The family of a Canberra man who died after being tasered by police are devastated the ACT’s Chief Police Officer publicly defended the use of the stun gun when those actions are under investigation.
They also claim police did not properly brief them on the circumstances of the death and have since kept them in the dark.
In late October, police found Anthony Caristo in his Waramanga home holding a knife, covered in blood and suffering self-inflicted wounds.
They said they tasered the man — aged in his 50s — to prevent him harming himself further. He then fell unconscious and could not be revived.
ACT Policing’s Assistant Commissioner Justine Saunders told media the following day she believed the officers had acted “entirely appropriately”.
She also said Australian Federal Police’s professional standards unit was investigating the death.
The family claimed, in an email addressed to Assistant Commissioner Saunders this morning, her public judgement on the officers’ actions could jeopardise the professional standards probe by risking investigators’ willingness to contradict her view.
“You made hurtful and insensitive comments about the circumstances of his death that add to our growing list of concerns with the AFP’s ability to investigate its own conduct,” the email read.
Assistant Commissioner Saunders confirmed she received the email and the family had called on the AFP to hand the investigation to an independent body.
“My response to questions by the media were not intended to add to the family’s trauma arising from the tragic death of Mr Caristo,” she said.
“As this matter is the subject of an independent coronial enquiry and AFP professional standards investigation I am not able to comment on the specific issues raised in the letter.
“However I am in the process of contacting the Caristo family to offer to meet and to discuss their concerns.”
In comments to the ABC elaborating on their concerns, the family said they were upset the police appeared to have sent out media reports on the death before they were notified.
“We have had contact with the AFP twice, firstly when police arrived to inform Anthony’s brother of his death 12 hours after the incident and several hours after the media reports were released and the family had become aware of his death by this method.
“The second time was when police contacted the family and asked us to attend the police station to provide interviews, which we all did.
“We have been told nothing of the circumstances of Anthony’s death, other than through what we have read in media statements by the Assistant Commissioner.
“They have simply not contacted us other than to request information from us rather than the reverse.”
Family want Taser rollout suspended
The ACT is in the midst of a taser rollout, with all officers to be equipped by 2019.
In her first interview following the death, Assistant Commissioner Saunders said the rollout would continue — another comment the family considered insensitive and pre-emptive.
The family told the ABC they want to see an independent assessment on the risks of taser use before the rollout is taken further, particularly in situations where the use is to protect the person being tasered.
“We know that Tasers can be lethal — because we have lost Anthony,” they said.
“Anthony is not the only vulnerable person in the community and we fear that immediate reactionary and dogmatic statements that the taser use was reasonable and the death will not affect the taser roll out creates a significant risk to many vulnerable people in our community.
“We believe Anthony’s death calls for careful reflection on the use of tasers rather than politically driven dogma defending the taser rollout, and only an independent review can achieve this.”