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Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Why Taser is paying millions in secret 'suspect injury or death' settlements - when does 'less lethal' actually mean deadly?

December 13, 2013 - Matt Stroud, The Verge

On the day before Thanksgiving this year, international stun gun and cop-cam company Taser International, Inc. announced it had given up its fight in two major legal battles over "suspect injury or death." In a 275-word statement submitted to the US Securities and Exchange Commission, the company's chief financial officer said it would pay a total of $2.3 million in settlements to plaintiffs who had sued the company in product liability cases.

This was rare. Taser prides itself in fighting to the bitter end in any case alleging that its products do anything but save lives. Yet there it was in a financial disclosure — Taser backing down.

Taser brushed it off as a remnant of simpler times. According to the vaguely worded statement, enhanced "risk management procedures" and "revisions to product warnings" in 2009 corrected a legal vulnerability. The $2.3 million payouts would address the last lawsuits tied to that vulnerability; they would amount to housekeeping — cleaning up lingering messes that had remained on the company’s books since before 2009.

WHAT WERE THESE "RISK MANAGEMENT PROCEDURES"?

But what were these "risk management procedures"? What were these "revisions to product warnings"? What was the vulnerability? And what were these cases? Taser’s press liaison told The Verge that its SEC declaration "speaks for itself" — a clear indication that the company has no plans to say anything further about settlements unless it’s forced to.

But a little research helped to pin down procedural changes Taser made in September, 2009. And a public records search helped to narrow the possibilities down to four representative cases that may have been settled. Those cases have a few major factors in common: they involve a Taser shot at someone’s chest; they involve someone going into cardiac arrest; and they involve an accidental death.

For years, Taser has battled in court to show that its electronic control devices — its ECDs such as the X2 and the X26 — cannot kill. But if its recent settlements are any indication, the company may either be slowly backing away from that premise, or at least attempting to draw a line in time after which the company feels it's no longer liable for someone’s death.


CONTRIBUTING FACTORS

As bars were closing at about 2AM on April 19, 2008, 24-year-old Kevin Piskura was at a music venue about a block away from the Miami University campus in Oxford, Ohio. As the bar closed its doors and patrons exited, a fight broke out. Oxford Police were called. According to a civil complaint filed in 2010 by Piskura’s parents, an officer ordered Piskura to "step back or back away" from the fight. It’s not clear whether he did or not, but the officer soon pulled out a Taser ECD and shot Piskura in the chest. Piskura went into cardiac arrest; his heart stopped beating. He was taken to a nearby emergency room and soon life-flighted to a Cincinnati hospital where he died five days later. This past March, Piskura’s parents settled with the City of Oxford and the Oxford Police Department for $750,000. In October, Piskura’s parents suggested they were considering a settlement with Taser.

The Piskuras did not return calls from The Verge, and an attorney representing their case declined to comment. But Kevin Piskura’s death fits a pattern consistent to ongoing product liability cases involving Taser-related incidents in which someone was killed prior to September, 2009. The $2.3 million payouts likely stem from similar cases; these incidents occurred before Taser made its switch from "non-lethal" to "less lethal."

Regarding that: letters to medical journals and plenty of anecdotal evidence have suggested at least since 2005 that even healthy people could suffer cardiac arrest if shot near the heart with Taser’s "non-lethal" ECDs. By September, 2009, Taser changed its product warnings accordingly. Today, Taser’s ECDs are branded as "less lethal" instead of "non lethal," and its training materials warn that "exposure in the chest area near the heart … could lead to cardiac arrest."

Another ongoing cardiac arrest case against Taser involves Ryan Rich. A 33-year-old physician in Las Vegas, Rich went into cardiac arrest and died in January, 2008 after he was shot five times with an ECD, including once in the chest. That case is headed to trial in January.

A third case comes out of the Detroit suburb of Warren, Michigan, and will head to trial in May, 2014. It involves the 2009 death of 16-year-old, 5-feet-2-inch Robert Mitchell, who died in an abandoned house after being shot in the chest by a Warren police officer with a Taser ECD.

"TURNER COLLAPSED 37 SECONDS AFTER THE DEVICE WAS ACTIVATED."

