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by Peter Moskos

June 19, 2010

2007 Vancouver Airport Taser Death "Not justified"

No it wasn't.

This is the story of poor 40-year-old Robert Dziekanski. He was flying first time, to visit his mother and emigrate to Canada. He didn't speak English. She told him to wait by the luggage carousels. He did. She couldn't get in there and waiting outside for hours, thought he missed his flight, and went home. He waited around for many hours. Then he went a little bonkers. Four officers confronted him and wanted to use their toy. Either that or they were too wimpy to confront one unarmed person. Regardless, they tased Dziekanski for non-compliance, killing him.

From the story in the National Post.
Dziekanski, who spoke no English and had never been on a plane before, was unable to find his mother upon arriving at the airport. He remained in a secure customs area for nearly 11 hours and then, appearing dazed and delirious, began throwing around furniture, prompting the 911 call.


Cleanville Tziabatz said...

The judge said that the policemen lied.

Also, they also should have released the video from the airport's security cameras.

PCM said...

A man died and those Mounties did lie. And they should face the consequences.

Just so you're clear, I am most definitely not for lying cops. And I yet I think... no, I know that cops tell the truth more often than not and much more than you believe.

(yet I still have to chug.)

Cleanville Tziabatz said...

The ones where it is harder to know about the lies are the ones where there is no citizen video.

I remember when this happened. I did not particularly think the police were lying until the video came out. If that video had never come out I would still believe their initial story, even today. Although maybe I would have thought to ask how no surveillance video had surfaced, and that might have gotten my skepticism working.

I don't know if you have reported it, but the one that the police skepticism community is awaiting video on now is the Kane shootings out of West Memphis a month back. We know there is video of the Kane boy shooting Paudert and the other policeman, but we don't yet know what led up to the shooting. Supposedly there is also surveillance, video from the WAL*MART parking lot, which might shed some light on whether the Kanes tried to surrender and also whether Busby and Wren were hit by friendly fire.

It is one of those cases, like the Vancouver airport tasering, where the police reluctance to release the vids greatly increases the skepticism.

sparkcheck said...

Too bad they lied. It looked like a good use of the Taser to me. Would I have used it in this situation? Maybe not. But if they're use of force standard is anything like ours, it was definitely an option. If the fool didn't go bonkers he wouldn't have been Tasered.

sparkcheck said...

Oops. I meant "their."

PCM said...

Christ man, going bonkers shouldn't be a death sentence!

I've said this before many times on the taser: usually the use *is* within regulations. The regulations are wrong. The taser has a risk--it is a small risk but it is still a risk--of killing people. Period. That needs to be worked into the equation.

If four cops cannot physically control one unarmed man, they shouldn't be cops. When did police become such wimps?

Cleanville Tziabatz said...

His last words were both cogent and insightful.

Anonymous said...

The (inter)national standard for taser use should be congruent with other weapons that require the subject to bear the risk of serious physical injury or death. Tasers are vastly over-used by most agencies.

Anonymous said...

"If four cops cannot physically control one unarmed man, they shouldn't be cops. When did police become such wimps?"

Bingo, excellent point Peter. Overuse of the taser. Shooting dogs who are shonwing signs of playfulness or submisiveness. Arresting people who take pictures or videos of police. This is not just brutality or unethical behavior. It is cowardice. It is refusing to be held accountable as a PUBLIC SERVANT. It is spitting on the badge.

Dave H.- IL

Johnny Law said...

Why should the police risk injury from rolling around on the ground with someone when there is a tool that will allow them to take a person into custody? It is not a matter of being a wimp. It is a matter trying to do you job safely. I would think you would understand that. Did you ever use OC spray as an officer? If you did, was it because you were being a wimp or was it because you wanted to try to put the odds in your favor?

People have a risk of dying from OC spray, baton strikes, and the exhaustion of a physical struggle with the police. I don't see how this should prevent the police from using their tools. There have been multiple studies of the taser and none have shown it to be a significant risk.

If you listen to the cops, you don't get tased. If you decide to throw chairs around an airport, then you take your chances.

