19 June 2009

Cover-up claims over Taser death

Queensland's police minister has admitted he knew false information had been released about the death of a mentally ill man who was Tasered by police before he died, according to an ABC report.

Police initially said Antonio Galeano was electrocuted three times with a stun gun as officers tried to arrest him in Brandon, south of Townsville last Friday.

But the state's police minister, Neil Roberts, yesterday admitted officials had known since Monday that the 39-year-old could have been Tasered up to 28 times. (Watch more: Criminologist calls for review)

"That information was what prompted both the commissioner and I on Monday to announce a full review of both policy and training related to Tasers in Queensland," the ABC's PM program reported Mr Roberts as saying.

The admission has led to suggestions there has been an attempt to cover up the fatal incident.

"The advice that was given to the community at large — that the Taser had only been fired three times — does appear to me to smack of a cover-up," former Queensland police sergeant and ex-politician Peter Pyke told the ABC.

Mr Galeano's partner said she begged police to stop repeatedly using the stun gun.

"He went to the bathroom to say peek-a-boo and they hit him with a Taser gun," Sandra Winn told Network Ten.

"I asked the police officer to stop.

"They were electrocuting him, he was screaming in pain. It looked like someone had a bolt of lightning and (it was) hitting him and taking every last bit of life out of him."

It was not until media reports yesterday revealed the stun gun's internal computer had recorded the trigger had been pulled 28 times that police changed their version of events.

Ian Leavers, the Police Union's acting president, last week said the Taser was used two to three times on Mr Galeano.

He also said the victim was a mentally-ill drug user who was violent, naked and harming himself before his arrest.

Mr Galeano had been released from a psychiatric hospital just days before he died.

Tasers are capable of temporarily paralysing muscles though a 50,000-volt electric shock.

Twelve-thousand Tasers are currently on the streets of Queensland but a further rollout has now been suspended pending a review.

The incident is being investigated by the coroner and the police service's ethical standards command, overseen by the Crime and Misconduct Commission.

But Australian Council for Civil Liberties president, and lawyer, Terry O'Gorman said an independent investigation was needed, looking at police use of Tasers across all jurisdictions in Australia.

"We are calling for an independent group of experts to review the use of Tasers Australia-wide," Mr O'Gorman said.

"There has already been two deaths from Tasers in the past two months — Queensland last week and one in the Northern Territory last month — and the problems of Tasers being over used in everyday policing situations need to be addressed nationally."

Amnesty International said US authorities stated that one standard cycle of five seconds was more than enough to subdue someone.

"These devices are open to abuse as they are easy to carry, easy to use and can inflict severe pain at the push of a button without leaving substantial marks," Amnesty International spokeswoman Katie Wood said.

The call for a national review came as one of Queensland's most senior officers admitted the state's police had no guidelines on how many times a Taser could be fired in the one incident.

Deputy Police Commissioner Ian Stewart said the police service would look at whether there needed to be a cap on how many times a Taser should be fired.

"The review has three main elements. We are going to look at our policies in the use of the Tasers, we are going to look at the training we provide our officers, and we are looking at the monitoring of the use of Tasers by the police service," Mr Stewart said.

Assistant Commissioner Peter Martin, from the ethical standards command, said police were talking to the US-based manufacturers Taser International.

Criminologist Julian Bondy said the incident raised questions about why Tasers were so powerful.

"What are we unleashing on the community?" said Prof Bondy, a professor at Melbourne's RMIT university.

"We don't issue frontline police with firearms with a thousand bullets, we don't issue them with capsicum spray the size of fire extinguishers.

"Every other weapon they have is limited in its capacity, but this one is out of proportion."

The police review will be completed in four weeks but the release of the findings will depend on the timing of the coroner's findings.

Results of the autopsy have not yet been released.

Mr Galeano's death is the third in Australia linked to police use of Taser guns.

A man died in Alice Springs last month after police stunned him with a Taser and in May 2002, NSW man Gary Pearce died of a heart attack about two weeks after being shot with a stun gun when he threatened police with a frying pan.

ninemsn 19 Jun 2009

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