Monday, January 19, 2009

Taser Inquest Disappoints Relatives of Kevin Geldart

When we first heard about calls for changes to the Coroners Act, one of the cases that was brought to our attention was that of Kevin Geldart, a man who was tasered to death in Moncton. At issue was conflicting evidence, as noted in the Canadian Press article below. We wonder if the relatives had had the opportunity to cross examine the witnesses if the truth would have actually come out of this inquest? We'll never know because the NB Coroners Act is only one of 3 in Canada that does not allow for cross examination of witnesses. If they allow it in Nova Scotia, why can't they do it here?

Taser inquest disappoints relatives of N.B. man

March 5, 2007
CHRIS MORRIS, Canadian Press; Rick Cash and Johanna Boffa

MONCTON -- Relatives of a New Brunswick man who died after he was repeatedly shocked by police with a taser say they are disappointed with a coroner's jury that recommended better training for police and medical officials.

A coroner's inquest into the sudden death of 34-year-old Kevin Geldart ruled on Friday that he died accidentally of a condition known as excited delirium, with contributing factors.

A pathologist testified during the eight-day inquest that "contributing factors" included repeated shocks to Mr. Geldart's torso and head from an RCMP taser weapon.

"There should be a moratorium on tasers until they know more about them and their effect on people," said Margaret Geldart, Mr. Geldart's aunt.

Mr. Geldart's sister, Karen Geldart, said she was disappointed the five-member jury did not go beyond recommending more training and education for police and emergency medical personnel.

"There is so much that is unknown about these tasers," she said. "It was clear to me that even though the police officers were trained to use the taser, they didn't seem to have a good understanding of when it is appropriate to use and when it is not."

Mr. Geldart, described by his family as a gentle giant of a man, died on May 5, 2005, after four RCMP officers attempted to take him into custody at a downtown Moncton bar.

The victim, who weighed 350 pounds, had earlier slipped out of a hospital psychiatric ward where he was being treated for bipolar disorder.

The coroner's jury made 16 recommendations calling for such things as seminars on tasers for police, recertification of taser instructors every five years and changes to the weapon itself to make sure it accurately records each firing.

It was not clear from police evidence presented at the inquest exactly how many times the taser was used against Mr. Geldart, although pathologist Ken Obenson said there were eight taser injuries on his body.

Karen Geldart said there were inconsistencies in the evidence, which has left family members wondering what actually happened. She said she was bothered by the fact that witnesses at the bar described her brother as scared and confused in his final moments, while police officers said he was aggressive and combative.

Coroner Dianne Kelly made several recommendations of her own on Friday, including the referral of all in-custody deaths to independent agencies for investigation.

Although four RCMP officers were involved in the incident, the investigation into what happened was handled by fellow RCMP officers in Fredericton.

Ms. Kelly also recommended that New Brunswick police agencies develop policies on tasers, including training.

The inquest came at a time when more people are asking questions about the usefulness of the taser as a so-called non-lethal weapon to control violent behaviour.

So far, 212 people have died in incidents in Canada and the United States where tasers have been deployed.

In the vast majority of those cases, pathologists have not been able to clearly identify a cause of death. In many cases, including the Geldart case, death has been attributed to a relatively new condition called excited delirium.