back to article Tasered Oz man bursts into flames

A 36-year-old Western Australia Aboriginal man is in a "critical but stable condition" after bursting into flames following a police tasering, ABC News reports. Officers were attempting to arrest Ronald Mitchell for sniffing petrol at the Goldfields Aboriginal community of Warburton when he "turned violent" - threatening …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    >Usher assured that an investigation would "try to determine the full circumstances about the incident and also the source of the ignition".

    This is just a guess but maybe tasers and petrol do not mix.

  2. Anonymous Coward

    Make fire

    Susan Usher needs to go back to school....

    Petrol vapour + high voltage sparks make FIRE. Any 10 year old could tell you that!

    Flames for obvious reason.

  3. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Resistance is futile

    "Officers were attempting to arrest the unnamed Aboriginal man for sniffing petrol"

    Wouldn't be my lifestyle choice but is that really a legitimate arrestable offence ?

    Seems 'western police forces' all over have come to believe they have Judge Dred like powers; attempting to impose zero-tolerance then applying the taser when there isn't compliance, thus making for a far worse outcome than it if they'd kept their noses out of it in the first place.

  4. Anonymous Coward

    The taser manual...

    In the same way that microwave oven manuals now have to warn the terminally stupid not to microwave pet dogs, so the Taser company now have to add an appendix to their user manual...

    Situations when using the Taser(tm) is not advisable:

    - Do not fire at hydrofgen filled airships or dirigibles

    - Do not fire at subjects soaked in petrol

    - Do not fire at subjects inside oxygen tents

    - Do not fire at subjects when there is a smell of gas

  5. Sooty

    i wonder

    how long iot will be before someone who has completely doused themselves with petrol, and is threatening to light themselves, is 'calmed down' by a bit of gentle tasering.

    i should really be surprised that the police don't know not to introduce sparks near flammable substances, especially petrol with a flammable vapour, but sadly i'm not.

  6. collateral damage

    "try to determine the full circumstances about the incident and also the source of the ignition"

    Hmmm, what could that be?? Maybe it's because he was tasered? The officer really deserves to be stoned.

  7. JasonW


    The immolated chap is named here ->,27574,25812982-421,00.html

    Nice to see that he's also charged with "possession of a sniffing substance" (viz. petrol) - so presumably most car drivers in Stralia are also committing that offence, yet getting off whatever-the-equivalent-of-Scot-free-is-in-Australia

    Mine's the one with a Drizabone hat in the pocket.

  8. Mad Mike
    Thumb Down

    Thick policemen

    I see the plod in Australia are no more endowed in the brain area than those in the UK!!

    Tasering a person covered in petrol.......mmmmmmm wonder what might happen there........

    I'm sure the chap was being aggressive, but a tin of petrol and a lighter only threatens himself, not anyone else. Assuming the plod wasn't stupid enough to get in range........


  9. Jo 5

    question to aussies

    Do they have Aboriginal cops in AU on representative numbers? Or is it like the UK police force 20 years ago when less than 1% of the non-urban forces were of ethnic descent? Seems like Australian police are some of the most prejudiced along with Russian cops...

  10. Richard S

    Misleading Title

    Firstly, your headline is linkbait, and insinuates spontaneous human combustion after tasering - when actually the guy was surrounded by petrol and potentially had flammable petrol fumes in his respiratory system, therefore catching fire seems highly likely.

    Secondly, it's illegal to sniff petrol in Oz? How close does the nose have to be to the petrol for it to be illegal? If I'm filling up my car and inhale fumes will I get arrested?

  11. DJ 2


    "try to determine the full circumstances about the incident and also the source of the ignition"

    Electricity + Petrol = Duh!

  12. Anonymous Coward

    To be fair..

    What could the officer do? Attempting to handcuff him would have had the same result.

    That said I wasn't aware it was a crime to sniff petrol, I think it smells nice personally.

  13. Nigel 11

    Life imitating art?

    Anyone see that episode of CSI Miami two or three weeks ago?

  14. Dale 3


    I would have thought being stoned while on duty was illegal in most countries.

  15. Dave S 1
    Thumb Up


    Just be grateful wasn't on his mobile - if he was it would have been fatal - I have seen the signs in petrol stations!