Darryl Turner’s case is a fourth possibility. Turner was 17 years old in March 2008 when he got into an argument with his boss at the North Carolina Food Lion grocery where he worked as a cashier. According to a complaint later filed by Turner’s parents, the argument escalated to shouting and Turner’s boss eventually called 911. A police officer from the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department arrived and asked Turner to "calm down." When the teenager refused, the officer pointed his Taser ECD at Turner’s chest. Turner began to step toward the officer, so the officer "held down the Taser’s trigger, causing the device to continue emitting an electrical current, until Turner eventually collapsed 37 seconds after the device initially was activated." Paramedics soon arrived to find Turner handcuffed and unconscious. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

In an uncommon outcome, Turner’s family was awarded a massive payout in 2011. Taser appealed. In November of this year, an appeals court issued its opinion that Taser should remain liable for Turner’s death, but that the jury’s award needed to be reconsidered. "We have no doubt that Turner had significant value to his parents," the appeals court’s decision read. But the court couldn’t agree with a "reasonable level of certainty" that the boy’s life was worth $6.15 million. The parties are scheduled to head back to court in 2014 to haggle over that figure. Unless, that is, Taser has decided to cut its losses and settle out of court.
ON THE RECORD

Taser International is very good about keeping records. In addition to its Axon Flex on-body police camera that allows officers to record interactions with suspects, the company also collects data every time a Taser ECD is fired. But it’s up to police departments — and up to Taser International — to decide how much of that information is revealed publicly.

The company takes a similar approach in the courtroom.

Taser typically insists on keeping its legal settlements — such as those referenced in its recent $2.3 million payout — secret. Rarely are the terms made public. But it happens occasionally. One Northern California case involved a drunk man off his psychiatric meds who was shot with a Taser ECD after refusing to get off a bus. He went into cardiac arrest. An emergency crew was able to resuscitate him on scene, but after going 18 minutes without a breath, the man suffered a crippling brain injury. He would require a caregiver from that point forward.

After a long legal battle, Taser agreed to settle that case. As per usual, it demanded that the settlement agreement be kept secret. The defendants in the case agreed. But eventually it was revealed that the company had settled for $2.85 million. The settlement figure was only made public after a probate court judge made the unusual decision to disclose the dollar amount in open court.

THERE WAS, THE JUDGE SAID, "THERAPEUTIC VALUE" IN MAKING THE INFORMATION PUBLIC

A report from the San Jose Mercury News later explained the judge’s reasoning. There was, the judge said, "therapeutic value" in making the information public.

Whether or not a judge makes similar decisions about Taser’s recent settlements, it’s clear that the company has decided to settle cardiac arrest cases as quietly as possible because it has maintained for years that its weapons are effective, non-deadly alternatives to firearms. If too much attention focuses on Taser-related deaths, there’s a risk that police departments might choose to sidestep the controversy altogether and opt against Taser's products.

There’s a lot at stake on both sides. For Taser, its NASDAQ-traded stock value is on the line. And for those engaged in open legal battles over Taser-related deaths involving cardiac arrest and factors such as "excited delirium" ("a euphemism for ‘death by Taser’") — as well as those who may literally find themselves facing down a Taser ECD in the future — the value of an open settlement may amount to more than mere therapy. It could amount to life or death.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Canadian #35 Dies


A man has died and several officers were injured after police were called to a rooming house in Montreal where they deployed a Taser.

Quebec provincial police said 41-year-old Donald Ménard died following an altercation with police on Monday evening (November 11, 2013).  Police received a call about 5:30 p.m. ET on Monday night about a woman suffering from a possible drug overdose at a rooming house near the corner of St-André and Ontario streets. Police said that at the scene Ménard appeared to be intoxicated and that he attacked an officer, who ended up losing a tooth. "They tried to find the woman, and there was a lot of people, aggressive people, inside the place and also intoxicated people," said Const. Simon Delorme.  Ménard disappeared from the Pinel Institute, a Montreal psychiatric hospital, on Nov. 10 and provincial police had been searching for him since then.

Several officers were injured while trying to restrain the man. "One man, strongly intoxicated, started to be very aggressive and combative with the police officer. He hit a police officer in the face."  According to Radio-Canada, CBC's French service, the officers resorted to using a Taser after they tried to use batons and pepper spray to subdue the man.

Radio-Canada reported that the man refused to be transported to hospital, but eventually lost consciousness.

Ménard was taken to hospital in critical condition and later pronounced dead.

The woman who police were originally called to help was treated in hospital and is expected to recover, and four officers were treated in the hospital for minor injuries.


