Friday, October 26, 2007

Saskatchewan Has Been Talking About Tasers ...

Hopefully, it doesn't come to this kind of scary-ness:

Are you as sick as I am after reading this? I'm nauseous.


Clay Hilbert said...

The picture painted by Russ Brown in his post on October 26, 2007 is a pretty dim one for a couple of reasons.
Dim because it portrays Canada as a Nazi Germany Police State where the police are not accountable to anyone and can do what they want when they want. In my experience as a Canadian citizen for the past 30 years this is simply not the case. Open any newspaper and you will likely find at least one article where a law enforcement agency is being raked over the coals for one reason or another. There is no doubt that these agencies don't have an open relationship with their local media outlet, for a number of reasons, so yes the facts may be slow to trickle out.
Dim because Mr. Brown hasn't acquainted himself with what exactly 50000 volts means. He uses the term a couple of times in his post for shock value (pardon the pun). This voltage has been proven to be non lethal to the human body. Van de Graff generators that kids routinely play with in science class generate over double this voltage (sometimes 8 times this voltage). A shock from walking across a wool carpet is in the neighbourhood of 25000 volts at times. Aversive yes but certainly not lethal.
Dim because he has given little consideration to other factors that may have been involved. I myself have dealt with 3 situations that are all possibilities for the tragic event at the Vancouver airport.
1. Person on drugs. I have fought with more than one person hopped up on cocaine, meth, or some other form thereof. These people are putting their body through a great deal (extreme heart rate, extremly elevated temperature, extremely high respiration rate) for a sustained period. It is a no brainer that these factors can lead to death. There are documented cases of people trying various ways to smuggle drugs in their bodies only to have whatever packaging fail and they are subsequently exposed to whatever drug in a potentially high dose.
2. Excited Delerium. There is new research on this condition that shows that people in high stress situations wind up hospitalized or worse not because of the level of force they are exposed to but how their body responds to this stress. A female that I caught shoplifting, and subsequently pulled a knife on me, wound up being taken out of a nearby house (that she had barged into attempting to escape) by Paramedics. She had stripped all of her clothes off, was sweating profusely, and was hyperventilating so badly she was eventually intubated at the hospital (not a casual procedure). Had she not received treatment right away she could very likely have died.
3. Pre-existing medical condition. One extremely belligerent male we wound up fighting with one night went unconscious shortly after handcuffs were applied. When EMS tested his blood sugar it was 32 (normal is between 4 and 8). Some diabetics when having an episode (for lack of a better term) smell and act like belligerent drunks. It is very difficult for first responders to tell the difference without advanced tests so the situation has to be dealt with as it is at the time.
It is easy for people outside the situation to play armchair quarterback and nitpick officer's actions when there was sometimes less than a split second to make a decision and act. People say that police are to quick to use the taser because they don't want to wrinkle their uniform or mess their hair and makeup (actual quote in an edmonton journal letter to the editor). I would ask them to step into a street fight with someone who is high on drugs or so detatched from reality that they have forgotten how strong they should be and that one person shouldn't be able to lift over 600 pounds of officer off of them (yes I've been there).

Bottom line is that Tasers save lives, they do not take lives. They end fights quickly and efficiently so officers and subjects don't sustain excessive damage from a drawn out fight with batons, fists and whatever else is available (chairs and tables in the Vancouver case).

This incident was tragic yes but let's not immediately jump all over the officers involved and wait until some facts are brought to light. Mr. Brown should know that legal procedures and investigations take time and facts can be withheld for a variety of reasons (jeopardize ongoing investigations, FOIP, family privacy considerations). Please spare us the reactionary, Orwellian fearmongering.

Jeff Milner said...

"Please spare us the reactionary, Orwellian fearmongering."

Come on Lisa, it wasn't like they killed him on purpose. Geez.

Clay, pull your head out.

Lisa Hutch said...

I struggled over whether or not to publish the above comment, since I'm not really loving the "Clay, pull your head out" bit ... but in the interest of having an open forum, I've allowed it through.

My response: With the use of a taser, there is always a chance that someone will die - even though it may be small. I listened to John Gormley's show about the matrix of force, or rules of engagement, that are part of police training. Apparently, using a taser is the 2nd last step in the matrix ... with the last step being to shoot someone. So ... while they may not have meant to kill this person, they meant to use serious force, and death is likely a reasonably foreseeable outcome (even if minute).

There are some very serious issues that are brought up by this incident; the appropriate use of the rules of engagement (or matrix of force), the transparency of police accountability and the public reaction to the police, and perhaps even airport security protocol.

This incident is so overwrought by tragedy, on so many fronts, that I think it's irresponsible to NOT ask questions and debate the issue.

