Saturday, December 23, 2006

Fredericton Police, Tasers And Autistic Persons

Fredericton police will now be armed with TASERS. Fredericton City Council has voted to authorize the purchase of the stun guns with the " high-voltage charge that temporarily shocks unruly individuals and allows police to disable them." (Daily Gleaner, December 23, 2006). Unfortunately for autistic persons, including some autistic persons with low IQ's, they can sometimes be perceived as unruly and dangerous by police authorities. And TASERS are dangerous weapons. As the Gleaner stated: "

"Taser use remains controversial.

The Canada Safety Council in 2005 said that 50 people in the United States died between 2002 and 2005 after receiving Taser shocks.

In Canada in 2005, there were five deaths after police used stun guns, including one in Moncton, although the Canada Safety Council hastened to add that the Taser was not named as the cause of death in those cases."

[Not named as the cause of death following TASER Fire? - If a heart stops beating after being fired upon by a TASER ; heart failure might be the medical cause but surely the TASER fire should be a suspect in bringing about the cause of death? - HLD]

Rendering a person unable to use their muscle systems to prevent falling or to allow falling in a protective manner victims of TASER attacks are vulnerable to injuries such as head injuries when falling on a hard surface such as a curb or road. Concerns have been expressed around the world about the indiscriminate use of these high voltage weapons and about their use on persons with autism and other mental disabilities. Hopefully the Fredericton City Police training will include training to recognize behavior characteristic of such persons and how to deal with them - short of firing upon them with TASERS."

From New Zealand:

" Injuries to officers highlight taser dangers

Keith Locke MP, Green Party Police Spokespon

13th September 2006

Green Party Police Spokesperson Keith Locke has written to the Police Minister asking her to reconsider her support for the taser trial following a disclosure that three New Zealand police officers had been injured during tests.

Two officers had received minor flesh injuries, and one was dazed after falling badly.

“Taser victims often ‘fall badly’ because they have no muscular control to cushion the impact,” Mr Locke says.

“Presumably the dazed officer was tasered on a soft surface, unlike many taser victims, who will knock their head on a hard road, a curb, or a protruding object.

“Overseas, such falls have caused death or serious injury. On June 4, 2004 Jerry Pickens was tasered in Bridge City, Louisiana. He fell backward, hit his head on his driveway, went into a coma and died.

“The taser is also dangerous to people with heart conditions, or those whose cardio-vascular system is affected by drugs. The police ‘guinea pigs’ would have been fit and healthy, unlike many of the people they will be tasering on the street.

“I have written to Police Minister Annette King to ask her to reconsider whether the trial should go ahead in the light of this new evidence,” Mr Locke says.

“The risk to the public is too great to justify the continued use of this weapon.”

From Illinois:

Ill. teen shot by police stun gun dies

The Associated Press

JERSEYVILLE, Ill.- A teenager carrying a Bible and shouting "I want Jesus" was shot twice with a police stun gun and later died at a St. Louis hospital, authorities said.

In a statement obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, police in Jerseyville, about 40 miles north of St. Louis, said 17-year-old Roger Holyfield would not acknowledge officers who approached him and he continued yelling, "I want Jesus."

Police tried to calm the teen, but Holyfield became combative, according to the statement. Officers fired the stun gun at him after he ignored their warnings, then fired again when he continued struggling, police said.

Holyfield was flown to St. Louis' Cardinal Glennon Hospital after the confrontation Saturday; he died there Sunday, police said.

From Oregon:


By Maxine Bernstein, The Oregonian
The Oregonian

When Portland police encountered Sir J. Millage walking barefoot and shirtless in the chill December dawn, carrying what appeared to be a stick or metal rod, they thought he "might be unstable and possibly violent."

Witnesses who had spotted Millage walking amid traffic across the Broadway Bridge told police they thought the 5-foot-10 inch, 260-pound person was around 25. An officer later was struck by his "fixed gaze," as if he was looking "right through" him. He did not respond to shouted orders to drop his stick, and, according to the officer, waved it in a threatening manner.

One officer fired four Taser shots at Millage, and then another struck him six times with his baton because he wouldn't stay on the ground. They thought Millage was high on drugs.

Millage's great-grandmother and legal guardian, Pastor Mary Overstreet Smith, said Millage didn't respond to police because he's autistic.

He's also 15 years old and can hardly talk. She said she can't understand what led to the use of physical force that Dec. 5 morning and is sickened by what occurred.

"He can't speak for himself. It tears me up when I read this," she said, flipping through the police report. "I just feel like what they did was unwarranted."

As the father of a 10 year old autistic boy with limited verbal skills this story from Oregon is particularly disturbing to me as I contemplate Fredericton City police officers patrolling city streets armed with TASERS. I hope that our good officers are receiving training not just in firing TASERS but in recognizing characteristics of persons with autism and other mental disorders so that they do not mistake them for "unruly" criminals. And I hope that their excitement expressed by Police union represenetative Cst. Currie does not become an excitability and eagerness to use these new and dangerous weapons:

"Const. Ralph Currie, president of Fredericton Police UBC Local 911, said the union supports Taser use.

"The feeling is it's an absolutely necessary tool in our business ... We're excited about the fact that we're moving forward," Currie said."


Blogger Charles LeBlanc said...


Maddy said...

In GB where the police are not armed with guns, tasers were thought to be a good alternative. It turns out that they are not.