Police Taser backlash widens
Police Taser backlash widens

New doubts have emerged about police use of Taser guns after the State's Ombudsman revealed he was investigating the inappropriate use of one of the weapons.

Though Ombudsman Chris Field is prevented by law from providing details of cases he is examining, he released a statement yesterday confirming there had been one complaint to his office about the use of a Taser.

The development adds to the debate surrounding Tasers after a Warburton man was this week engulfed in flames when he was shot with one of the devices.

Ronald Mitchell was burnt badly after he allegedly charged towards two police officers with a container of fuel and a cigarette lighter at a home in the remote community on Monday.

Police said Mr Mitchell refused to stop and, fearing for their safety, an officer fired the stun-gun. They had wanted to question Mr Mitchell about a complaint he was sniffing petrol.

The 36-year-old is fighting for his life in Royal Perth Hospital with severe burns to his face, arms and upper body. It is unclear if the Taser or the cigarette lighter ignited the fire.

Mr Mitchell had only months earlier finished a 20-month jail term for discharging a gun while drunk and setting fire to a car in a remote Goldfields community.

Aboriginal Legal Service chief Dennis Eggington yesterday reiterated his call for the use of Tasers by police to be suspended.

He said that cases such as Mr Mitchell's and a "17 or 18-year-old" pregnant teenager who he claimed had been hit with a Taser about two years ago when she went to help someone who was being arrested, continued a pattern of misuse of the weapons. It is understood that the case before the Ombudsman does not relate to these cases.

Though Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan was unable to shed light on matters before the Ombudsman, he defended the use of Tasers as a legitimate policing tool and said he would not be changing the policy.

"Of course there is opportunity for the misuse of Tasers by police officers, just as there is with pepper spray, batons and handcuffs," he said.

"Each Taser discharge is recorded and monitored, and where there is misuse we investigate and discipline the officers involved. WA Police has a strict training regime for Taser usage and strict guidelines for their use."

He said on average police used Tasers about three times a day.

An internal police investigation into the Warburton incident is expected to take several weeks.

  • EDITORIAL *

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The West Australian

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