  16. amanfromearth

    Just goes to show

    ..that police are ignorant twats the world over.

  17. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    A Hollywoodean Ending, this.

    "Nobody f*cks with the King"


  18. Rasczak

    Source of ignition

    The guy had a lighter in his hand, before being hit by the Tazer.

    So of course they have to investigate the source of the ignition, they need to find out if the guy set himself alight or the Tazer did it.

    Out of the two, which is more likely to eventually be blamed by the investigation do you think though ?

  19. Kev K

    petrol sniffing

    Is the same as glue sniffing (was popular round here with the chavs in the 90's)

    Having seen "youfs" high and/or glue and petrol I would have done the same as the plod and tazered the crap out of him to if he was violent - trust me it is a deeply unpleasant experience to me confronted by some violent, wild eyed, mouth frothing, smelly tosser high on that stuff

    Apparently (from mates anecdotal evidence) being high on petrol/glue induces vivid hallucinations and gives the sniffer extra strength - all in all not very nice (and you realy do stink afterwards - there were a few that came in the local pub after a "session" - they were banned after the 2nd time as a health hazzard)

  20. Richard 120

    Is it wrong

    To laugh?

  21. Anonymous John

    @ Source of ignition

    Yes. Some reports say he had a two litre container of petrol. That plus a lighter doesn't suggest petrol sniffing to me.

  22. Marek

    laws against petrol sniffing..

  23. Steve Brooks

    idiots the lot of you.

    1) The guy had a lghter in his hand and was running at the police with a full container of petrol and threatening to burn them alive, forgive me for thinking that this was a life threatening situation. The story is if they hadn't had the taser they would have had to use their handguns. of course they COULD have just ran away and not bothered trying to arrest him, which sends a good message tot he aboriginal youth, just threaten to burn them and they will let you alone no matter what you do!

    2) The police had gone to the house to arrest him, he wasn't NOT going to get arrested, even if he HADN'T run at police. And yes it is illegal to posess petrol for the purposes of sniffing, just as its illegal to possess paint spray cans for the purposes of performing acts of vandalism (well art in some sub-cultures), and no its not illegal to possess petrol for the purposes of pouring into the petrol tank of your car.

    There are legal and illegal uses for all kinds of devices and substances

  24. Moz

    Petrol Sniffing...

    ... is a huge health problem in Aboriginal communities, even to the point where BP developed a new type of petrol, Opal, to combat the problem. It has a similar effect as glue-sniffing, but has major long-term problems like brain damage.

    Alcohol and non-Opal fuel is banned in most of the aboriginal communities in WA and NT.

  25. This post has been deleted by its author

  26. The First Dave

    @Jo 5

    "Or is it like the UK police force 20 years ago when less than 1% of the non-urban forces were of ethnic descent"

    20 years ago less than 1% of the UK non-urban population was of non-ethnic origin. (I presume you got the ethnic/non-ethnic thing reversed?)

    Anyway, to para-phrase a much wiser man:

    Never attribute to racism that which can more easily be explained by stupidity.

  27. frymaster


    "Officers were attempting to arrest the unnamed Aboriginal man for sniffing petrol"

    A taser is not a god-damn stun gun. It's an alternative to a normal shooty gun that might not kill people as much. it should _only_ be used as a "less lethal" solution in situations where you'd have had to use a gun before :/

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: idiots the lot of you.

    What's your problem? I don't think anyone has suggested that he shouldn't have been neutralized merely that with hind sight tazering wouldn't have been the method used by the brightest spark in the motor.

    Oh, and where do get "running at the police" from? If it's from another source then at least say so because it's not in the article.

  29. Alan B

    @ The First Dave

    "I presume you got the ethnic/non-ethnic thing reversed?"

    No, you got it the wrong way round.

    The statement by Jo 5 is correct. It says that there were hardly any police who were of ethnic descent at that time. Your statement says that almost ALL police were of ethnic descent.

  30. The Indomitable Gall

    @Alan B

    Unfortunately you're falling for the same old trap of "he's not ethnic, I am".

    Dave could be making one of two points:

    1) Everyone is of *an* ethnic origin. There is no such thing as a human being with no ethnic origin.

    2) When talking about the population of the UK, "ethnic" would by default mean "ethnic UK", and anyone else would be "of foreign/overseas ethnic origin".

    Of course, the situation is the other way round in Oz where the dark-skinned people *are* the ethnic population.

    Using ethnic to mean "non-white" demonstrates a very racially compromised view....

  31. RichardB


    I think you will find that less than 1% of the force at the time was anything other than Ethnic Brit.

  32. Anonymous Coward


    When they charged him with "possession of a sniffing substance", I hope he arranged for charges to be brought against them for "possession of stolen goods".

    It would be his country and he wouldn't need to spend his days sniffing petrol if whitey hadn't gone there and nicked it from his ancestors...

  33. William Towle

    Pun not intended?,27574,25812982-421,00.html:


    Mr Mitchell ran from a house at police officers carrying a cigarette lighter and a container believed to contain fuel, police said.

    [..."]officers were concerned that they were going to be burnt so they deployed a Taser," Mr O'Callaghan said.

    "The only other choice they would have had is to use a police issue firearm and the circumstances would almost certainly have been far more grave."


    // nice bit of black humour to brighten up the day...

  34. Adam 52 Silver badge

    @Chris W

    The "running at the police" angle is on the BBC website.

    The Police spokesman comment "The only other choice they would have had is to use a police-issue firearm" is worrying. Lots of other options, including keeping a safe distance or using the not-a-source-of-ignition baton.

    A good reason for not replacing PAVA with Taser.

  35. Stevie


    Tasers would be held in a lot more respect if they shot a jet of petrol just before they released the electrodes if you ask me.

  36. Disco-Legend-Zeke

    But it was MEDICAL petrol.

    Somehow i think legal pot would be a better answer.

    At least America doesn't have a monopoly on murdering indigenous people and stealing their land.

  37. Mark 91


    Lots of people who've never really thought about this.

    Really? You're going to use a Baton to defend against fuel and a lighter? You don't get to see your family again, you failed the "Go home, alive, and preferable uninjured at the end of your shift" portion of the test.

    I've been trained to use a police baton, and I am pretty sure I can't stop someone from throwing a liquid on me with it. Now, if I had a riot shield...

    Back away? Maybe. It's usually a bad idea to give the suspect control of the engagement. You back away. He keeps coming. Now what? You run away? What if he stops? You ask him nicely to put down the fuel? You failed the "arrest bad guys" portion of the test.

    Wait, I got an idea. What if we accept that some of the blame might belong to the guy who charge police officers wielding a potentially lethal weapon? What if we praised the police officer for using the tazer instead of his pistol?

    Ok, it's not the perfect weapon of choice. If he had one of the large mace sprayers we used for riot gear, that would have been nice- Can get someone in the face from 10 feet easy. But unless you A) Don't care about going home at the end of the day, or B) Don't care if you actually arrest anyone, what else are you going to do?

  38. Martyn 1

    @Adam 52

    "including keeping a safe distance or using the not-a-source-of-ignition baton."

    So keeping a safe distance, better hope you can run faster and further than him. And if you came at me with a stick while I was carying 2L of petrol and a lighter, I could chuck petrol all over you before you got your first whack in, then when you're close enough all I've got to do is click the lighter once before you beat me unconcious.

    It's sad but if I was the cops I'd have done the same.

    Beer, 'cos it's safer than petrol.

    Mines the Asbestos one with the fire extinguisher in the pocket.

  39. Gilbert Wham

    When confronted with man threatening you with lighter & petrol...

    ...the manual should read: 'Throw a bucket of water over him, then hit him with a stick'. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES should the officer introduce a spark, whether by Taser or firearm.'

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    This incident reminds me of a video game called Syphon Filter where if you shot the enemy with a taser for too long he would start smoking and then burst into flames...

  41. The Bug

    What is wrong with sniffing petrol

    So the guy gets a little high and may cause himself brain damage - assuming he is an adult then that is entirely his decision to make.

    It is only if he starts threatening other people that police should get involved.

    People should fight for their rights to do whatever they bloody well want so long as it doesn't affect others. So good on the guy for going for the police with a lighter and petrol - bloody nanny state facists!

  42. bish

    @Kev K

    "trust me it is a deeply unpleasant experience to me confronted by some violent, wild eyed, mouth frothing, smelly tosser high on that stuff"

    Forgive me, but isn't it a police officer's JOB to confront people like that?

    "being high on petrol/ the sniffer extra strength"

    Patently absurd. Unbelievable silliness. Solvents may well make users FEEL stronger, but they act on the brain and certainly don't enhance muscles.

    The issues here are - why did the situation so rapidly descend into one where the policemen felt they needed to break out the weaponry? Sure, he was behaving threateningly, so perhaps their actions were justified, but how they initially approached the suspect is unreported, and may have made all the difference (or not - not pointing fingers). Secondly, what reasoning led to employing a taser on a man with petrol? Did they have guns and did they consider using them? A well aimed disarming shot would've been a lot safer, since the likelihood of bullets igniting fuel is incredibly slim, despite what Hollywood and Mr O'Callaghan's suggest. And was it really out of the question to attempt to wrestle him to the ground? I'm assuming he had the petrol for sniffing, not burning himself to a crisp, so was it really reasonable to assume he'd use the lighter?

    The fact that drug-crazed-crazies can be a bit intimidating is neither here nor there - if you panic as soon as someone threatens you, get a job in an office, not one of the forces.

  43. Additives
    Paris Hilton

    For th love of god, read the orriginal article

    The article published in the Australian states that the man had a histroy of violent offences relating to substance abuse. Also that he ran at poliece officers with a big'ole bottel of fucking petrol and a lighter.

    Now, for some reason (it may be the memory of what happens to the little dudes in Red alert when you set them on fire) I totally understand the concept of keeping some dude, who has a histroy of violence, a can of hgihly flamible liquid and a lighter, away from me. If you dont then there is probably something wrong withyour sense of self presevation.,25197,25817896-5006789,00.html << the article from the australian.

    Paris cause know who you are.

  44. Andy Dent 2

    Petrol Sniffing realities

    Every one of you making casual comments about petrol sniffing should go and see "Samson and Delilah" to get a realistic look at what sniffing is like in indigenous communities in OZ.

    We were at the Perth premiere and captivated and saddened by the director Warwick Thornton's discussion of the movie held immediately after.

    This story has been one of the biggest on Australian news and TV since it broke. From the police point of view, the only alternative would have been to shoot the guy. The police officer who Tasered him suffered such severe burns himself, trying to help the victim, that he also had to be flown to Perth for treatment.

    We have had many shameful incidents here with mistreatment of indigenous people. This doesn't sound like one of them but rather an unhappy accident.

  45. Jeffrey Nonken

    @Gilbert Wham

    "...the manual should read: 'Throw a bucket of water over him, then hit him with a stick'."

    "Excuse me sir, would you please wait here while I scare up a bucket? Thanks. OK, could I use your spigot? Gosh, that's awfully nice of you. Dum de dum, how's the family, sir? Really? Shame, especially in this economy. OK, almost done here." Then the cop (copper? Plod? Flatfoot?) tosses water on the alleged miscreant who... stands there and lets him? Oh, the water does a fat lot of good against the gasoline (sorry, petrol) thrown back. Hit him with a stick while he hits the lighter... whoosh! The ... officer of the law goes up in flames and the alleged perpetrator, soaked in water to the skin, saunters off laughing his ass off.

    Was this the scenario you had in mind? Or did you figure the water would prevent the gasoline from igniting? Ah, I get it... the officer should douse HIMSELF (herself?) and then put the bucket over the alleged perpetrator's head, disorienting and blinding him long enough to use the stick. Oops! WHOOSH! The can explodes because the blighter still has the lighter. (Yes, I really said that.) The officer is now safe because the can burst and the officer is now standing in the middle of a gasoline fire, soaked in water that evaporated in seconds -- and if it didn't, it's now turning to steam. Fried or parboiled? What a choice! And the first breath scorches his lungs before he can scream.

    Did you know that throwing water on a petrol fire exacerbates the fire? (See the first scene of Shaun of the Dead to learn what "exacerbate" means. Then watch the rest just because it's a good movie.) It tends to spread the burning petrol around. Since the petrol floats on top of the water, the fire doesn't actually suffocate, it just spreads out. Lovely, eh? I can't imagine that pouring the water proactively will do any better job of preventing ignition and it'll pre-spread the gasoline. Er, petrol, sorry. Sorry, I'm an American, we just don't speak the language. I blame the Pilgrims.

