taser him anyway. This would suggest culpability in his death given the claims of police that excited delirium could lead to a fatal response to either restraint or tasing.
The Dubious Diagnosis of Excited Delirium
Excited delirium has come under growing public scrutiny in recent years given the overwhelming proportion of diagnoses related to deaths involving police use of compliance holds and/or use of tasers. Typically these diagnoses are provided only by medical examiners not by hospital or emergency room doctors. Furthermore, and as alarming, there is the fact that excited delirium is presently not a recognized medical or psychiatric diagnosis by either the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IVTR) of the American Psychiatric Association or the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-9) of the World Health Organization. Due to these troubling facts, it is widely considered that the real cause of death in cases identified after the fact as instances of excited delirium are actually caused by straightforward police violence and use if force. These are related to taser use and positional asphyxia.
Civil rights groups have argued that diagnoses of excited delirium are only applied after the fact to get police officers off the hook in cases in which excessive force has resulted in the death of a civilian. The NAACP reported in 2003 that excited delirium diagnoses are provided more often in explaining the deaths of minorities than they are in the deaths of white victims. In 2007, Eric Balaban of the American Civil Liberties Union noted that excited delirium was not recognized by the American Medical Association or the American Psychological Association and that the diagnosis simply served “as a means of white-washing what may be excessive use of force and inappropriate use of control techniques by officers during an arrest” (NPR 2007). Melissa Smith of the American Medical Association confirmed in 2007 that the association had “no official policy” on the supposed condition (ABC News 2007).
Excited delirium is not recognized in Australia by the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, the Australian Medical Association or any other registered medical body. Neither is it recognized in law. A 2015 case, in which a man who had been declared to have died from excited delirium was overturned by a ruling in the Victorian Coroners Court. The presiding coroner in that case concluded that neither excited delirium nor so called excited delirium syndrome are appropriate or helpful in providing a legitimate medical cause of death (Coroner’s Court of Victoria at Melbourne 2015).
The Burnaby ruling in the Mauricio Facchin case is particularly stunning, and disappointing, given that Vancouver was site of the 2007 police killing of migrant Robert Dziekanski whose death police initially lied about publicly suggesting he suffered excited delirium. Video by a civilian witness showed this claim to be untrue as Dziekanski was following police instructions when he was tased and jumped by police causing his death. During the inquiry into police actions that police psychologist Mike Webster that police have been “brainwashed” by Taser International to justify “ridiculously inappropriate” use of the weapon. Webster referred to excited delirium as a “dubious disorder” pushed by Taser International during its police training (Hall 2008). A 2008 report on taser use by the RCMP, An Independent Review of the Adoption and Use of Conducted Energy Weapons by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, concluded that excited delirium should not be included in the operational manual for the Mounties in the absence of formal approval following consultation with a mental-health-policy advisory body (Kiedrowski 2008). Justice Thomas Braidwood concluded the inquiry finding that excited delirium should not be used as part of police use of force training as it is not a legitimate medical condition.
Recommendations Based On What?
In the case of the coroner’s inquiry into the police killing of Maurizio Facchin, the coroner’s jury suggested that police receive training in identifying and properly responding to instances of excited delirium. It was also recommended that 911 dispatchers receive such training so that they might identify and inform police of potential excited delirium cases upon dispatch. Finally the jury suggested that officers contact emergency services when a taser is going to be deployed in such cases.
In the case of the police killing of Simon Chung, Provincial Court Judge Lloyd Malin provided two recommendations. In the first he suggested that while Edmonton Police Service mentions excited delirium syndrome in its policy and procedure manual on use of force, officers should also be trained to recognize the symptoms in all situations, not only during arrests. Malin also recommended that officers be trained to call for emergency medical services as soon as excited delirium is suspected. This call should be made regardless of the need for police to restrain an individual (Parsons 2016).
These recommendations are based on the dubious diagnosis of excited delirium and will do little to change police behavior, particularly violent behavior. They will not address police killings of civilians. The recommendations are based on treatment of a social fiction.