PCM said...

There have *not* been multiple studies of the taser. Discounting what the for-profit taser company says, the one reliable study I know of showed a 0.25% chance of serious injury of death. There's a link to it somewhere on this blog. But the "n" (number of people involved in the study) was low so the figure isn't very reliable.

As far as I know, and I might be wrong, there is not one single death that can be attributed to OC spray. Not one.

Nor is there any any death I know of that can be attributed to baton use. Not one.

So I think both of those are preferable to taser use.

One time I used maced, there was one of me and two of them fighting each other. It worked. They stopped. In hindsight, I'm not convinced I needed to use it. Probably should have let them slug it out a bit more and wait for backup. But it was a reasonable decision.

But it would not have been a reasonable decision (in my opinion, not what regulation says) to use a weapon that does, one in every 400 times, result in serious injury or death.

The fallacy that the taser is safe or less-than-lethal needs to be put to rest. It is a less-lethal weapon. The taser should only be used in situations where there's a threat.

Maybe its use should be thought of as on par with the beanbag?

Any time you pull the trigger of a taser, you should know there's a chance the person on the receiving end will die. If you're fine with that, OK. But some things are not worth killing over.

I am all for all odds in police favor. And I want those odds to be overwhelming. I just don't want any risk of death in compliance situations. As opposed to a threat situations, where I'm much more willing to say anything goes.

And yes, I realize being against taser use in compliance situations means I'm willing to tolerate a greater risk of police injury in some situations. I'm not saying I want that risk. But I see it is part of the equation. And we all know it is part of the job.

Cleanville Tziabatz said...

The good part about tasers is that they are excellent devices for building cameras and audio recording devices into.

The "quid pro quo" is that police should only be allowed to carry tasers that record when they are out of the holster.

This feature would greatly reduce police use and misuse of tasers. Popos get the electroshock power they want and regcits get the truth. Win-win.

PCM said...

To me that is lose-lose. But anyway...

Johnny Law said...

There are many examples of people dying after a prolonged struggle with the police with and without OC being used. The circumstances of death are often the same as when a death happens after taser usage

It is not the taser. It the combination of stress, elevated heart rate, drug usage (often) and heat. The taser is just the new thing for people to latch on to criticize.

There have been multiple studies of the taser and only one showed any danger fron the taser (study by the Navy). However in this study the taser caused damage to heart tissue after being tased continuously for 5 minutes. That is not a realistic simulation. Every other test has shown no damage by the taser.

I disagree with you that getting injured is part of the job. We are paid to arrest people and take risks. However we are not paid to take unecessary risks. If there is a tool that will let me arrest someone without risk of injury, then I am going to use that tool within my department's policy.

If you turn the taser into something that can only be used during a lethal force or serious injury situation, then cops will just pull their gun. The taser should be on the same level as OC and that is how my department classifies it.

PCM said...

I respectfully disagree.

My department classified pepper spray as a compliance device too. That doesn't make it right.

Put your hands behind your back or I'll mace you? Had we used it like that, we would have started many riots.

But one thing I like (in the abstract) about mace (and you know I mean OC spray) is the natural disinclination to use it... because if you overuse it you'll have no friends in the department. A natural check and balance on such use of force is not a bad thing.

Pressing a taser button is too easy. Especially since the alternative to tasering, more often than not, is not mace or gun but more talk. And (to paraphrase Churchill) better to jaw-jaw than tase-tase.

Johnny Law said...

Talking someone into cuffs is always preferred but I think we disagree on how much an officer should try before resorting to force. At some point you are going to have to go hands on and the taser/OC is a great way to put the odds in your favor.

I'm curious about what you think the criteria should be for taser usage. Should it be for someone who is actively fighting? Should an officer engage in a physical struggle before deciding he should use the taser?

sparkcheck said...

Why in the world would anyone warn someone before using OC? That's tactically unsound. You give the suspect the opportunity to shield their eyes.

