Police chiefs have dismissed a call by an independent watchdog to review policies on using “Taser” stun-guns on people experiencing “serious medical episodes”.
The call by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) came as it published a report on how a 50,000-volt Taser was used on a man, Howard Swarray, who had just had an epileptic seizure.
The IPCC concluded that an officer who twice fired the Taser at the man had not breached his force’s policies or been guilty of misconduct, although it questioned some of the tactics used by officers who attended the scene.
The IPCC said the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) should – in the wake of the case – review police tactics for dealing with people experiencing “serious medical episodes”.
IPCC commissioner Naseem Malik said she was concerned that the only option open to officers in such situations “appears to be to deliver controlled violence” through a Taser.
She said the IPCC would write to ACPO to ask it to review “whether other, potentially less violent, tactics” could be used.
But ACPO has refused to carry out a review. An ACPO spokesman told Disability News Service it would examine this case to see if there were lessons to be learned – as is standard procedure – but would not conduct a wider review, and added: “I am not sure what purpose a review would serve.”
The charity Epilepsy Action is to write to ACPO to “urge them to carry out a review and to offer our guidance”.
The IPCC said Swarray experienced the seizure while working out at the Powerleague gym in Whalley Range, Manchester, in November 2009.
Swarray became confused and aggressive – as a result of the seizure – and while not in control of his actions he bit, punched and kicked paramedics and staff and users of the gym as they tried to restrain him.
When officers from Greater Manchester Police (GMP) were also unable to restrain him, one of the police officers twice used his Taser.
Swarray was admitted to hospital with kidney failure, as a result of muscle damage, probably caused by the seizure or resisting restraint, although a consultant said the damage could have been caused by the Taser.
Malik said that, although there were no police guidelines that prevented the use of a Taser against someone who has had a seizure, actions such as “giving commands and attempting compliance through pain to a person who was already known to be unresponsive” were “questionable”.
But she said the officers were acting according to their training and the officer who fired the Taser “believed he had no other option”.
Epilepsy Action said police officers should be trained to recognise the symptoms of epilepsy, both during and after seizures, and “to recognise that epileptic seizures can be mistaken for violent or inappropriate behaviour”.
ACPO said it would continue to “look at other developing technologies and alternatives to the less lethal options currently available” in situations where “an individual is exhibiting violent behaviour which threatens their safety or the safety of those around them”.
5 May 2011