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Issue #1497      13 April 2011

Another Taser outrage

The Tasering of a lone 17-year-old girl by three male Queensland Police officers at the counter of a fish and chip shop in Toowoomba last month should finally end disgraced Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson’s career, says Peter Pyke. Pyke is calling for the sacking or immediate resignation of Police Commissioner Atkinson and the disciplining of the senior Toowoomba police officer present at the incident.

Pyke is a former-Queensland police sergeant who saw duty as an academy lecturer and operational trainer and he is also a former-Queensland ALP state member. In 2008 Pyke warned that Commissioner Atkinson’s incompetent introduction of Tasers to the Queensland Police Service would lead to a Taser death in Queensland, making that prediction just months prior to the Taser death of Antonio Galleano in Ayr.

The former Labor MP has been highly critical of senior Queensland Police over what he says are the Police Service’s irresponsible attitudes to the dangers Tasers present to some categories of citizens and says while the police commissioner is ultimately responsible for the administration of the Police Service, the blame for the Tasering of the girl in Toowoomba lies squarely at the feet of Premier Anna Bligh, now universally known as the “weather girl” for her filibustering role fronting the media to the exclusion of all others during recent disasters in Queensland.

On March 17, at 7pm, witnesses at Bernie’s Fish and Chip Shop in Herries Street in the Toowoomba CBD were present when a 17-year-old girl standing at the shop counter who was carrying a kitchen knife was Tasered almost as soon as three male uniformed police officers arrived.

A witness says he was horrified at the actions of the uniformed officers. The witness, who does not wish to be named, has told Pyke that the girl was petite, about 165 centimetres tall and weighing about 75 kilograms. He says she appeared to possibly be affected by drugs and to present little threat to the three large male officers, all of whom were equipped with batons which one of them had drawn.

The witness, a young man in his late teens, was in the fish and chip shop buying a meal with his younger brother and sister and he says he saw that the girl had a kitchen knife but at no time did he feel threatened or that the girl was a threat to his younger siblings. When police arrived, he says, the three male officers barely even spoke to the girl before one of the police drew a Taser and fired the device at the girl. The witness says he was horrified at the unnecessary violence and the effect on the girl who screamed in pain and fell heavily to her side, injuring herself.

The witness says he believes that any one of the three officers could have overpowered the girl without using a Taser and it seemed to him that the police response was “completely over the top” and demonstrated to him that police training about Tasers must be inadequate. He said it is his concern that just one application of the Taser to the girl might have killed her and he does not understand why police could not have dealt with her without using a potentially lethal weapon on such a small, young person.

Peter Pyke says Queensland police argued for access to an Electronic Control Device weapon to be used “as a last resort before using a firearm”. “Were all three of these cops in fear of their lives from one small 17-year-old girl?” he asks.

Pyke is aware that the girl is alleged to have been armed with a ten inch kitchen knife, but there were three male officers present and he wonders why a baton strike from any one of them could not have disarmed the girl. Pyke says he understands that the girl was threatening self-harm and had asked police to shoot her which are less the actions of a person who is a threat to police than the actions of a person in serious mental distress, one of the categories of citizen most at risk to the most harmful consequences of a Taser application, he understands.

Pyke says the Queensland Police Service top cop’s attitude to Tasers could only be described as “lethally dangerous” from the start of the flawed and premature introduction of the devices to general duties police in 2007 but the unnecessary Tasering of the girl demonstrates spectacularly that the Bligh government is either unable or unwilling to stop police from misusing the weapons when civil society agencies world-wide have linked the devices to the deaths of nearly 500 people and many agencies in other jurisdictions categorise the weapons as “potentially lethal”.

“In relation to the Palm Island death in custody of Cameron Doomadgee police commissioner Atkinson’s leadership of the Queensland Police Service has been nothing but outrageous, but his failure to prevent his officers from using Tasers on children is beyond the pale,” says Pyke. “Whether this is a training or a disciplinary matter, Atkinson must go.

“Premier Bligh, what sort of a police state have you created?”

The Tasered girl is the second female child to be Tasered in Queensland since Tasers were supplied to Queensland police. The first incident, which happened at South Bank in Brisbane, was concealed by police but came to light when a magistrate refused to suppress the matter at a police prosecutor’s request.

Pyke says Queensland police either don’t care or don’t understand that just one application of the Taser to a small person, a person with a weakened heart, or a person affected by drugs and/or alcohol may end their life, something which has been recognised by United States law enforcement agencies since December 2009.

Former-police sergeant Peter Pyke says while Atkinson’s inadequacies as a police commissioner have drawn concerned and weighty condemnation from senior legal sources, civil society and the community, none of that was of any consequence to Premier Bligh when she last year inexplicably extended commissioner Atkinson’s contract.

“If we have an uncaring and/or incompetent Police Commissioner, then we can only blame the weather girl,” says Pyke.


In 2007, Western Australia was the first Australian state to equip its police with Taser stun guns. By January 2008, the Northern Territory began handing out Tasers to its cops. It was in July 2009, that New South Wales spent $10 million of tax-payers’ hard-earned to equip frontline general duties cops with 1,962 Taser stun guns paying top-dollar at about $1,800 a unit.

In Queensland, the state government announced a trial of Tasers would commence on 1 July 2007, “for 12 months to examine the use of the Taser X26 as a less than lethal force option in a general policing environment”.

Seventy nine North Americans alone died in 2007 after being Tasered by police, five in Canada.

Since 1999, at least 463 people have died in North America to police use of Tasers. As many as twenty-eight people have died in Canada since 2003 after police used Tasers on them.

One Canadian and 56 Americans died in 2009 after they were Tasered by police, including a 16-year-old, a 15-year-old and a 17-year-old who became at least the fifth 17-year-old to die in North America to the Taser.

Australian general duties police have gained access to stun guns by using the emotive argument: “We need a less than lethal option for armed offenders”.

Australia’s first Taser death occurred in 2002 when a 56-year-old NSW man died 12 days after he was shocked with a Taser. The man received three Taser shocks after threatening police with a frying pan. According to his death certificate, the man died of a heart attack. He is said to have had a pre-existing heart condition and hepatitis C, and to have been a schizophrenic.  

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