Clay's comments are not only appreciated, they come from a very knowledgeable source with a point of view that helps us all to understand a little bit better.

There is a great debate in the comments section of the U of A Faculty of Law blog posting that I quote in my posting. I suggest that everyone take a read.

Clay Hilbert said...

Hey Jeff check out the further dialogue on this at:

I have to say I'm a bit confused about your comment and would like you to elaborate as to why you think I should pull my head out.

Russ Brown said...

The debate continued on later posts as well on the U of A blog - i.e. (NB: not exhaustive):


For what it's worth, I appreciated Clay's insights, and as you will see from one of the posts listed above, in the end we found some important common ground. Where he and I couldn't find common ground was on the point about "tasers don't kill people with heart conditions, heart conditions kill people with heart conditions".

Clay Hilbert said...

I think why we disagree may be due to the type of reasoning used. Dr. Brown says "But for the tasering would he have died? No."
I would argue that no matter what type of force used he could have died (OC spray, wrestling, baton).
Using deductive reasoning my line of thinking was tasers do not deliver lethal voltage therefore something else must have caused death.
These arguments may be trivial to some but the impact can be huge. If the courts determine tasers to be lethal instruments then police would only be abe to deploy them in lethal force situations when they could use a gun more effectively anyway (better range, higher certainty of killing the would be killer etc). This would disregard all (and there are a lot out there) the situations where tasers have been used effectively and safely and no one was hurt (long term). I think of situations where the taser has saved suicidal peoples lives. Were it not for the taser police would be left with one option to deal with a "suicide by cop" situation and the subject would most likely get his or her wish. Using lethal force to deal with a suicide situation seems counter productive.

Lisa Hutch said...

It almost seems like the two of you are talking about the "thin skull" rule - where you take your victim as you find him, and the "crumbling skull" defense (which I THINK is only available in Tort law - not criminal) - where the outcome would have been inevitable.

Here's a quick Wikipedia explanation that is by no means a complete one:

I'd bring attention to the policy reason highlighted in the Wikipedia article ... about why the thin-skull rule is around, that "The courts do not want the accused to rely on the victim's own vulnerability to avoid liability."

So ... Clay could be right, that this particular victim (for lack of a better word) could have died with other types of force applied ... but it would probably be the same type of outcome ... but-for the force applied, the victim would be alive.

So - it comes down to the application of force - was it NECESSARY and appropriate.

Police obviously can't allow violent scenarios to get out of hand at the chance that an aggressor may have a frail heart ... or … a thin-skull (heh heh) …

... which makes me think that the biggest issue of all is the appropriateness of the matrix of force, and the training provided to the police; not only for the safety and security of the public who have this matrix of force applied to them, but for the police themselves, to assure their safety in liability and blameworthiness.

In this situation, if the level of force warranted was that of a taser, as outlined by policy and procedures that have thoughtfully been put into place - by people smarter than me ;-) - I can back that up.

IF this situation was NOT one where the force warranted was that of a taser ... I have a problem with that, as I'd imagine, anyone would.

The key is that a thoughtful construction of policy and procedure requires a full understanding of the taser and its effect, and I think the worry is that the taser is treated far too lightly. From reading much more about the subject (including Clay's comments), I'm not sure that that's true ... the policy and procedures seem to give it a healthy respect as a weapon.

So ... when it comes to the training and application of the policy and procedure - is there a tendency to treat the taser more lightly than the procedures outline? This is where I think the biggest worry comes into place, especially in light of the videos that have surfaced.

Again, we don't know what the police knew about this individual ... there could be a million back stories as to why things happened the way they did – but it is worrisome to see someone who appears to be in a position of submission getting tasered.

I hope more to this story comes out, because I still feel like I've been left hanging with regards to the issues I've outlined above.


I don't even want to begin on the subject of the language barrier and what APPEARS to be a lack of translational services (that's a whole other rant that would take me some time to edit for fear of appropriateness on my part - gets me a little fired up).

Russ Brown said...

I agree - this is precisely the thin skull doctrine at work. And this is my point. Quite apart from whether the RCMP had reason to taser Mr. Djiekanski, it it incorrect (as a matter of law and as a matter of logic) to say that the taser didn't kill Mr. Djiekanski, simply because something else might have killed him. I suppose he might have been batoned on the head (although the video doesn't really suggest that this or really any forceful response was obviously necessary), or maybe he might have been reunited with his mother only to be struck by lightning or some joyriding flying saucer as he emerged from YVR.

In short, if the RCMP wish to hang their hat on the "he had it coming" argument, that's fine - their claim can be assessed in an inquiry. But - and this is where perhaps Clay and I are just not going to agree (try as we might) - it strains credulity to argue that the taser didn't kill Mr. Djiekanski since he might have died from some other cause anyways.