Quebec provincial police are investigating.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Canadian #34 Dies

October 31, 2013
Edmonton, The Canadian Press
An investigative unit says a 39-year-old man who was zapped by Edmonton police with an electronic stun gun has died in hospital.
The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, known as ASIRT, says an autopsy will be done on the man who died Wednesday night.
He was hospitalized in serious condition last week after an encounter with police.There have been few details about what happened.
ASIRT hasn’t said how many times the man was hit with a Taser, but media reports have quoted witnesses who said it was three times.
ASIRT reports to the Alberta Justice Department and investigates events involving serious injury or death that may have resulted from the actions of a police officer.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Man dies a day after RCMP use Taser on him in Leduc, Alberta

August 4, 2013
A man has died one day after RCMP used a Taser on him in Leduc, Alta., a spokesperson for Alberta's Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) says.
The 27-year-old man was taken into custody Friday night following an altercation with three RCMP officers at a gas station on the corner of 50th Street and 50th Avenue.
ASIRT Executive Director Clifton Purvis said officers used a conducted energy weapon, or Taser, to subdue the man before handcuffing him.
The man went into medical distress and lost consciousness, police said. He was taken to the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton where he was originally reported to be in critical condition, according to an ASIRT spokesperson.
He died in hospital Sunday morning, said Purvis.
An ASIRT team has now been assigned to investigate the incident and will be relying on witness statements as well as security and cellphone video footage to aid in their assessment.
"At this point, we don’t know whether or not [the Taser] contributed to the medical condition and subsequent death of this individual," said Purvis. "There will be an autopsy conducted on that male later this week."
"Once the cause of death is determined, it will allow us to focus the investigation on the manner of death," he added.
RCMP said Saturday the man had been linked to a series of assaults, automobile thefts, driving complaints and hit and runs. They are now conducting their own investigation into the incident, said Purvis.
This is the second death linked to provincial RCMP officers in Alberta this weekend.
A man was fatally shot by another RCMP officer near Pigeon Lake on Saturday evening.
ASIRT, an independent body that investigates incidents involving serious injury or death that may relate to the actions of a police officer, is looking into both incidents.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Parents tell Taser inquest they hope son's death will bring change

July 19, 2013
Diana Mehta, The Canadian Press


MIDHURST, Ont. -- There's no doubt Aron Firman's death moments after he was Tasered by police was tragic -- all parties at the inquest examining the case of the mentally ill Ontario man agreed on that point.

But just how much of a role the electric stun gun played in the 27-year-old's death was the subject of much contention Friday before a jury retired to deliberate what's been described by Ontario's top pathologist as an "index case."

"There's clearly controversy around this case...specifically around the cause and manner of Mr. Firman's death," presiding coroner William Lucas said in his charge to the jury.

"The circumstances of the death of Mr. Firman have raised some questions."

Firman, a man with schizophrenia, died in June 2010 after an encounter with Ontario Provincial Police in Collingwood, Ont. Ontario's police watchdog cleared the officers of any wrongdoing, but said the Taser's deployment caused Firman's death.

Lucas suggested there were two possible ways to characterize Firman's cause of death -- "accidental," as Firman's family has suggested, or "undetermined," as Taser International has argued.

As he urged the jury to weigh all the evidence and testimony that has come before them, he warned the five-member panel not to resort to an "undetermined" cause of death as a matter of convenience.

"Finding a manner of death of "undetermined" should not be used simply as a means to avoid having to reach a conclusion which may be unpopular," he said.

The inquest, which has been sitting intermittently since April, has heard vastly different testimony from experts. Some have suggested that the use of a Taser on Firman was a key factor in his death. Others argued the stun gun had little to do with the fatality.

Firman's parents, who have maintained that their son would be alive if it hadn't been for the Taser, said they wanted his death to be a catalyst for change.

"I hope with all my heart that Aron's death will not be for nothing," father Marcus Firman said as he choked back tears. "My hope would be to come away from the inquest with a vision on how to go forward with dealing with mental illness."

Aron Firman was described by his father as a gentle, artistic and inquisitive man who was keenly aware of his "terrible illness." Both parents said their son's loss had left an aching void in their lives.

The lawyer for the Firman family suggested the jury deem Firman's death an accidental one in which the Taser was an important factor.

His argument was based largely on previous testimony from Dr. Michael Pollanen, Ontario's chief pathologist, who conducted Firman's autopsy and found the Taser was the "most immediate factor" in his death.

"If you find that the Taser was related in that death...the world will not end," lawyer Sunil Mathai told the jury.

"If you make that finding, you're not standing alone on that. You're standing with the chief pathologist of Ontario -- a man recognized worldwide as a leader in pathology."

Mathai also assured the jury that Firman's family was not seeking an eradication of Tasers.
"The family takes the position that Tasers have proper place in policing," he said. "This is not a Spanish Inquisition into Tasers. We are not seeking to remove them."

Meanwhile, the lawyer representing Taser International has suggested Firman could have died from cardiac arrhythmia brought on by "excited delirium" -- a condition sometimes cited as a cause of death in people using cocaine or those with severe mental illness.

