Let me set the scene. Police find 80-year-old woman suffering from dementia wandering the streets of Mississauga, Ont., aimlessly at 3:30 in the morning clutching a bread knife.
The three Peel Regional Police officers confronting Iole Pasquale could not persuade her to drop the knife. The solution, stun her with a Taser. Twice.
Pasquale falls to the ground. She drops the knife but also breaks her hip.
And that's OK, apparently, as far as Ontario's Special Investigations Unit (SIU) is concerned.
The SIU's investigation into the Aug. 28 incident concluded that deploying the high-voltage stun gun against Pasquale was a "reasonable" use of force and should not be subject to criminal charges.
SIU director Ian Scott concluded that in hindsight there might have been other ways to safely apprehend Pasquale under Ontario's Mental Health Act. But he was not prepared to second-guess officers who said they saw a threat from the woman's tenacious hold on the eight-inch serrated blade.
". . . I am of the view that here its use (of force) was not excessive," Scott said in an SIU news release.
"This decision does not mean that that it was the preferred option, particularly in light of Peel Police’s internal directive that CEWs [conducted-energy weapons] are to be avoided on elderly persons where possible; it simply means that the decision to use a CEW in these circumstances should not engage the criminal law.
"There may be training or policy issues involved in this incident which the chief can explore in her internal investigation.”
The Toronto Sun reported Pasquale, a widow, lived alone in the family home with her children providing help and trying to find a long-term care bed for her. No one knows what caused her to dress and take to the streets in her suburban Toronto neighbourhood but wandering is not uncommon among people with dementia.
The first officers to respond to 911 reports about her tried to talk to her but when she didn't respond they began to yell at her to drop the knife. Eventually a supervisor carrying the Taser showed up and when Pasquale refused to comply he used the stun gun.
"The argument is why three strong, fit officers decided that their best option to take down a fragile and demented 80-year-old was by firing twice at her with an electric current," the Sun story wondered.
The SIU report said the officers ruled out trying to wrestle the knife from her because of concerns for their own safety and decided against using pepper spray or a baton for fear they'd injure Pasquale.
"But jolting her twice with volts of electricity was better?" the Sun questioned. "After falling to the ground and fracturing her hip, Pasquale required emergency surgery and a lengthy hospital stay. Her family, not surprisingly, was furious."
Scott explained their thinking this way: “The only other reasonable option not explored was to continue to track her and attempt to convince her to disarm herself. On reflection, that would seem to have been a preferred option.
"However, I remind myself that the test to be applied is whether the force was reasonable at the time it was used, not in the cold light of analysis after the fact."
Scott called Pasquale's broken hip "unfortunate," but something officers could not have foreseen.
Really? We've all seen what happens to people who are tasered. Most stumble and fall to the ground. Remember the Robert Dziekanski video? None of these guys had an elderly brittle-boned relative?
Sadly, the Peel cops' use of a Taser on an old person is not an isolated incident.
The Halifax Chronicle Herald reported last month that two regional police officers are under investigation for using a Taser and pepper spray to subdue an 80-year-old dementia patient in a nursing home.
Officers were called to the facility because the man was brandishing a long nail-studded piece of wood and acting aggressively towards staff.
When his behaviour continued despite attempts to de-escalate, police tried pepper spray unsuccessfully, then the stun gun. The man was taken to hospital for observation but was unhurt, the Chronicle Herald said.
In 2008, an RCMP officers zapped an 82-year-old heart-bypass patient three times as he lay in his hospital bed in Kamloops, B.C.
The National Post reported at the time that hospital officials said police had no choice because Frank Lasser, who was recovering from pneumonia and needed a special oxygen device to breathe, was holding an eight-centimetre (that's about three-inch) knife and threatening staff and patients.
An investigation by the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP a year later cleared the Mountie – one of three who'd responded to the call – of allegations of excessive use of force, CBC News reported.
In the U.S., an Indiana police officer who repeatedly used his Taser on a naked nursing home patient with Alzheimer's Disease last year was fired.
Staff had called police after the man lashed out at his roommate, a nurse and an assistant, Courthouse News Service reported last month. Two officers turned up and Tasered the man five times in half a minute when he resisted being handcuffed.
The Taser-wielding officer who was dismissed after an internal investigation appealed the firing in court but a ruling last month upheld the police department's decision.
The court said the officer disregarded training that warned the risk of death or serious injury increased with use of the Taser over 15 seconds.
It's not only stun guns that can prove lethal to an elderly person.
An investigation is underway when a 95-year-old war veteran at a suburban Chicago nursing him was killed by a bean-bag shotgun round after he brandished a knife and a cane, NBC News reported last month. He died of internal bleeding.
"Why with at least six police officers did a supervisor authorize use of force with a bean-bag shotgun against an almost 96-year-old man who was wobbly on his feet and suffering a physical and delusional episode?" Nicholas Grapas, the family's lawyer, asked at a news conference.