Tag Archives: taser

Toronto Police Deploy Taser and Kill Man near Old Weston Road (November 4, 2016)

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.

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Ending Illusions of Independence: IIO Director Steps Down and Calls for More Police Involvement

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).

 

Conclusion

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.

 

Further Reading

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


Few Details as RCMP Investigated in Death of Nicolas Jeppesen in Terrace, BC

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.

 

Further Reading

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/


No Oversight, No Accountability: Problems of Supposedly Independent Investigations of Police

Too often people in hopes for reform of policing, or for increased accountability of police, on the creation of supposedly independent investigation or oversight agencies. These institutions are often held out as some sort of panacea for problems of police brutality and crime. To be sure such agencies can represent an improvement over the dubious situation that exists in many provinces in Canada in which police violence against civilians, including killings of civilians, is only “investigated” by their colleagues in other forces, often within the same province or jurisdiction. At the same time the evidence over years of operation of independent investigation units, in provinces including Ontario, Alberta, and Manitoba, shows that such units are never truly independent from police agencies and furthermore they are hampered by a range of issues from underfunding and lack of resources, to interference, obstruction, harassment and hostility from police, and few if any means to address uncooperative and non-compliant behavior among officers. Such institutions are also set upon by police associations and law and order police-friendly politicians alike.

The situations of non-autonomy, interference and intimidation, and lack of mechanisms for accountability or compliance with regard to supposedly independent investigations of police suggest that such agencies rather than offering real accountability for policing provide more of a cover for police operations, providing the public a false sense of integrity, oversight, or justice (a final line of community quality control). Indeed it is a misnomer to speak of these agencies as oversight agencies precisely because they have no authority over police and do nothing about day to day operations, governance, or practices of policing. In the end the independent investigations units can only make recommendations to the Crown, with decisions to proceed with charges rarely coming from police friendly and collaborative prosecutors concerned with career interests and working relationships.

In practice investigations units are plagued by lack of resources, reliance on police and police institutions for training, and absence of mechanisms to ensure cooperation or compliance from police. In many cases investigations take too long and result in little more than a reproduction of police excuses.

 

The IIO in BC

The Independent Investigations Office (IIO) in British Columbia was, like other such units, received by much public anticipation and hopefulness. It would replace an unacceptable situation in the province in which police investigated police for police acts that resulted in harm to civilians. Since its founding in 2012, however, it has reproduced many of the problems experienced by other independent investigation units.

The office itself had its origins in the brutal killing by police of Robert Dziekanski, a traveler from Poland who was assaulted by several RCMP officers, tasered multiple times, and killed in the Vancouver International Airport (YVR). In the days immediately following the killing the RCMP made a number of public statements in which they blatantly lied about the circumstances of the killing, distorting what happened and pursuing a character assassination of the victim who they falsely described as drunk and aggressive (he was neither). The RCMP manipulation of the case would be undone when a witness brought forward a video recording of the encounter with police showing the RCMP story to be a fabrication (Dziekanski was retreating and compliant when police inexplicably tasered him repeatedly and jumped him). This video by Paul Pritchard, would become perhaps the most famous and significant piece of civilian journalism involving police violence in Canadian history. A public inquiry into the RCMP killing of Robert Dziekanski, and further evidence of officer collusion and lying, would lead to the creation of the IIO (lead officer Monty Robinson and one other officer involved in the killing, Kwesi Millington, would be found guilty of perjury).

Yet several years into its operations the IIO has become another symbol of disgraceful policing related practices in the province. It has been plagued by personal turnover, complaints by workers against administrators, and concerns about connections with the Justice Institute of British Columbia, which trains IIO members but is simultaneously the police training academy for officers in the province and which employs active officers as instructors.

Among the issues that have received the most public attention and criticism has been the significant delay in completing investigations. The IIO is routinely taking up to 18 months to complete its investigations into police involved deaths and injuries of civilians, with concerns that these are moving toward two year completion times.

These concerns were recently heightened when the IIO reported that the investigation into a police killing of a mother and son, Shirley Williams, 77, and Jovan Williams, 39, in the small town of Granisle on April 21, 2016, will again take approximately 18 months.

Pivot Legal Society, a Vancouver-based civil rights law group, has raised concerns about IIO practice and the great length of delays in investigation reporting. Pivot is currently awaiting the conclusion of several IIO investigations, including the killing of Tony Du in 2014, who was shot and killed by the Vancouver Police Department. That case is now getting close to 18 months without a report. Other outstanding cases which are now coming near 18 months with no IIO report are those involving the police shootings of Peter de Groot in Slocan, BC and Naverone Woods, who was killed in Surrey, BC. According to Pivot lawyer Douglas King:

“There is a limitation period of two years to start an action in most cases now, and people who are directly involved in these incidents, and families who have been affected, that’s often the deadline where they have to decide if they’re going to take action against a police department. 18 months is truly unacceptable, two years would be a bit of a disaster, to be perfectly honest. It would have severe impacts on the rest of the legal system.” (quoted in Britten 2016)

In addition to the impacts on the system and the issue of killer cops being active on their force, there is also the issue of addressing family needs and concerns. As King suggests: “It’s absolutely brutal, especially for the families of people killed by police, and for the officers themselves, to have to wait that long,” (quoted in Britten 2016).