- The notion of suicide-by-cop was first used in the early 1980s by a former California police officer working toward a PhD in Psychology. Virtually all of the research on the issue has been prepared by people with connections to police departments.
ABC News. 2007. “Excited Delirium: Police Brutality vs. Sheer Insanity.” ABC News. March 2.
Coroner’s Court of Victoria at Melbourne. 2015. Finding into Death with Inquest—Inquest into the Death of Odisseas Vekiaris.
Hall, Neil. 2008. “Police Are ‘Brainwashed’ by Taser Maker. Psychologist Blames Instructions.” Vancouver Sun. May 14. A1
Kiedrowski, John. 2008. An Independent Review of the Adoption and Use of Conducted Energy Weapons by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Ottawa: RCMP
NPR. 2007. “Death by Excited Delirium: Diagnosis or Cover Up?” NPR. February 26.
Parsons, Paige. 2016. “Fatality Inquiry Finds Man Tasered by Edmonton Police Died of Excited Delirium Linked to Meth Use.” Edmonton Sun. November 17. http://www.edmontonsun.com/2016/11/17/fatality-inquiry-finds-man-tasered-by-edmonton-police-died-of-excited-delirium-linked-to-meth-use
RCMP Officers Who Killed Felix Taqqaugaq Identified as Constable Jason Trites (Shooter) and Sergeant Peter Marshall (Partner)
It is rare in the Canadian context that police officers who kill civilians are ever named publicly. This generally only happens in the few cases that result in charges laid against police or in case of a public inquiry or inquest. With the coroner’s inquest onto the police killing of Felix Taqqaugaq on March 20, 2012, mandatory in cases of police harm to civilians in Nunavut, the RCMP officers who killed him have been identified publicly as Constable Jason Trites and Sergeant Peter Marshall.
Constable Trites knew that Taqqaugaq was dealing with mental health issues, which the officer understood to be schizophrenia, yet he still moved quickly to arrest the man for supposedly uttering threats and fired a taser at him only moments into the encounter (and before the man had done anything more than speak to officers). The taser fire may have upset Taqqaugaq who was then chased back into his house by Sergeant Marshall. In response to this police chase Taqqaugaq may have returned brandishing a knife.
By Trite’s own admission he tripped (apparently in a panic) while backing away from Taqqaugaq and firing his handgun. This left Trites with a self-inflicted wound to his hand. This injury was initially reported publicly but it was not clarified that Trites had shot himself. Such early reports of officer injuries, without the information that the injuries are self-inflicted, can give the impression that police were physically threatened or harmed and thus justified in using lethal force. A similarly deceptive mention of injury to an officer (that later was identified as officer-inflicted) was given in the RCMP killing of Hudson Brooks in Surrey, British Columbia. While on his back Trites shot Taqqaugaq three times. The man was taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead.
According to Mary Ijjangiaq, Taqqaugaq’s partner of 13 years the police instigated the situation that led to the killing. In her words to the inquest: “They ganged up on him. He was deliberately provoked. I think [the officer] deliberately made sure he died” (quoted in Murray 2016a). She says the victim held a knife at his chest not over his head in a threatening manner as police claim.
Police audio from the incident raise further questions and ppint to a very quick escalation to lethal force by police. From the moment that officers radioed in to the Iqaluit command centre reporting they had located the suspect only 60 seconds passed before one officer called out “Shots fired; suspect down” (Murray 2016a).
As cops typically do in such cases officer Trites has attempted to present himself as the victim requiring sympathy. In his pitch to the inquiry he attempts to make the family feel sorry for himself: “I just hope the family knows that they’re not the only ones that were hurt by this. The things that I deal with, do affect my personal life. I’m definitely not the same person as I used to be before this incident” (quoted in Murray 2016b).
Incredibly both Constable Trites and Sergeant Marshall were flown out of the northern community (where the RCMP is a still colonial force) the very next day after the killing of Felix Taqqaugaq. Trites has testified at the inquest by video from Halifax.
