WA Police rejects Indigenous stun gun ban

www.abc.net.au - VIEW 'Lateline' Video | + RELEVANT ARTICLES

Western Australia's Police Commissioner has rejected calls for a ban on using Tasers on Aboriginal people.

The Aboriginal Legal Service called for the ban after a petrol sniffer caught fire when he was tasered in the Goldfields town of Warburton on Monday.

Thirty-year-old Ronald Mitchell suffered third degree burns to his face, arms and legs.

It is alleged he was threatening officers with a container of fuel and a cigarette lighter at the time.

The service argues many Indigenous people suffer health problems, which can be exacerbated by Tasers.

But Karl O'Callaghan says police are only permitted to use Tasers when they have genuine fear for their safety.

"We use the Tasers where appropriate, it's not to do with whether people are Aboriginal or anything else and we're certainly not going to be making an exception for one group of West Australians," he said.

"We use the Taser when we have to and we will continue to use the Tasers when we have to, bear in mind there are strict guidelines for the use of Tasers and all Taser discharges are recorded."

Police Internal Affairs is investigating the incident.

Mr O'Callaghan says it is still unclear what caused the man to catch fire.

"It's too early to tell and one of the reasons it's too early to tell is that we have not yet been able to interview the person who was tasered at Warburton and it will be some time before we are able to do that," he said.

"Police officers have been spoken to. I have not yet received the report and I don't expect to receive that for some time."

Tests on Taser after man critically burnt

Debbie Guest | July 22, 2009 | www.theaustralian.com.au

Article from: The Australian
INTERNAL police investigators will examine the chip of a Taser to determine how many times an officer fired it at an Aboriginal man who was then engulfed in flames in a remote West Australian community.

The injured man, 36-year-old petrol sniffer Ronald Mitchell, is in a critical condition in intensive care at Royal Perth Hospital after he sustained third-degree burns to his face, neck, arms and chest.

It is believed to be the first incident of its kind in Australia.

Mr Mitchell was shot with a Taser in Warburton, 1540km northeast of Perth, on Monday, after police responded to a complaint that he was sniffing petrol in his mother's home.

Yesterday, WA Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan was quick to defend the officer who fired the Taser and stressed there was no evidence it had caused the flames.

According to police, Mr Mitchell was running towards them with a container of petrol and a lighter when shot.

"There's a very strong possibility that the fire was caused by the lighter in the hand of the offender," Mr O'Callaghan said.

"We don't know whether he lit the lighter; we don't know whether he turned the flint, he'd only have to turn the flint and cause a small spark for that ignition to occur."

Mr O'Callaghan said police were trained not to use Tasers around flammable liquids but this was not a strict rule.

"The situation here was that the police officers were confronted with a person who was prepared to set light to them and himself and they deployed a weapon. The only other choice that they had was to use a police-issued firearm and the circumstances would almost certainly be far more grave."

George Hateley from Breon Enterprises, the distributor of the guns in Australia, said firing a Taser around petrol could certainly cause a fire.

He said that was why police were trained not to fire the weapon in those circumstances.

Despite calls by the Aboriginal Legal Service for a moratorium on the use of Tasers while a review is conducted, Mr O'Callaghan said police would continue to have Tasers and no changes would be made to procedures.

He also backed the male officer who fired the Taser, who has worked in Warburton for more than two years and has over 25 years experience in the police force.

Mr Mitchell was a long-term petrol sniffer with a history of violent offences. He had only recently been released from jail for convictions including criminal damage by fire, and assault.

He is expected to be charged over Monday's incident, but has yet to be interviewed.