Vancouver police use Taser on suicidal man, give each other fist bumps in social media video
A social media video that captures the moment a man gets Tasered by a Vancouver police officer is prompting calls for more training for police going out on mental health calls.
It happened Saturday near Rogers Arena. The Vancouver Police Department said someone called 911 about a suicidal man who was acting erratically and placing himself in danger.
Jessica Wetzstein posted parts of the incident on social media. In her videos, she can be heard gasping in shock that the man gets Tasered.
"Why did they do that? He wasn't resisting in any way," she can be heard saying.
The video shows six police officers standing in a semi circle around the man, and without notice, a female officer discharges the Taser.
"This man is clearly having a mental health episode. He's been sitting up here screaming," Wetzstein said.
The VPD confirmed the man was having a mental health crisis and when officers asked him to go to hospital for a psychological assessment, he refused.
"It's frightening to think that's who will deal with a mental health crisis," said Sarah Blyth, a Downtown Eastside advocate. "Who would ask for help in a suicide call if that's the help that came?"
"I've seen compassion come from the police on many occasions, but I've also seen police deal with things where they create a way worse situation than was necessary," she said.
In an email, Sgt. Steve Addison said police have the authority to arrest anyone who they believe is a danger to themselves or others and must take that person to a doctor for assessment. He added they are also authorized to use as much force as necessary as they execute their duties.
"Conducted energy weapons are carried by specially-trained VPD officers and are used to prevent bodily harm to police and the public. They can also be used to prevent a person from self-harm," Sgt. Addison wrote.
But Rob Gordon, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, said there is reason to scrutinize the use of a Taser in this situation.
"On the basis of the limited footage I have seen this afternoon, and my involvement in both the national and the provincial reviews following the Braidwood Inquiry, I suspect there is enough doubt to warrant an investigation into the conduct of the officers with respect to their decision to use a conducted energy weapon," he told CTV News.
Questions are also being raised about the officers' conduct after the man was Tasered.
Minutes after the incident, while some of the officers were tending to the man, one male officer fist-bumped the female officer who discharged the conducted energy weapon.
When questioned why that happened, Sgt. Addison wrote: "(It) wouldn’t be appropriate to speculate without full context, however it’s common for police officers to use non-verbal cues to check in on each other during dynamic and high-stress situations. This is sometimes called a buddy-check."
Blyth called the fist-bump highly inappropriate.
"I can't imagine any context where a person would be happy to Tase a suicidal person. It's completely outrageous," she said.
Police said the man was taken to hospital for a mental health evaluation.
He was also wanted on two warrants and was taken into custody.
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