Wet Tasing

Yet another tasing scare, this one all the more notable because a) the victim was deaf and b) the victim was wet!!!

Donnell Williams had just gotten out of the bath tub, wearing only a towel around his waist, when he turned the corner to see guns pointing right at him.

“I ain’t never been so scared,” says Williams.

Police forced entry into Williams home while responding to a shooting, but it turned out to be a false call.  They had no idea at the time the call wasn’t real and that Williams is hearing impaired.  Without his hearing aid he is basically deaf.

This “misunderstanding” led to much remorse — on the part of the victim. The officer, well, his choices were “limited.” After all, Williams was only shouting that he was hearing impaired at the time… the officer wasn’t notified in advance, so he couldn’t wait that extra second.

Fortunately, he’s alive! 😀

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The UN’s response

Not surprisingly, the United Nations is on top of the taser issue, although whether there’ll be any practical implications of this is dubious. Still, the decision is interesting:

“The use of these weapons causes acute pain, constituting a form of torture,” the UN’s Committee against Torture said.

“In certain cases, they can even cause death, as has been shown by reliable studies and recent real-life events,” the committee of 10 experts said.

Through all the debate, no one has mentioned the word torture, as far as I have heard. According to the international definition (Wikipedia’s international!!!), torture is described as:

any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.

Whether tasering constitutes torture is  not as black-and-white as something such as, say, waterboarding. To label tasering as such, two things need to be considered: Severity and purpose. The severity isn’t too hard, although the relatively short pain period suffered by the victim ( I think? Perhaps it’s more drawn-out than I thought) could cause a debate over just how severe it is. Harder to determine is the purpose. Obviously the use is not to obtain a confession, but could it be construed as punishing or intimidating? Since the victim is rendered immobile, I would say intimidation isn’t so much a factor. Threat of tasering would be intimidation, but since the end result does not depend on the person mentally acceding to the demands of the policeman, it’d be hard to make a case. But certainly punishment could be a perceived purpose, whether preemptive or reactive, depending on the offender’s composure.

That being said, it’s not surprising the issue of torture hasn’t come into play here until now. I know I never would have taken the time to consider that possible interpretation until it was suggested by the United Nations. And surely that “what if?” isn’t going to be sufficient to stop taser usage, since it’s not really contributing to a solution. If every form of physical pain used to hinder — punish? — potential criminals (pepper spray, for example?) were to be declared “torture”, there’d be a mob threatening to tear down the Parliament every other week. As 49er pointed out, no officer should be expected to “single-handedly out-wrestle a berserk desperado” (and phrased so nicely, too)! That means that sometimes, causing physical pain is going to be the lesser of two evils. But the article does have another interesting point, which I think is far more relevant.

Apparently,  there have been three taser-induced deaths in Canada alone over the last five weeks!

That’s a whole new ball-game. Forget torture; In this instance, I would reassert that tasers should be considered lethal!!! Sure, it depends on  specific circumstances, but (once again, as 49er brought up) those circumstances are not well researched and documented, and, I would add, neither would it be particularly useful if they were. I suspect many of them would depend on a person’s heart and inner conditioning, rather than any overt physical characteristics, and so the situation would be either impossible or incredibly difficult for the police to judge. In high-pressure situations, there simply isn’t time to make such a call with any degree of accuracy. The question is really one of “to tase or not to tase.”

And, since shooting the person would clearly be frowned upon, I think it’s pretty clear that the answer is not to tase.

Mr. Day’s Response

Stockwell Day — a rather unusual Canadian political figure for his persistence — has responded to the complaints of citizens about the death of Robert Dziekanski after the fury of British Columbia and broader Canadian citizens:

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said in a statement last night that he has asked Paul Kennedy, the Commissioner for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, to review the police force’s policies for using the devices – and assess whether its members live up to those standards.

The independent review is yet another added to a growing list of inquiries and reviews sparked by the death of Robert Dziekanski, a Polish man who spent 10 hours at the Vancouver airport before being tasered by police. There is already an internal RCMP review under way.

With the public outcry growing, rather than abating, the provincial government in British Columbia announced its own inquiry this week and accused federal agencies including the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency of failing to provide answers. In the Commons, Mr. Day has faced repeated demands for the federal government to provide answers.

Mr. Day’s decision to ask Mr. Kennedy to review the RCMP’s taser use will effectively expand a probe that the arm’s-length ombudsman launched Nov. 8 into the RCMP’s actions in the Dziekanski case.

Mr. Kennedy had already said that he would assess the force’s policies for using tasers, or conducted energy devices, and whether the four officers involved in the incident with Mr. Dziekanski complied with those protocols. But Mr. Day’s request means he has now been asked to add an RCMP-wide assessment of whether the force is complying with its protocols.

Though it’s good to see the Public Safety Minister responding to the issue, it’s kind of a pity that it has to first come to a situation where the government has no choice but to respond. This kind of incident clearly isn’t good for the public… waiting for them to respond with rage is a weak way of putting off the issue, and — if successful — would obviously cause more harm than good.

It’ll be a fine day when we see our governments jumping to confront internal issues as quickly as they confront external risks.