Police Rapped for Using Taser on Girl in Bedroom
A Dartmouth teen who was wrestled onto her bed and shocked twice by police last February was found not guilty Tuesday of assaulting officers and resisting arrest.
"The spectacle of a 17-year-old girl being Tasered in her bedroom is a very disturbing and disconcerting one," Judge Anne Derrick said in Halifax youth court. "I find the police acted outside the scope of their authority in arresting (the girl) and that she was entitled to resist and committed no offence in doing so, and I acquit her of the charges before the court."
The girl testified during the first day of the trial in November that being Tasered felt like having a "burning, open cut."
Now 18 and the mother of a three-week-old daughter, she told reporters Tuesday that she was confident all along that she would be cleared of the charges, which included two counts of assaulting police and one of resisting arrest.
She said she will file a complaint with Halifax Regional Police over the conduct of the three officers involved and will likely file a lawsuit as well.
"I wanted to wait until today, to make sure that I was going to win the case first," said the teen, whose name is banned from publication under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
"I just don't understand why I was Tasered because I'm not a criminal."
The Feb. 19, 2007, incident, at a public housing project in Dartmouth, occurred at about 8:30 p.m. after the girl got into an argument on the phone with her younger sister, who had taken her purse.
The girl's mother called police to say she wanted her daughter removed from the premises because she had threatened to damage property.
Three constables - Phillip MacKenzie, Tara Doiron and Brendan Harvey - responded to the call and went upstairs to the girl's bedroom, where they found her quietly looking out the window.
Police admitted at trial that no damage had been done to the home and that no one had been hurt so they felt they had no authority to arrest the girl at that point.
When Const. MacKenzie tried to talk the girl into leaving the house for the night, she grew angry and began swearing at the officers.
At that point, the officers perhaps should have retreated into the hallway to confer with the girl's mother, Judge Derrick said.
"By not leaving the bedroom that evening, the police set up the circumstances for an intense confrontation."
The girl described Const. MacKenzie's approach as "authoritarian and confrontational."
"Whether or not he intended to intimidate her with his power and authority, that's how she perceived the situation, which is not surprising," Judge Derrick said.
"She was an upset and agitated 17-year-old girl with three uniformed police officers in her bedroom. She was being told her mother wanted her out of the house. So an overly aggressive response to this situation could have been predicted."
Const. MacKenzie decided to arrest the girl, and she fought back. She was wrestled to the bed, sat on, Tasered by Const. Harvey and handcuffed.
Constables MacKenzie and Doiron were kicked in the face during the arrest.
Paramedics treated the girl at the scene.
The Crown argued Tuesday that the officers had grounds to arrest the girl once she "crossed the line" with her behaviour.
"The youth didn't need to respond the way she did," Crown attorney John Nisbet said in his closing arguments.
But Judge Derrick rejected that argument.
"(The girl) was not committing a breach of the peace when the police arrived at her home," the judge said. "She was not committing a breach of the peace when the police officers went up to her bedroom. She wanted the police to leave. They could see that there had been no damage and no injury to anyone.
"If a breach of the peace occurred, it was because an unlawful arrest occurred."
Const. Jeff Carr, spokesman for the regional police, read the file over after he was contacted by reporters Tuesday afternoon.
"At some point, the officers made the decision that the most effective way to take the girl into custody without risk of injury to her or them involved deployment of the Taser," Const. Carr said.
He said department policy requires officers to complete a controlled-response report any time they use a Taser, draw a firearm or use physical force to make an arrest.
"Should we receive a complaint, as with any complaint, an investigation will be conducted," Const. Carr said. "And I would anticipate us reviewing the judge's decision."
Taser use burst into headlines countrywide last fall after a Polish immigrant died Oct. 14 at the Vancouver airport after he was zapped with a stun gun during an altercation with RCMP.
Howard Hyde, a Dartmouth man who suffered from schizophrenia, died Nov. 22, moments after a struggle with jail guards and about 30 hours after Halifax police had shocked him twice with a Taser during his arrest on charges of spousal abuse.
Mr. Hyde's death prompted provincial Justice Minister Cecil Clarke to order a review of Taser use in Nova Scotia. The first phase of the review is expected to be done by the end of February and will include a public report on the policies and procedures surrounding the use of Tasers, including training, when use of the devices is authorized and how often they are used.
A panel of experts from law enforcement and the sciences will then be appointed to study the findings and make recommendations to the minister.
Taser reviews are also being conducted in British Columbia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador.
© 2008 The Chronicle Herald