Earlier this month Queensland Police used a Taser gun to subdue 39 year Antonio Galeano from Ayr. Galeano is now dead, with forensic testing revealing that the weapon was discharged 28 times. Now federal Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor is looking at national guidelines for police Taser use.

What both Mr. O’Connor and the Queensland government should do is acquaint themselves with what is perhaps the most exhaustive examination of Taser guns and their use to date anywhere in the world. It is being held in British Columbia and so far it has revealed that when it comes to use of Taser guns deaths do occur and police can’t be trusted to use these dangerous weapons.

The inquiry, chaired by a former British Columbia judge Thomas Braidwood, was established by the provincial government last year to look at the use of Taser guns in BC and to examine a case the facts of which are very similar that to that involving Mr. Galeano. In October 2007 an agitated Polish immigrant Robert Dziekański who had been waiting for his mother to arrive from a flight from Europe for ten hours was shot by four police officers using a Taser gun. The lead up to the shooting and the shooting itself were captured by a traveler on his cell phone — it makes for compelling and frightening viewing. The severity of the shock to the human body from the firing of a Taser gun is clearly visible.

The Braidwood Inquiry to was due to begin wrapping up last week but the government lawyers revealed to a shocked Braidwood that they had “discovered” emails which show that the police officers involved in the Dziekanski shooting actually discussed using a Taser gun on him before they reached the scene, directly contradicting evidence they had given to the Inquiry in which they say that they used the Taser gun on the spur of the moment.

What has emerged already from Braidwood’s Inquiry is as relevant to Australia as it is to Canada. Police sources set out in the media to spin a line that Mr Dziekanski’s conduct was fuelled by drugs or alcohol, police did not have an interpreter with them at the scene despite knowing Mr Dziekanski was not able to speak English and the police officers alleged that Mr Dziekanski came at them with a stapler, despite video evidence to the contrary. The police also sought to suppress publication of the video evidence and refused to return it to its owner, who had to take out a court order to get it returned.

When a person dies as a result of police action as happened in this case and in the case of Mr. Galeano, police forces cannot be trusted to tell the truth — that’s a well known and unfortunate fact of life. When they use Taser guns, police are trigger happy, simply ignore procedure and protocol and then try and paint the victim as being highly dangerous.

Braidwood has also heard evidence from experts and the manufacturers of Taser guns about whether or not these weapons are lethal, as the evidence suggests them to be. Braidwood’s findings on this issue will be ground breaking because they will be the first rigorously and independent assessment of the knowledge we have about Taser guns.

Australian governments and law enforcement officials should be following the Braidwood Inquiry very closely indeed.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey