Canberra police chief slammed by family of dead Tasered man Anthony Caristo
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Canberra police chief slammed by family of dead Tasered man Anthony Caristo

The ACT's police chief has been accused of "insensitivity" by the family of a man who died last year after being Tasered by officers in Canberra.

In an email to chief police officer Justine Saunders on Tuesday, the family of Anthony Caristo said they had no confidence in a police investigation of the incident, and accused officers of keeping them in the dark about what happened inside their Waramanga home on that October afternoon.

A recent photo of Anthony Caristo (pictured on left next to his mother) supplied by the Caristo family.

A recent photo of Anthony Caristo (pictured on left next to his mother) supplied by the Caristo family.

The day after his death, police told the media they had found Mr Caristo covered in blood and holding a large knife. His finger was severed.

As he struck his leg with the knife, officers Tasered him once to prevent him harming himself further. Mr Caristo then fell unconscious and could not be revived.

At the time, Ms Saunders said police had acted "entirely appropriately".

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The incident is still being investigated by the Coroner and police internal affairs, an ACT Policing spokesman said on Tuesday.

But Mr Caristo's family have now called for an independent investigator to take over the case.

"You ... have had no regard at all for the family and have not even attempted to disguise your lack of impartiality in dealing with Anthony's death publicly," his family told Ms Saunders in the letter.

They raised concerns that Ms Saunders had announced AFP professional standards were investigating the death at the same time as she said she believed the actions of officers to be appropriate.

This "raises serious questions over the ability of AFP Professional Standards, a body under your control, to reach a conclusion contrary to the emphatic public statement of their boss," the family said.

In the two months since the incident, the Caristo family said the only details they had learned about what happened were through "insensitive and self serving" reports made to the media by police.

"Not once have we been briefed on the circumstances of Anthony's death," they said.

"The AFP management are clearly in damage control over causing the death of Anthony, and the very clear focus is limiting bad publicity and ensuring Anthony's tragic and painful loss does not impact the planned Taser rollout."

The family especially took issue with comments Ms Saunders made to The Canberra Times last month, in which she described the moment she "got that dreaded phone call to say that our officers had gone to a location in response to a man committing criminal damage".

Mr Caristo's family said the suggestion of criminal activity ran contrary to ACT Policing's earlier statements they had gone to the house "to help someone".

"Two days before the family faced our first Christmas without Anthony, you publicly 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 their own conduct," they said.

On Tuesday afternoon, Ms Saunders said she was reaching out to the family with an offer of a personal meeting.

"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 inquiry and AFP Professional Standards investigation I am not able to comment on the specific issues raised in the letter."

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Mr Caristo's death is the first Taser-related fatality in the ACT.

Police have since pushed ahead with the planned roll-out of 281 stun guns to officers across the ACT.

Sherryn Groch is a reporter for The Canberra Times, with a special interest in education and social affairs

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