Sister of dead Vancouver man targets police Taser accountability

Robert Wayne Bagnell died in Granville Street hotel in 2004

Next month marks an anniversary Patti Gillman wishes could be for a happier reason than learning about her older brother's death in a downtown hotel.

Eight years ago, 44-year-old Robert Wayne Bagnell died in the Old Continental Hotel at 1390 Granville St. after police attempted to arrest him in a washroom.

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"It just brings a deep sense of loss and sadness," said Gillman, by telephone from her home in Belleville, Ont., who lost her brother June 23, 2004.

Vancouver police officers twice fired a Taser at Bagnell, handcuffed him and unsuccessfully used "zap straps" to tie his feet together before using a "triangular bandage" to restrain his legs.

He became unresponsive and died at the scene. To this day, Gillman doesn't believe a Taser was necessary in the arrest of her brother, noting he was 136 pounds and in medical distress when officers arrived at the hotel. "I don't think it helped," she said of the stun gun.

Gillman's belief and her crusade to make police officers more accountable for use of the Taser is detailed in a blog she started after her brother's death. The purpose of Truthnottasers is to track Taser-related deaths in North America and create public awareness about the weapon, said Gillman, who works for a non-profit association that supports people with intellectual disabilities.

Gillman contacted the Courier after reading a recent story posted on the paper's website that revealed the VPD had dramatically curtailed the use of the Taser since her brother's death.

Police have used the Taser only twice this year compared to a recorded high of 93 times in 2006. The year of Bagnell's death, police fired the Taser more than 20 times, according to incident reports posted on the VPD's website.

"Any time it's used by a police officer, it's a case of Russian roulette," she said. "With a gun you know what you're going to get, with a Taser you just don't."

In the lead-up to her brother's arrest, tenants heard incoherent yelling and the sound of porcelain smashing in the washroom. One tenant suspected Bagnell, who had a history of prescription and illicit drug use, of experiencing an overdose.

Dr. Laurel Gray, who conducted the autopsy on Bagnell, considered the role of the Taser, a stun gun that delivers a high-voltage electrical charge. But she concluded the cause of death was consistent with "restraint-associated cardiac arrest due to or as a consequence of acute cocaine intoxication and psychosis."

The details were revealed at a coroner's inquest in 2006 and 2007, which coincidentally was the same year Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski died at the Vancouver International Airport after RCMP officers fired a Taser at him several times.

Gillman has kept in contact with Dziekanski's mother, who bought Gillman a laptop so she could continue to write on her blog about police departments' use of the Taser.

Though stun guns are still used by officers, Gillman believes if her brother experienced the same breakdown today as he did in 2004, he might still be alive.

"I think at the time [the VPD] were so unclear about what the Taser could do or how it worked or what the outcomes could be," she said, noting the family dropped a lawsuit against the VPD because it cost too much. "He wasn't an angel, not at all, but he didn't deserve to die."

Twitter: @Howellings

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