Anyway, the reason most cops I know don't like to use the OC is because it works better on cops than it does on suspects. A lot of suspects seem to be immune to the shit.

As for the Taser, any idiot who goes bonkers and starts throwing shit around is unsafe to approach and should be Tasered or beanbagged from a distance.

If the suspect should die, oh, well, he shouldn't have gone bonkers and started throwing stuff around. Blame the suspect for his own actions, not the cops.

PCM said...

Ah, the ol' shoot them all and lot God sort 'em out attitude. Sparkcheck, you ever heard of someone being, what the word I'm looking for... crazy?

Crazy people, sometimes by definition, don't really know what they're doing. They should not be executed.

And it's standard policy that people get warned before OC or taser. The point is to get them to do what what you want, not to hurt them. And I have never seen anybody cover their eyes when surrounded by police. If they can't see, you can go in a grab them.

Johnny, how about something like this for the criteria for taser usage: "A) When a reasonable officer believes a suspect represents a threat and B) when alternatives to taser use, including inaction, would increase that threat. C) (covered under B but just to spell it out) The taser is not to be used in non-compliance situations absent a threat greater than the suspect's original non-compliance."

I just want a threat. Less than actual fighting. But more than non-compliance. And impatiences is not grounds for taser use. Cops actually do, generally, have all the time in the world.

I also would add D) anybody who runs on the field of a baseball game can be tased.

Johnny Law said...

I think your criteria is reasonable but I would add, "An officer may use a taser on a non-compliant subject when verbal commands have failed and there exists articulable facts that causes the officer to believe the subject will be combative if the officer attempts physical contact."

Anonymous said...

What bugs me about tazer use was how the idea was initially sold to the Canadian public. Most Canadians were sceptical about this new American weapon. I remember very clearly how we were told that these weapons would be used as an alternative to deadly force (shooting people). I remember hearing anecdotes about how if there was a stand off with a crazy person with knife the taser could be used instead of the firearm. The reality is that in most deadly force situations the officer will use deadly force not an alternative. If you pull a knife on an officer you will probably be shot whether you are crazy or not.

This reminds of the "ticking time bomb scenario" advocates of torture and waterborading use. "well we'll only use it if there is the chance of garnering critical time sensitive intelligence blah, blah, blah. And then when authorised to use it we find out they use it all the time.

We were told tasers were an alternative to deadly force, and then we find they use it all of the time. Maybe they are used legitimately in non-deadly force situations, but that's not what we were told in Canada. They pulled a bait and switch.

-From Canada

PCM said...

You forget the cardinal rule of tools: If given a tool (be it legal, physical, or psychological) people will use it.

This could be torture or taser, as you mention. But let's not forget hate crimes, Terry Frisks to find drugs (as I did in Baltimore), civil forfeiture laws, or even walking between subway cars. All of these were supposed to applied with discretion "only when really needed." And they're applied whenever possible.

I don't fault people for using all the tools at their disposal. You'd be remiss in your duties if you didn't. But we need to remember that any tool will always be used as much as possible. We need to think of that before passing broad laws to cover small and specific needs. Remember, as I like to say when building things, "there's no such thing as the wrong tool properly misused!"

sparkcheck said...

If your agency's policy is/was to warn before using OC, then I'd say that is a tactically unsound policy. My agency requires no such warning for the use of OC. A warning prior to the use of a Taser or beanbag is required, when feasible.

You might not have seen anyone cover their eyes when the OC comes out of the holster, but I have. During my rookie year. I ended up spraying the suspect's arm and the OC did not do one bit of good. I haven't used it since.

I never said crazy people should be executed. And when did I ever suggest we ought to shoot 'em all and sort 'em out later?

PCM said...

If the suspect should die, oh, well, he shouldn't have gone bonkers and started throwing stuff around. But if you tase people because they're crazy, and then they die, and then you blame it on them? "Execution" is a bit strong (and implies an intent to kill that clearly you don't have). But I was reacting to you being so dismissive of bonkers people. Some people are crazy. I really don't like the idea of police killing them and saying, "they shouldn't have gone bonkers!"