David Neave urged the jury to label the cause of Firman's death as "undetermined."

"The preponderance of the evidence that is now before the jury is that the Taser played no role in his death," Neave told The Canadian Press outside the inquest.

"I don't think it's an index case...This case is not about Taser discharge. This case is quite frankly about the state of excited delirium that Mr. Firman was in and the medical conditions or medical changes that that syndrome causes."

The jury is now considering how it can characterize Firman's death and may put forward recommendations on what can be done to prevent similar deaths in the future. It is expected to return with a verdict next week.

The use of Tasers by police has come under increased scrutiny over the years, particularly in the high-profile death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, who died after he was Tasered several times during an altercation with RCMP officers at Vancouver's airport in 2007.

A public inquiry into Dziekanski's death has said multiple deployments of the Taser along with a physical altercation contributed to the circumstances that lead to Dziekanski's heart attack. The BC Coroners Service agreed with the conclusions of the inquiry.

Dziekanski's death led to a number of recommendations, which were implemented by all police officers working in British Columbia, including the RCMP. They included getting better training on Tasers, using the weapons only if there's a danger a suspect will cause bodily harm, and training officers in crisis management.

Firman's family made similar suggestions in 21 recommendations submitted to the jury on Friday.

They included asking the jury to recommend that Ontario Provincial Police provide annual, mandatory crisis intervention and resolution training, which would have input from mental health professionals and those with mental-health issues, and that the province appoint a co-ordinator for implementation of that training.

The family also wants the jury to recommend the OPP revise its use-of-force policy for conducted energy weapons so an officer is prohibited from using one unless satisfied that de-escalation or crisis intervention techniques haven't worked and no option involving less force will work to eliminate the risk of someone getting hurt.

Friday, June 07, 2013

A comment received today from "Gilbert"

I can’t believe the number of Canadian cops and even some coroners and judges who are still accepting Excited Delirium as a ‘cause-of-death’. Neither the CMA or AMA recognize it. Then the Braidwood Inquiry looking into the death of Robert Dziekanski blew the ED idea out of the water, as a concocted concept to help police explain away ‘unintended consequences’ during and after Taser incidents. Have you ever heard of ED mentioned in anything other than Taser-related fatalities?

Mother Jones published an eye-opening piece in 2009, right around the time when Taser International quietly announced in a training bulletin that officers should avoid chest shots because of proximity to the heart. That flies in the face of the claims made by the company a decade earlier, when its executives crowed about Tasers being safe to use on any assailant. Mother Jones reported the manufacturer’s questionable methods of promoting ED to anyone who would listen—mainly police and lawyers- through a second-party organization based in Las Vegas, Nevada! The article is a bit dated now, in that Taser has lost at least one other major product liability case- that being the late 17-year old Daryl Turner, who was stunned twice in the chest by a cop in North Carolina. The Turner family won a $10-million dollar jury judgement, although it was halfed on appeal. Taser was rapped for 'failure to warn' about cardiac risks; these are risks TI executives were told about in 2006 by one of their own scientists after one of their own healthy volunteers suffered a heart attack during a controlled experiment. Luckily a defib was nearby and the volunteer survived. They company kept selling product, only issuing the chest-avoidance warning in late 2009. That case set the legal precedent that Tasers can kill. Commissioner Braidwood concluded that too. And now, if you read the fine print you'll see TI itself is admitting its products can cause cardiac and metabolic changes that can lead to death.

Taser 'key factor' in Ontario man's death, says Ontario's top pathologist

Diana Mehta, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, June 6, 2013 6:35AM EDT 
Last Updated Thursday, June 6, 2013 6:43PM EDT

MIDHURST, Ont. -- The death of a mentally ill man after he was Tasered by police three years ago was described as an "index case" by Ontario's top pathologist Thursday, as he identified the electric stun gun as a key factor in the fatality.

Dr. Michael Pollanen spent hours testifying at the inquest into the death of Aron Firman, a 27-year-old schizophrenic who died in June 2010 after an encounter with Ontario Provincial Police.

Pollanen called the incident "an accident" -- echoing a finding by Ontario's police watchdog that cleared the officers dealing with Firman of any wrongdoing.

"I have never seen a case where I was confident that you could link a Taser as factor in death, until this case," he told the five-member jury at the inquest.

"This is a first of its kind in Ontario."

Pollanen acknowledged there would be some who disagreed with his finding, particularly as the use of Tasers and their effects is still a growing field of study.

"There is unlikely to be entire uniform agreement on this case," he said. "But I would say it's too parsimonious to say the Taser was uninvolved in death."