The IIO has little to offer in the way of an adequate explanation for the numerous roubles plaguing the agency. Incredibly they have pointed to the sheer number of police involved killings of civilians in the province over the last few years. But that is what they are supposed to be addressing. According to IIO spokesperson Marten Youseff:

“An officer-involved fatality is equivalent to a homicide in the level of rigour that’s required. We rely on third-party reports. We don’t have our own forensic laboratory … and sometimes those reports take an exceeding amount of time. We’re definitely not proud of our timeliness, and we’re doing everything we can to expedite this process.” (quoted in Britten 2016)

Pivot Legal Society is having a hard time accepting this. Douglas King believes that some of the delays in the IIO are related to internal problems within the institution itself. In his opinion: “If the only thing holding up these investigations is a third-party report, then we really need to start talking to the provincial government about how that can be fixed.  If it’s a problem with internal issues with the IIO, then certainly the public has an expectation that the IIO should fix those” (quoted in Britten 2016).

 

Conclusion

Yet in numerous other cases of supposed police oversight agencies, including ones with longer histories and opportunities for correction than the IIO such as the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) in Ontario, the evidence shows that these problems are endemic to police oversight and cannot simply be reformed. They certainly cannot be addressed by training that includes active officers and/or institutions that maintain official training relations with officers. They also cannot be reformed through an addition of resources, including more investigators. Official reports, such as the Ombudsperson’s report in Ontario have noted the persistence by police forces of harassment, obstruction, uncooperative behavior, disruption and interference, and outright insolence and contempt shown by officers toward investigators and the investigations process. Until police are subject to consequences and punishment, including criminal consequences, for failing to comply with investigations or to follow processes without obstruction there will be no fulsome police oversight, or investigation that anyone can have any confidence in. Beyond this it is virtually impossible to carry out any truly independent, autonomous oversight of or investigation into police when they control their own crime scenes.

More than this, of course, is the lager issue of policing and the role of police within class stratified societies. The institution of policing is inherently political and police forces exert tremendous political pressure on governments and “regulators” at all levels. All of this occurs in a context in which police have been designed and developed as instruments of social war and the defense of status quo relations (which by definition will be enforced through often lethal violence). The only way to ensure public confidence and safety would be a dismantling of policing and rearrangement of social resources to support broader social services (mental health supports, community resources, social hosing, safe use sites, etc.).

 

Further Reading

Britten, Liam. 2016. “IIO Investigations Taking Too Long at 18 Months, Says Critic.” CBC News. May 13. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/iio-investigation-delays-1.3580472


Killer Cop Monty Robinson Sentenced 2 Years for Perjury

On Friday June 24, 2015, Benjamin “Monty” Robinson (RCMP) was sentenced to two years in prison plus probation and 240 hours of community service for perjury. Eight years earlier, on October 14, 2007, then-corporal Robinson along with three other RCMP officers, Constables Gerry Rundel, Bill Bently, and Kwesi Millington, killed Polish traveler Robert Dziekański at Vancouver International Airport (YVR). The unarmed Dziekański had been tasered five times by the officers who also deployed batons and pinned the man to the ground and handcuffed him as he was dying. Robinson, the senior officer in charge during the Dziekański killing, had been convicted of lying to an inquiry examining the events of the killing. A BC Supreme Court judge found Robinson guilty of perjury in June of 2015, ruling that he colluded with the four fellow officers to make up testimony that they presented at the inquiry into Dziekanski’s death.

Immediately following their killing of Dziekański, RCMP made a series of false public statements. They told a story apparently designed to denigrate Dziekański in the public eye and initially claimed he threw things and screamed and yelled after police arrived. It was also suggested that Dziekański was intoxicated. Police also claimed only three officers attended the scene. All of this was contradicted when a bystander video taken by traveler Paul Pritchard came forward. The video showed, contrary to police, that the taser was not used as a last resort but was deployed almost immediately. Police took Pritchard’s video and refused to return it until he brought forward a lawsuit for its return.

Notably, Monty Robinson was also convicted of obstruction of justice in a separate trial after the vehicle he was driving hit and killed a young motorcyclist, Orion Hutchinson (21), in October 2008. In that case Robinson apparently used knowledge gained as a police officer in order to cover up the fact that he had been driving after consuming alcohol. After hitting and killing Robinson left the scene, went home and drank two shots of vodka which he had learned could cover up the fact he had been drinking earlier. Incredibly, Robinson received no jail time in that case, being sentenced to one month of house arrest. Hutchinson’s mother claimed the sentence seemed only like Robinson was being grounded.