COMMENT: Banning isn’t the answer, but it’s clear that classifying tasers as ‘non-lethal’ or ‘less-lethal’ is ridiculous and police as well as citizens need to recognize the gravity of such a device and treat it with due respect and restraint.

Globe and Mail
July 23, 2008

WINNIPEG — Holding a photo of her son in her hand, Sharon Shymko bows her head and weeps.

She is confused and angry, she says, and she wants to know why her son is dead.

Seventeen-year-old Michael Langan died Tuesday after being hit with a police electronic stun gun, the 22nd person in Canada to die after being tasered.

“This damn machine, it killed my son,” she said. “He would’ve been here today.

“I think they should ban tasers. They should ban all that crap.”

Police say two civilians saw a man believed to be Mr. Langan breaking into a parked car outside a garment factory Tuesday afternoon, and followed him to an area close to Winnipeg’s national microbiology laboratory. They flagged down a passing police car, and two officers took over the pursuit.

The police officers confronted Mr. Langan moments later in a back alley.

Police spokeswoman Constable Jacqueline Chaput said he was carrying a knife and refused to drop it, so he was shot with a taser stun gun that disables its target with a 50,000-volt electric shock.

“The suspect in this matter was armed with a knife and clearly refusing to comply with directions from the officers to disarm. That poses a threat to the officers, that poses a threat to other members of the public, and officers made the decision to deploy the electronic control device to ensure public safety,” Constable Chaput said.

Reports from the scene indicate Mr. Langan was bleeding from the head immediately after he was tasered. The official cause of death will not be known until after an autopsy is completed this week.

Ms. Shymko said her son, who was Métis, was young and healthy, although relatively small for his age.

“He was 5 foot 6, 145 pounds. He wasn’t fat, he was in shape. And there’s no damn way he could die right there after they tasered him,” she said.

She admits her son was no angel. He wasn’t in school and didn’t have a job. He liked to smoke marijuana and used to scour hotel parking lots for the butts of marijuana joints, but he wasn’t involved with gangs, she said.

He carried a knife because he was small and feared for his safety in Winnipeg’s rough core area, she added.

“He would carry a little knife, because you know what? That’s what kids do. I didn’t approve of it, but how are you going to stop that? Especially in this rotten city.”

Ms. Shymko said she and her children returned to Winnipeg only a month ago after trying unsuccessfully to build a new life in British Columbia. As she sat in a friend’s backyard in Winnipeg’s north end, a light rain began to fall, but she didn’t care enough to go inside to avoid the raindrops.

What happens to a body when it’s hit with a taser? she asked. She struggled to come to terms with her son’s death.

“There’s no reason for my son not to be here today. He’s gone and he’s gone because of that machine.”

She described a knock on the door that came at midnight on Tuesday, hours after she had seen reports that a young man died after being tasered by police.

They asked whether she had a picture of her son, or whether she could describe him. She hadn’t seen him for two weeks, she said, because he had been staying with his father, who lives in a rooming house and gets his money panhandling on Main Street.


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