    The best part of your idea I've seen so far is to hit him with a stick, and that's already been discussed.

    Really. You didn't play with fire when you were a kid? Tsk, tsk. (Or Tch, tch.) I'm told the most intelligent kids tend to do that. Of course, I'm going to say that for obvious reasons, so don't trust my word on this.

    I made it out with only minor scarring and a very healthy respect for the stuff. What about you?

    Fire because, well, fire is cool. Heh-heh. Fire! Fire!

  46. Patrick Ernst

    And if there was no Taser?

    Petrol sniffing, alcoholism and associated violence has been a real problem for at least 40 years for Aborigines in isolated communities (whether in the city or rural). Its one of the side benefits of colonialism.

    What would these same police officers have done prior to Tasers being available to them? I'd bet it would not include shooting the offender. Perhaps it would of included involving Aboriginal Drug & Alcohol Services (they have roaming vans in many places) or Aboriginal Police. So basically, would the outcome have been different or better sans Taser and have Tasers made for cop-out cop work (lets take the easy option - we can't shoot em so lets fry em)?

  47. Anonymous Coward

    @patrick ernst

    simple. he would have been shot.

    he had a history of violent behaviour, he was high on petrol fumes, he had a lighter and a can of fuel and he was threatening officers' safety.

    the police have a right to protect themselves if they feel they are in imminent danger - that's why they carry guns - the taser perhaps wasn't the smart choice but the other options were to run or to shoot him. they couldn't run because he would then be a threat to the safety of the general public and shooting him would have to be a last resort.

    actually, maybe shooting him would have been the better option: the story wouldn't be international news. some local tree-huggers would have objected but that would be the end of it.

  48. Reid Malenfant

    @ Bish - Godbless the armchair experts!

    "A well aimed disarming shot would've been a lot safer"

    No not in the real world I'm afraid. There's no such thing as a 'disarming shot', in reality that's a just a movie concept. In practice only a sniper is likely to be presented with such an opportunity and only then if the target remains fairly inactive.

    Police the world over are only trained to shoot at the largest body mass, and shoot until the target is 'stopped'. The adrenaline that surges when you draw a pistol in a perceived life or death situation can play havoc with fine motor skills; particularly when you've had no previous warning or even expectation of having to resort to such a reaction.

    A physiological inevitability which can, and often does, reduce or impede otherwise unstressed marksmanship. One of the reasons why ex-servicemen and skilled target shooters can actually fail the judgemental components of Firearms Courses; a fact not an opinion I'm afraid.

    Its hard enough to hit a large static target in such circumstances let alone the arm or leg of a moving one - not when the necessity to draw your gun and the time it takes to acquire your target then pull the trigger is counted in fractions of a second.

    Couple this knowledge with the fact that, the world over, the vast number of armed Police Officers will never actually shoot in anger at all and are, in effect, totally untried and inexperienced in shooting at people - yet are acutely aware of the likely consequences of such a life defining decision.

    You can speculate all you like about what you THINK you MIGHT do in such circumstances but, like so much else in life, its not until you actually find yourself in such a scenario that the truth will out and; believe you me, it can be as much a surprise to you as to anyone else.

  49. mifren

    I am certain that more could have been learned by the Police Officer by more observation 1st

    Culture is intrinsically linked to language and that man sadly seems to have been sniffing for a long time at least 6 or more months to be so chronically affected. Also we do not know exactly how the Western Australia Warburton Police Officer has been trained in cross-cultural awareness and language to potentially diffuse these sorts of situations ...

    I am certain that more could have been learned by the Police Officer by more observation 1st & strategic questioning before allowing oneself to get too close to be rushed at by the person concerned.

    It is a dreadful set of circumstances by all concerned and I wonder then what the man's family, friends, community, leaders etc are and were doing in terms of mental health, social and emotional well-being for such substance abuse etc. We have a very clear National Mental Health Strategy and I helped launch our Promotion, Prevention and Early Intervention (PPEI) National Action Plan 9 years ago with its explicit process and outcome indicators but it seems sadly that hardly anyone is seriously looking at let alone implementing them ...

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