Tasered 11-year-old was holding pen, not knife
Andrew Weichel, ctvbc.ca
Published Monday, October 17, 2011 5:41PM PDT
The 11-year-old stabbing suspect who was Tasered by Mounties in Prince George, B.C. earlier this year was holding a pen, not a knife, when he was shocked, according to the police force tasked with investigating the incident.
But the boy, who is hearing impaired and was not wearing his hearing aids during the encounter, was seen holding a knife and slashing at his own shirt prior to a Taser being deployed, said West Vancouver Police Chief Peter Lepine.
Lepine posted an open letter on his department's website Monday elaborating on his decision not to recommend charges against RCMP officers involved in the April 7 incident in Prince George.
The young suspect had also been seen running a blade on his hand and arms and gesturing at officers with his middle finger, Lepine wrote, adding that Mounties interpreted the action as "a demonstration of the boy's lack of respect for police."
The boy had already barricaded himself inside a local residence when police arrived to investigate a 911 call reporting a 37-year-old man had been stabbed.
The officers had received information that the child was prone to "extremely violent outbursts, during which he exhibited extraordinary strength for his age and size."
Officers coaxed the boy out onto a porch on the property once to retrieve some personal items, and he appeared a second time to post an illegible note on a wall.
When he appeared a third time, holding what officers say appeared to be a knife, he was Tasered and physically restrained. Lepine said Mounties then seized "what turned out to be not a knife but a pen."
The officers had determined their attempts to de-escalate the situation were failing, and were told by adult witnesses at the scene that the boy appeared to be growing increasingly irate.
They had spent 40 minutes trying to gain control of the situation before deploying a Taser, Lepine said.
"After reviewing all of the information… it was clear to me that the officers involved responded to a dynamic, and potentially deadly, incident in a measured, appropriate and professional manner," Lepine wrote.
West Vancouver investigators ultimately chose not to recommend charges after determining the Mounties' use of force did not violate the criminal code.
"The level of force they planned for, and ultimately used, was commensurate with the overall threat presented," said Lepine. "I not only deem the officers' actions to be appropriate to the situation, I deem them commendable."
West Vancouver investigators were put on the defensive early in the probe when it was revealed the Mounties involved had not been interviewed more than a week after the confrontation.
Lepine drew further criticism for his brief 400-word explanation of the Sept. 15 announcement that charges were not being recommended. His Oct. 17 update was more than 1,850 words long.
David Eby, executive director of the BC Civil Liberties Assocaition, said he's pleased that West Vancouver Police have elaborated on their decision, but the investigation's findings should still be eyed with skepticism.
"There's a total lack of transparency," Eby said. "We'll never hear testimony from the officers first hand, we'll never see any of the witness statements first hand. All we have here is a summary from another police force."
Only an independent agency that investigates police conduct, which British Columbia currently lacks, could be trusted to thoroughly probe use of force complaints, Eby said.
"Did West Vancouver police talk to all the witnesses, did they ask all the difficult questions?" Eby said. "In our experience with police investigating police, generally they do not."
The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP and B.C.'s children's watchdog are also watching the case, but Eby said those investigations will be relying on the same primary investigation report prepared by West Vancouver Police.
"It certainly gives the appearance of separate investigations, but there's really only one and that's police investigating themselves."
An officer with just 18 months experience was placed on administrative leave following the incident.
The boy's mother said the stun gun could have killed her son because he has a heart condition known as cardiomyopathy.