Murray, Nick. 2016a. “‘They Ganged Up on Him’: Wife of Igloolik Man Killed by Police Heard Shots Fired.” CBC News. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/felix-taqqaugaq-inquest-wife-witness-testimony-1.3842011
Murray, Nick. 2016b. “‘I Was Trying to Stop Him’: RCMP Officer Apologizes for Shooting Felix Taqqaugaq.” CBC News. November 9. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/felix-taqqaugaq-inqest-officer-narrative-1.3842623
A 31-year-old Toronto man has died after police shot him with a conducted energy weapon. The man went into medical distress after being tased and was taken to hospital where he later died. Police had apparently responded to a 911 call from a home on Sages Crescent near Old Weston Road and St. Clair Avenue in the city’s west end on the afternoon of Friday, November 4, 2016.
Several Toronto Police Department officers arrived at the home where some type of interaction with the victim was said to have happened. While police claim the man was holding two knives and screaming (neither of which is necessarily threatening), the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) has not confirmed that the man was in any way armed. They have also not confirmed the presence of any weapons at the scene other than those held by police. A conflicting report said the man was simply walking with one knife.
The SIU, which investigates cases of harm to civilians by police in Ontario, announced its decision to investigate the killing at around 2 PM on Friday afternoon. Six investigators along with two forensic investigators will carry out the investigation.
The problems of oversight of police in Canada have been consistently observed in every oversight agency in the country. Perhaps nowhere have these problems, and the limitations of institutional oversight structures in the Canadian context been more clearly revealed in a short period of time than in the example of the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) in British Columbia. Less than four years in existence the agency, founded in direct response to the infamous killing by police of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport in 2007, in a case in which police lied about the killing until civilian video surfaced, has been beset by a range of troubles. These include a lack of capacity even to get police to file reports on time or refrain from watching news reports before filing reports, to the involvement of officers at the Justice Institute of British Columbia in training investigators to investigate police. All of this calls into question the independence, authority, and competence of the IIO and leaves victims and their families, as well as social commentators, questioning the organization.
Now the exiting director is, incredibly, calling for more, not less police involvement in and direction of the organization. The embattled director of the provincial oversight body, Richard Rosenthal, announced in September 2016 that he is leaving his position four months before his term ends, effective September 7. Rosenthal was appointed as the civilian director of the IIO with its founding in 2012. On his way out the door he has given a gift to police, and perhaps another nail in the IIO coffin as far as independence is concerned.
Curious Claims: Calling for More Cops
In particular Rosenthal has argued for greater discretion in the hiring of former police officers. Currently the IIO is restricted from hiring any person who has been a police force member in BC within the last five years. Rosenthal wants that restriction abolished (Rosenthal 2016). This has not prohibited the IIO from being trained by officers at the JIBC or hiring officers from outside the province. Without explanation, or regard for the implications of having officers investigating their friends and colleagues, Rosenthal suggests that former officers are the only means by which to provide training to civilians. This is a curious claim to say the least for someone who is leaving the IIO to study for his PhD in criminology. Surely there are many criminologists and forensic scientists who could train civilian investigators. Rosenthal’s claim speaks to the dependence on and over-regard for police exemplified in the IIO.
Rosenthal has also argued that the IIO director needs more discretion in choosing what cases to take to investigation. Right now the IIO mandate calls for investigation of all events in which death or serious injury is caused by a police officer. This means that the investigation delivers the assessment of officer culpability (though officers are virtually never found culpable or responsible regardless of the circumstances or evidence). More discretion would lead to cases being overlooked or not being pursued, even where an investigation might well be warranted. This is particularly so if Rosenthal’s other recommendation for more officer involvement in the agency were followed.
The issue of hiring former police to the supposedly civilian agency is not strictly academic. It has been a point of contention in the history of the IIO. Indeed, in 2015 the IIO was investigated for allegations of bullying and harassment related to the agency’s hiring of former officers (Meuse 2016). As a result 17 investigators and five non-investigative staff exited the IIO within only its first 28 months of operation (Meuse 2016).
