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Police Cleared in TASER Death; Boxer Died While High on Cocaine, Stun Gun Not to Blame, SIU Rules

By Tracy Huffman, Toronto Star

Peel Region police involved in a violent struggle with a semi-pro boxer that ended in his death after one officer used a Taser stun gun have been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing.

Jerry Knight was high on cocaine when 20 officers responded to a 911 call in the early hours of July 17 at a Dixie Rd. motel. Police had reasonable grounds to arrest the 29-year-old, who forcefully resisted arrest, the province''s Special Investigations Unit concluded.

Pepper spray, batons and attempts to handcuff the belligerent Brampton man did not calm him. At one point, he bit an officer. After a 20-minute fight, one officer used the Taser on Knight, hitting him in the back. He eventually lost consciousness and died in hospital.

"The actions of the police appear to have played a role in Mr. Knight''s death, but their actions in and of themselves cannot be said to be criminal, at least based on the available evidence," SIU director James Cornish said in announcing the decision yesterday.

"The cause of Mr. Knight''s death was restraint asphyxia with cocaine-related excited delirium," Cornish said. Excitation delirium is a state in which an individual''s body produces so much adrenaline the heart goes out of rhythm and the person dies.

The forensic pathologist "ruled out the use of the Taser as being a contributing cause to Mr. Knight''s death," according to the report of the SIU, a civilian agency that investigates police incidents involving a serious injury or death.

At the time, witnesses said Knight had "gone berserk" inside the small lobby of the White Knight Motel. Knight had been arrested three times before under the Mental Health Act for erratic behaviour. On July 17, Knight - who was in excellent physical condition - tried to vault the check-in counter, threw business cards around and pulled the fire alarm.

Knight''s death provoked debate on the issue of Tasers and their use by police. Electric guns that discharge up to 50,000 volts, Tasers are designed to cause pain and temporary paralysis, but not death.

The coroner''s office has called an inquest in this case to look at all forms of "less lethal force" used by police. A date has not yet been set.

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