Winnipeg teen's death after zap from Taser 'tragic event:' police chief

Winnipeg's chief of police said the death of a 17-year-old teen after he was shocked with a Taser by police was a tragic event, but denied Wednesday the youth was a victim of racial profiling.

Winnipeg's chief of police said the death of a 17-year-old after police shocked him with a Taser was a tragic event, but denied Wednesday the Métis youth was a victim of racial profiling.

In a press briefing Wednesday evening, Chief Keith McCaskill said it is still unknown exactly how the teen died.

"This is a very tragic event, there's no doubt about it," he said. "A young person's lost their life, and that's a terrible thing for the family and for everybody involved."

An investigation into why a Taser was used will be turned over to another police agency for a complete review before it is sent to an external Crown attorney, he said.

"From there, it will go to a public inquest for another review. And at the end of the day, we'll know exactly what transpired," McCaskill said.

Family members have identified the boy as Michael Langan. Police have not released his name.

A spokesman for the family questioned whether officers used excessive force and if the youth was a victim of racial profiling.

Police and civic officials, however, have defended their use of the stun gun, saying the appropriate amount of force was used given the situation.

Citizens flagged down police

The teen was rushed to hospital in critical condition Tuesday afternoon after  officers struck him with a Taser. He later died, becoming the first stun gun-related fatality since the Winnipeg Police Service began using the devices in the fall of 2006.

The encounter happened after two citizens flagged down police around 4 p.m. CT Tuesday to report seeing a thief flee, then officers tracked down someone wielding a knife several blocks away.

Langan's mother, Sharon Shymko, and her family have asked David Chartrand, the president of the Manitoba Métis Federation, to speak on their behalf as she grieves the loss of her son.

Chartrand questioned whether racial profiling played a part in the encounter.

"Why does it seem to be aboriginal people that seem to fall prey to this extra force against us?" he asked.

"Is there a better way that could have handled a youth with a knife in his hand?"

No plans for Taser policy change

He also questioned how the police force has handled the case, saying Shymko and the family were notified late about the death.

"Police did come, and got a picture and left, and they did not verify to her until later on the next day," Chartrand said.

Officers, however, may have held back from announcing Langan's death until they could positively identify him, McCaskill said Wednesday.

"It's speculation on my part, but it's important, I think, not to alarm the family first of all if you want to identify who the person is," he said.

In a CTV interview Shymko called for a moratorium on the devices, and said the officers should have just used a gun since it "basically did the same thing."

Police and civic politicians stand by their use of the weapon in the incident.

"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," said police spokeswoman Const. Jacqueline Chaput.

Counsellors, lawyers to help family

The Manitoba Métis Federation is providing counsellors and lawyers to help the Langan family deal with the loss.

"There's a lot of hurt right now. That's really, really difficult right now," said Chartrand, adding that the community is concerned about Shymko's state of mind.

It has not yet been determined whether the Taser contributed to the teen's death. Results from an autopsy are pending.

Amnesty International, which has been keeping records since 2003, believes Langan is the youngest Canadian to die after being hit by a stun gun.

Taser use has been under scrutiny since several high-profile deaths following their use by police across Canada, including the case of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, which made international headlines.

He died in the Vancouver International Airport after RCMP officers zapped him at least twice with a stun gun.