Pollanen was careful to note, however, that while the Tasering of Firman was the "most immediate factor" in his death, it was not the only factor.

He described Firman's cause of death as "cardiac arrhythmia precipitated by electronic control device deployment in an agitated schizophrenic man."
But he also said Firman had a "moderately" enlarged heart -- though he did not have a specific heart disease -- and carried a gene which may possibly have made his heart more vulnerable to injury.

"The fatal outcome in this case likely presents the conjunction of many factors coming together at the same time," he said.
Pollanen made it clear he believed the use of Tasers by authorities had its benefits, and the electric stun gun's role in a fatality was rare, but nonetheless, he said, in some cases the use of a Taser does lead to death.

One possibility the chief forensic pathologist largely dismissed was a suggestion Firman could have died from a syndrome known as "excited delirium," which is sometimes cited as a cause of death in people using cocaine or those with severe mental illness.

A lawyer representing Taser International, which has standing at the inquest, took Pollanen to task on that point, arguing that Firman could very well have died due to excited delirium.

"I'm saying many factors of excited delirium are here," argued David Neave, who also said Pollanen had shown no objective published data which demonstrated that a Taser discharge can cause death.

For his part, Pollanen repeatedly told the inquest it was hard to determine the dividing line between severe agitation and excited delirium.

On that point, the lawyer for the Firman family argued that Firman had been severely agitated in the past but died after he was Tasered.

"It is the family's position in this inquest that if the Taser was not deployed and used on him, he would not have died," Sunil Mathai said outside the inquest.

Mathai added that the family agreed with Pollanen's noting of other factors which could have contributed to Firman's death, saying those elements contributed to "the susceptibility of his heart being captured by the Taser."

Firman's parents were present at Thursday's proceedings, as they have been throughout the inquest.

"It's been a very hard process for us to go through," Firman's father, Marcus Firman, told The Canadian Press.

"This is three years after the event and it brings everything back fresh."

The family is hoping that the inquest will lead to better guidelines around the use of Tasers by authorities and improved response techniques when police have to deal with agitated mentally ill people like their son.

The inquest began in April and was expected to hear from about 20 witnesses.

Aron Firman was a resident at a group home in Collingwood, Ont., at the time of his death.

A December 2010 report from Ontario's Special Investigations Unit said that on June 24 of that year two OPP officers responded to an assault complaint about Firman and found him sitting in a chair outdoors.

Both officers attempted to speak to "an agitated" Firman, according to the report. When they moved to apprehend him Firman got out of his chair and "moved aggressively" towards an officer, it said.

The second officer tried to intervene but was unable to do so as Firman hit her in the face with his elbow, said the report. Firman then moved toward the first officer who responded by discharging his Taser gun at him.

Firman was able to take a few additional steps before falling to the ground and losing consciousness, the report said. He was taken to an area hospital where he was pronounced dead.

In commenting on the case, the SIU director singled out the use of the Taser on Firman.

"In this incident, the Taser's deployment in my view caused Mr. Firman's death," Ian Scott said in his report.

While noting the responding officers had the authority to arrest Firman for assault and had not done anything wrong, Scott pointed out that the Taser is characterized "as a less lethal or intermediate weapon."

"In these circumstances, and in light of Mr. Firman's demonstrated degree of aggression, I am of the opinion that the Taser's deployment was not excessive, notwithstanding the fact that it caused Mr. Firman's demise."

The use of Tasers by police has come under increased scrutiny over the years, particularly in the high-profile death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, who died after he was Tasered several times during an altercation with RCMP officers at Vancouver's airport in 2007.

A public inquiry in Dziekanski's death has said multiple deployments of the Taser along with a physical altercation contributed to the circumstances that lead to Dziekanski's heart attack. The BC Coroners Service agreed with the conclusions of the inquiry.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Alien Boy - The Life and Death of James Chasse

A documentary about the September 17, 2006 death of James Chasse.

From the website:  On Sept. 17, 2006 James Chasse was stopped by three law enforcement officers in Portland, Oregon in broad daylight.  A dozen eyewitnesses watched in horror as the officers tackled, beat, kicked, and tasered James until he lay motionless on the pavement with 16 broken ribs and a punctured lung. He died in the custody of Portland police about two hours later.

http://alienboy.org/

Thursday, October 18, 2012

TASER: The Whole Story

October, 15, 2012
http://re-sergeance.net/2012/10/15/taser-the-whole-story/

Dear Zofia,

In memory of Robert and all those who have lost their lives proximal to a TASER.  A promise not forgotten.

