Grieving mother speaks out on Tasers

Roman Andreichikov died of cardiac arrest after being Tasered by police.
Roman Andreichikov died of cardiac arrest after being Tasered by police.
Photo courtesy of Dianna Andreichikov
Dianna Andreichikov normally keeps photos of her late son hidden from view.
Dianna Andreichikov normally keeps photos of her late son hidden from view.

In light of the Kingston Police Force’s plan to employ Tasers as a “use of force option” if another Aberdeen Street party occurs, the Journal presents part one of a two-part series investigating the impact of Tasers. Earlier this month, Anna Mehler Paperny sat down with Dianna Andreichikov, whose son died of cardiac arrest after being Tasered by police. This is the first time Andreichikov has agreed to be interviewed about her son’s death. “I want to tell the real story, exactly how it was,” she told the Journal, adding that she hopes telling her story will “give his life a meaning and prevent what happened to him from happening to others.” RICHMOND, B.C.—Dianna Andreichikov’s eyes tear up as she speaks about her son, Roman.

She sits in the living room of her home, on a sofa beside a black coffee table topped with a dish of potpourri. The side tables are dotted with knick-knacks and a collection of Russian matrioshka nesting dolls are perched on a kitchen shelf. When asked about her son, she brings out photographs of him—she says she doesn’t leave the framed photos out, because they upset Roman’s grandmother.

Dianna describes her son as an athletic, smart and kind individual who had a close bond with his family.

Roman died on May 1, 2004 at the age of 25. A coroner’s inquest found that he died of cardiac arrest resulting from cocaine intoxication and psychosis. Dianna, however, maintains he was killed by the police, who Tasered him twice in the chest after they were called to his apartment.

“They weren’t there to help him, they were there to torture him,” she said. “My son didn’t deserve to die.”

The Andreichikov family moved from Russia to Israel in 1990, and then to Canada six years later. The second move was difficult for Roman, who had already learned Hebrew and had a girlfriend in Israel, his mother said.

“He said, ‘Why did you bring us here?’” she said. “He hated it here, he was so depressed.”

Upon graduating from high school, Roman took a bartending course and worked at a bar downtown. A couple of years later, an agent offered him a job modeling for Top Model International, which he held on and off until his death.

Dianna described her oldest son as very generous and open to the point of naïveté.

“Lawyer, doctor, homeless person, he would be friends with everybody,” she said. “He knew how to talk to everybody—he was so interested in people.”

Dianna said even after Roman moved out of the family home he remained very close to his family, especially his younger brother.

“They were 10 years apart, but they were the best of friends,” she said. “He always wanted his brother to be around him.”

Along with this close relationship came a desire for Roman to keep his loved ones from worrying about him, Dianna said.

“He wouldn’t tell me something I didn’t want to hear,” Dianna said in heavily accented English. “He was very protective with the family. [If] he wasn’t doing good, he didn’t want us to know.”

In 2003, Roman’s long-term girlfriend moved to Toronto. He had difficulty coping with the change, Dianna said, and suffered an anxiety attack shortly afterwards.

When he met another woman, his mother was relieved, thinking it would be good for him to have someone taking care of him.

Instead, Dianna believes it was this woman who introduced her son to drugs.

“She had been a drug addict from a very young age,” Dianna said. “He tried to tell me and I couldn’t believe him because she was so quiet.”

While Dianna did not initially suspect drugs were involved, she said she knew Roman was working less and was short on cash, and begged him to move back to the family home in Richmond.

“Because I saw he was not feeling well I wanted to take care of him, but it is so far [to his home in downtown Vancouver from the family home in Richmond] and I have a full-time job,” she said.

During the week before Roman’s death, Dianna—with her job and a younger son to look after—said she did not have time to see him.

“I didn’t see him [the] last week, when they say he was doing drugs,” she said. “On Sunday I was hoping to see him.”

On Saturday, however, Roman, after a five-day crack binge, was in a drug-induced psychosis and threatening to commit suicide by jumping off the balcony of his apartment, according to his friend Rahim Hadani, who was with him at the time.

Hadani was concerned that he was serious about his threat and called an ambulance. The police were the first to arrive, however. According to the Vancouver Sun, the police officers who arrived, on seeing a strong-looking man in a state of extreme agitation, called for reinforcements. Const. Darren Hall pulled out his Taser.

After the fact, police said the 5’6” man, who weighed approximately 160 pounds, looked massive—strong enough to pose a serious threat to anyone attempting to subdue him.