Rosenthal as struggled to explain this. Upon leaving he has suggested:
“At the beginning, we were having challenges. We did not have alignment in vision and values of the organization. And unfortunately when you’re the leader of the organization, you take heat from people who don’t share that vision and who need to leave. [But] the good news is that now we are in a place where we have a strong executive that understands the importance of independence.” (quoted in Meuse 2016)
Yet this so-called independence has never been a hallmark of the IIO. Since the beginning of operations in 2012, the IIO has worked under a memorandum of understanding drafted in consultation with police chiefs from across British Columbia (Meuse 2016). Strangely, while suggesting a respect for independence Rosenthal has claimed that “the document has been excellent in allowing the IIO to work collaboratively with police forces” (Meuse 2016). The question always remains, “Can an independent body simultaneously be a collaborator?”
Comply or..Well, Nothing
One problem remains that there is no actual mechanism to compel police to respect IIO authority or act according to the needs and demands of the investigation rather than the interests of police forces and associations. As in other oversight agencies in Canada, police in BC are able to obstruct, ignore, interfere with, or disregard investigators and investigations. A recent IIO report itself has concluded that police routinely refuse to file reports in a timely manner after an incident of harm to civilians and often do so only after watching news reports. According to Rosenthal: “That’s not happening, on a systemic basis. It’s a huge problem as far as ensuring the integrity of investigations. We need the government to step up and create regulations in order to ensure that we’re able to do our job in an effective manner” (quoted in Meuse 2016).
None of this will be secured by having more police involved in the agency. Rosenthal’s statements, really an appeal for police involvement and the end of even limited “independence,” upon leaving should be a warning sign for all families and friends of victims who are seeking answers or some accountability and for all civilians in British Columbia. Particularly in a context in which police killings of civilians are increasing in the province.
Meuse, Matt. 2016. “IIO Director Richard Rosenthal Steps Down 4 Months Early.” CBC News. September 6. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/richard-rosenthal-steps-down-1.3748640
Rosenthal, Richard. 2016. “Exclusive Op-Ed: Outgoing Head of B.C.’s Civilian-Led Police Watchdog Asks for More Support.” Terrace Standard. September 2. http://www.terracestandard.com/opinion/392187931.html
For a small town detachment the Terrace, BC, RCMP have gained some infamy for violence against civilians, including civilian deaths. On August 21, 2016 Nicolas Allan Jeppesen (29) died after being tased by officers of the Terrace RCMP outside the town’s Mills Memorial Hospital. The Independent Investigations Office (IIO), the body that reviews police violence involving civilians, is investigating the RCMP involvement in Jeppesen’s death but few details have been provided to the public. The BC Coroner’s Service, which has a broader mandate for investigation, is also investigating.
What has been reported is that in the early afternoon of August 21, RCMP officers were called to the hospital following a report of a man carrying an axe and a possibility that he might do harm to himself. There has been no report that he posed a threat to anyone else. The man was reportedly seen near the area of the hospital’s mental health ward. Upon encountering Jeppesen RCMP used a Taser, a conducted energy weapon, to subdue the man. During the intervention by police the victim received undisclosed injuries, through undisclosed means, from which he died after being taken inside the hospital.
Josh Paterson of the BC Civil Liberties Association notes the concerns around fatalities associated with the use of Tasers by police. In his words:
“In general we’ve had lots of concerns about the use of conducted energy weapons, the reliability of conductive energy weapons, the safety of them. We understand that it’s a good thing for police to be turning to less lethal force options … but we’ve seen numerous incidents around North America that Tasers don’t end up always being non-lethal force.” (quoted in Nichols 2016)
There have so far been no independent reports offering information beyond what the RCMP have claimed. Yet there are almost certainly witnesses to the interaction. It is also possible that witnesses will not come forward given the reputation of Terrace RCMP and community fears that exist regarding the force.
Nichols, Trevor. 2016. “Man Dies after B.C. RCMP Deploy Stun Gun.” Kelowna Now. https://www.kelownanow.com/watercooler/news/news/Provincial/16/08/19/Man_dies_after_B_C_RCMP_deploy_stun_gun/