Dr. Mike Webster’s Presentation to:
Special Committee to Inquire into the Use of Conducted Energy Weapons
and to Audit Selected Police Complaints
Monday, October 15, from 10:45 to 11:30 a.m.
Douglas Fir Committee Room, Room 226, Parliament Buildings.

Preamble

I would like to thank the committee for inviting me here today. I am a Registered Psychologist (in private practice) that has worked in the area of police psychology for over 30 years. I completed basic police training at the RCMP Training Academy (Depot Division) in 1988. I specialize in the area of crisis management and have experience in the application of force across a broad array of police tasks including: hostage/barricade incidents; kidnappings; incidents of public disorder; and crisis intervention. I have been instrumental in the creation and delivery of crisis intervention, crisis negotiation, and incident command courses from the Canadian Police College (Ottawa, Ontario) to the B.C. Police Academy (New Westminster, B.C.). I have been an adjunct lecturer at the FBI Training Academy. I have consulted internationally and with several law enforcement agencies including: Colombia, Mexico, Singapore, Brazil, the United Arab Emirates, Hungary, Iceland, Sweden, Australia, and Europol. I have consulted operationally at a variety of incidents including: the old BC Penitentiary (hostage takings); Waco, Texas; Gustafsen Lake, B.C.; Jordan, Montana; Ft. Davis, Texas; the G8; the G20; Apex Alpine; and numerous kidnappings from Iraq to Indonesia, and Kashmir to Colombia. I am familiar with both Use of Force Models; the RCMP’s Integrated Model of Incident Management and the National Use of Force Framework. I provided testimony at both phases of the Braidwood Commission of Inquiries.

I assume that your committee invited me here today to comment on my experience in the implementation of Justice Braidwood’s recommendations in the areas of crisis intervention and training; as I have noted, areas of specialty and experience for me. As I was not invited to be a part of that implementation process, I can only make general comment on what has been done by others. I am more than willing to answer any questions you may have in those areas of police work following my presentation. However, as it appears that electro-shock weapons (ESWs) are here to stay, and in order to assist in an informed discussion, and the formulation of future public policy, I would like to address in the meantime a couple of critical concerns. I believe your committee, and the public should be advised of not only recent TASER-related science but also some of the more pertinent contemporary and historical concerns associated with the TASER’s place in Canadian law enforcement. In providing this information I hope to prevent the next generation technology from being so easily accepted and under such compromised circumstances.

Presentation

The BC Government failed its citizens when TASER technology was introduced to the Province. As someone who is trained to construct, conduct, and be critical of research, I was taken aback last week to hear the Assistant Deputy Minister and Director of Police Services cavalierly gloss over the inadequate and flawed process used to approve the use of TASERs in this Province. Those who appreciate the scientific method prefer to regard that process as amateurish, at best, and replete with misrepresentations provided by what appears to have been a seriously compromised policeman/project manager. I would like to elaborate. There was not enough rigorous science applied by the manufacturer to guarantee the safety of the weapon. TASERs were anecdotally not scientifically developed. Universally, public officials failed to verify the safety claims being made by the company and its spokespersons. TASERs were rushed into service by decision makers and police in B.C. and throughout Canada in 1999. The weapon has caused problems for the public and the manufacturer. For example, TASER International is presently engaged in damage control by offering trade-ins to “recall” older, more powerful weapons. (Are you aware that the M-26 model is powered at 26-Watts, the next generation model the X-26 is lower powered, and the newest model the X2 will be even lower? This begs the question as to why the manufacturer would lower the power of the weapon without alerting law enforcement first and providing some explanation). It appears that with the lack of regular and rigorous peer reviewed independent measurement, no policeperson could be sure of the amount of current being emitted from the weapon at any given deployment; for unlike breathalysers, defibrillators, and radar guns, the police do not routinely measure the output of their TASERs.

The CBC had fifty randomly chosen police TASERs tested independently in a lab in Chicago in 2008. They discovered that not all TASERs perform in the same way, as reflected in their “output variance”. Electro-shock weapons manufacturers readily admit that the output of these devices can vary due to factors beyond their control.

According to the Canadian blog “Truth-Not-Tasers”, that has been tracking the death toll, approximately 750 people have died proximal to TASER use in North America since the higher-powered M-26 was introduced. The lower powered 5-Watt system was what was field tested in Canada, by the Victoria Police Department in 1999, in the “field study” mentioned by Mr. Pecknold. The policeman in charge initially said he had concerns about the new, soon-to-be-available higher powered 26-Watt weapons and that more research was needed before he could recommend them. Yet a few months later this was exactly the model of TASER that his police department purchased. In his final report (“An Independent Evaluation of Conducted Energy Weapons”) there was no evidence that the 26-Watt system had ever been subjected to any controlled research. Yet, the higher powered 26-Watt system is what our police services decided to buy and deploy. The medical safety studies promised by this policeman/project manager were never produced. Contrary to Mr. Pecknold’s statement of last week, the people of BC received no medical evidence assuring them of the safety of TASERs prior to them being brought into service.