Hall told Roman to get on the floor and put his hands behind his back. Roman complied, but as he was being cuffed, he turned around to face the police.

Hall Tasered him in the chest for five seconds. As Roman struggled, he was Tasered again for another five seconds. Three officers subsequently jumped on him to hold him down.

Hadani, who had remained in the room, testified during the coroner’s inquest that he heard Roman mumble several times that he couldn’t breathe.

“The guy that was sitting on top of him said: ‘If you’re mumbling, you’re breathing,’ ” Hadani said.

Moments later, Roman’s body went limp and he was confirmed dead soon afterward.

Dianna said she was at home when she got the news.

“When they called on Saturday after work, I was sitting on the couch and I got a phone call from the hospital,” Dianna said. “They said, “Your son has a problem with the breathing.’

“They asked me, ‘Do you know your son has a problem with the drugs?’ and I tell them, ‘No.’ ”

By the time Dianna got to the hospital, her son was dead.

“When they came I saw the police and they said, ‘His heart is stopped,’ and I said, ‘What are you talking about? He’s 25 years old and he never had any problem with his heart.’ ”

The death of her son came as a shock, Dianna said, gesturing helplessly and trying to stem her flow of tears.

“He was so strong, never in the back of my mind did I think that something would happen to him,” she said. “I wasn’t there. He died right away, and I wasn’t there.”

Phil Rankin, the Vancouver lawyer who has launched a police complaint on behalf of Dianna Andreichikov, told the Journal that by law, any death in police custody must undergo a coroner’s inquest.

“Any death in custody of police has to have a public hearing,” he said. “[Roman] was in custody in the sense that they were arresting him when he died.”

The inquest, which was completed on Dec. 2, 2005, classified Roman’s death as accidental, and caused by cocaine.

Dianna said she was upset by this verdict.

“He did follow instructions, he lay down and they Tasered him,” she said. “He’s on the floor, how can he be dangerous to people?”

Rankin said he isn’t confident the police complaint will prove fruitful.

“That’s still pending, [but] I don’t think it’s going anywhere,” he said. “The complaint process in B.C. is fairly weak.”

Rankin, who has taken on several police complaints regarding wrongful deaths, said police complaints involve a conflict of interest.

“In B.C., all the investigation is done by the same police force you complain to,” he said.

Because police are protected by the Criminal Code, they are often absolved of responsibility in cases like these, he added.

Factoring in the high cost of a lawyer, and the relatively low amount of compensation the party making the complaint is likely to receive, Rankin said that in many cases legal action may not be worth pursuing. He said this case is one of them.

“I don’t think that we are pursuing further legal actions,” he said. “[The police] can assault or kill people, even, as long as they have a reason for doing it ... the chances of winning are very low.”

Rankin maintains that there is a link, in this case and in others, between Tasering and subsequent death.

In many cases of “Tasered deaths,” Rankin said, people are in a state of cocaine psychosis and are already agitated. When the police arrive, they see a person who looks wild and out of control, and they Taser them.

“Probably your heart rate is very high to begin with. These five people leap on you and you’ve been Tasered, and you go into a tailspin,” he said. “Once you go into heart failure when you’re under cocaine it’s almost impossible to defibrillate and get it going again.”

In Roman’s case, Rankin said, a major issue is the violence which was used to restrain him.

“From [Roman’s] point of view these people are trying to kill him,” he said. “It’s a reasonable thought, because they’ve come into his house and they’re yelling and screaming and they’ve Tasered him, etc.”

Dianna said she is sure that if the police had tried to talk to her son instead of Tasering him, he would still be alive.

“It wasn’t like in the movies, ‘Hello, Vancouver police, we’re here to help you.’ No.” she said. “I know my son. They could have talked to him.”

Almost two years after the fact, the wounds inflicted by Roman’s death on his mother have not healed.

“How are they allowed to treat people like this?” she asked. “They took 25 years of life, and nothing.”

Dianna said her son’s death has left her disillusioned about the country she has called home for 10 years.

“I wanted to live in a peaceful country, and then what did he die from?” she asked. “Police. From the government.

“Honestly, I don’t want to live in this country after [Roman’s death].

“Life is very hard now,” she added. “I have to pretend I’m alive, but I’m not.”

In next Tuesday’s issue, medical and police experts weigh in on the growing controversy over the safety of Tasers.

For more on the Kingston Police Force’s plans for the use of Tasers in the event of another Aberdeen Street party, see page 9.

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