Investigation concludes Edmonton police not responsible for in-custody death

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EDMONTON - An investigation has concluded that two police officers did not cause the death of a man who was Tasered during a struggle while in custody.

The report by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, known as ASIRT, says the officers were lawfully trying to restrain the 34-year-old man after his arrest April 11, 2012, on criminal driving charges.

ASIRT executive director Clifton Purvis says the man was in custody at the detainee management unit at Edmonton police headquarters and refused to be handcuffed for a trip to his bail hearing.

Purvis says the man pushed away and ran from staff, leapt over a 1-1/2-metre barrier, stood on a desk and threw TV monitors at officers. He was pulled to the floor where additional officers tried to control him and "eventually they were able to apply handcuffs and ankle restraints."

The man was taken to a cell, but continued to struggle.

"One officer was bitten by the male during this process," Purvis said in a release Thursday.

An officer then used a stun gun, "which had no effect," and the man continued to struggle, Purvis said.

The man went into medical distress and, despite efforts by police and medical responders to revive him, never regained consciousness. He died two days later in hospital.

Purvis said an autopsy determined the man died of excited delirium syndrome.

“I am satisfied after reading the full investigative report, witness and expert witness statements, and reviewing video surveillance of the majority of the event, that the officers ... were lawfully attempting to restrain a male who was described as possessing super-human strength," Purvis said in the release.

"I have determined the officers did not cause the death of this affected person in their attempts to control him and, therefore, no charges will flow as a result."

While ASIRT did not name the man, he had been previously identified by police as Jeff Oatway. Oatway's parents have said he was mentally ill and could have become violent, but they wish police had found some other way to control him.

A man who said he witnessed what happened raised questions in the days after Oatway died.

Fellow inmate Mitch Cutknife told reporters Oatway was already handcuffed and restrained on the floor when police zapped him. Cutknife conceded he did not actually see police fire the electronic stun gun, but he believes officers had no reason to use it in the first place.

"He wasn't harming anybody while he was handcuffed,'' Cutknife said. "That wasn't right.''

Cutknife said he heard a commotion and soon after saw officers drag Oatway in handcuffs down the hallway. They went around a corner so he didn't see clearly what happened next.

But he said he heard one officer talk about taking "the claws out.'' Cutknife then heard screaming.

Defence lawyer Tom Engel, who helped Cutknife file a police complaint, said at the time that a fatality inquiry would go over what happened.

Tasers have been linked to the deaths of more than two dozen people in Canada. The U.S. company that makes them says they have never directly been proven to have caused a death in Canada.

Geographic location: Edmonton, Canada, U.S.

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