Despite the glaring omissions of the 26-Watt system, and safety concerns about it in his final report, this same Victoria policeman wrote in both of his reports that TASERs had been “over-studied”. In fact, this was not true. It is widely known that TASER spent only $14,000 in research and development when it shocked a single pig in 1996 to develop the waveform and then 5 dogs in 1999 to further test the weapon. The results of these tests were not published, or reviewed, by third party peers. These results are not even included in TASER International’s own Medical Compendium.

The higher powered technology was never subjected to independent, impartial, rigorous research prior to being deployed throughout Canada. The policeman who claimed that TASERs were “medically safe”, not being scientifically or medically trained, was not qualified to make such a judgement.

This same policeman claimed that TASERs met electrical safety standards as set by the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) and the International Electro-technical Commission (IEC). (The Canadian Standards Association (CSA) was not mentioned). This policeman’s claim of electrical safety was untrue because the devices have never been tested by these safety standards bodies. You will note that TASERs do not bear certification marks from any of these organizations, as other electrical products sold, and used, in Canada must. The fact is, the Canadian public still has an untested, unregulated electrical device in the hands of police; this, in violation of the Electrical Safety Standards Act, that says no electrical devices are to be sold or used without a proper certification mark. The TASER carries no such mark, even though it emits electrical current into the body. Remarkably this policeman/project manager’s report, replete with what appear to be false claims, was vetted by TASER International and the CPRC; and neither saw fit to make any amendments. Today these claims are no longer made.

Although somewhat technical, it is well to recognize that the dangers lie in the peaks of the current, even though TASER International prefers to use “averages” in its description of the weapon’s electrical characteristics. It is medically uncontroversial that electrical currents between 70 – 100 milliamps can kill. Following TASER International’s original specification sheets, the peak currents of the M-26 and X-26 models are obscured in average calculations. These weapons, at peak current, that is 162 and 151 milliamps respectively, are powerful enough to kill as suggested by Commissioner Braidwood at the conclusion of his Commission of Inquiries. Moreover, according to the IEC-479 standard, shocks of 151 to 162 milliamps over five seconds can stimulate the heart adversely in 50% of the population that receives the shock. Today the electrical output of these weapons does not appear in the manufacturer’s product specification sheets.
This same Victoria Police Department member was then seconded to manage the joint (RCMP and CPRC) “Conducted Energy Weapons Evaluation Project”. It was not a study into health and safety effects, as one may have hoped, but simply a cataloging of the effects of the harsh Canadian winter on the functioning of the weapons.

It was later discovered and reported by the Vancouver Sun, that this policeman had an undisclosed financial relationship with TASER International. This was revealed when he testified at a wrongful death lawsuit in 2005. The family of Robert Bagnell was suing the Vancouver Police Department after Mr. Bagnell was shocked multiple times and died in the downtown east side.

The policeman in question was asked to testify as he had been brought over from Victoria by the Vancouver Police Department as an “independent” investigator into Mr. Bagnell’s death. When pressed by lawyer Cameron Ward, the policeman admitted he had done undisclosed freelance work for TASER International.

On the surface it appears that this policeman, at some point in 2000, tasked with evaluating the technology for BC (and ultimately the rest of Canada), was quietly being given stock in TASER International while he lead Master Taser Trainer Courses for the manufacturer with other police services. TASER International Chairman Tom Smith told a federal all-party subcommittee, looking into TASER stock options, and televised nation-wide on the Parliamentary channel, that stock options were given to this officer for designing a holster. (Ironically, the holster in question was for the M-26 model, the very weapon this officer claimed to be uncertain of). There are those, who understand the objectivity of the scientific method, who would describe the receipt of payment, in whole or in kind, from TASER International, while evaluating the safety of its products for the BC Government as a hopeless conflict of interest. Ujjal Dosanjh, who had given the Victoria Police Department permission to field test the 5-Watt system in 1999, told CTV News that he felt he had been deceived. He was concerned that the policeman, in question, had failed to disclose his relationship with TASER International and, worse still, that false claims were made in the various versions of his so-called “independent evaluation”. This policeman remains on the job today with the Victoria Police Department and has never been held accountable by decision makers for making these misrepresentations. Mr. Dosanjh has said that if he knew then what he knows now, he would never have given TASERs the go-ahead.

Also related to the absence of independent, scientific evidence, American authorities allowed TASERs to be deployed despite significant “data gaps”, and other concerns raised in three key US government reports. Canadian law enforcement was unaware of, or worse ignored, these over sights. One of these critical oversights involved not questioning, TASER International for placing a conformity mark on their M-26 brochure. This mark (i.e. CE) is used to indicate conformity with standards necessary for a product to enter the European Economic Area. The European Community did not have, nor even have today, any standard for electrical safety that would apply to the M26 ADVANCED TASER. In sum, there was a glaring lack of due diligence undertaken by authorities when these weapons were first introduced. As a result, approximately eight people have died in British Columbia proximal to their use.

Times Colonist reporter Rob Shaw has said that your Special Committee will be considering “the scientific research into the medical risks to persons against whom conducted energy weapons are deployed”. This is encouraging as there is much that even Commissioner Braidwood did not uncover. Not one Canadian government agency or department including Health Canada, Public Safety Canada or the RCMP bothered to verify TASER International’s medical and safety claims. The RCMP even used photo-copied TASER promotional information in its first TASER report in 2000.Remarkably, law enforcement in Canada is still able to use TASERs in “probe mode”, when there is no electrical safety standard for invasive shocks; that is, electrical current introduced below the skin.

One Vancouver journalist approached the IEC, the UL, and the CSA and learned that the standard they use to measure safety thresholds is for shocks on the skin, not subcutaneous shocks. All these laboratories assert that we know so little about the effects of electricity below the skin they could not, in good faith, certify these weapons with one of their safety marks; like you find on your electric shaver, toaster, or hair dryer.

Contrary to Dr. Lu’s assertion, last week before this committee, there has been important TASER related research since 2008. Regarding cardiac risks, a study published this year, in the Journal of Circulation, by Dr. Douglas P. Zipes, cardiologist and professor emeritus at Indiana University, clearly demonstrates that the electric shock delivered to the chest by a Taser can lead to cardiac arrest and sudden death. “This is no longer arguable”, said Dr. Byron Lee, a cardiologist and director of the electrophysiology laboratory at the University of California, San Francisco. “This is a scientific fact”. With respect, the question before your committee should now focus on whether the risk of sudden death from a TASER shock is low enough to warrant wide spread use of the weapon by police in British Columbia.

It seems at this point governments and/or police decision makers don’t really want to know, or admit, they made grave errors by not adequately verifying TASER International’s safety claims. Presently in the U.S., courts are being asked to consider for the first time, police use of TASERs. No longer are TASER cases based strictly upon product liability; the cases now before the courts are different. These cases challenge the police persons who deployed the weapon. The question, in light of current evidence, is now “when is electrical force excessive force?” Appellate Judge Mary Schroeder has noted, “One could argue that the use of painful, permanently scarring weaponry on non-threatening individuals, who were not trying to escape, should have been known to be excessive by an informed police officer”. This may give you some insight into the “major and consistent decrease” in TASER use mentioned by the Deputy Minister last week before this committee. It is only a matter of time before cases of this nature work their way into the Canadian legal experience.

In contrast to Dr. Lu’s statement that “. . . TASERs are generally shown to be relatively safe”, TASER International’s own Voluntary Exposure and Liability Release Form includes a long list of alarming known and possible side effects that contradict its original safety claims and confirms what critics have been saying for over a decade. Here are only a few of those known and possible side effects. The company cautions that the weapons ”. . . have not been scientifically tested on pregnant women, the infirm, the elderly, small children, and low body mass persons…the use on these individuals could increase the risk of death or serious injury”. The company goes on to admit that the TASER “. . . can produce physiologic or metabolic effects, which include changes in: acidosis, adrenergic states, blood pressure . . . heart rate and rhythm …”. With this statement TASER International confirms experts’ beliefs that the TASER can capture the heart and alter its rhythms in healthy adults. TASER International then goes on to shift the responsibility for their weapons onto the user by recommending that “…all TASER … users conduct their own research, analysis, and evaluation”. Wouldn’t you think a manufacturer would want to be able to assure its customers of its product’s safety before it went to, or even after it was on the market?

A final concern that should be of interest to this committee involves the TASER tester, “Verus One”, being put forward by the B.C. Police Services. Police Services has accepted a test protocol developed by Andy Adler of Carlton University, Ottawa’s MPB Electronics, and Datrends Systems of Richmond, B.C., despite the authors themselves admitting this protocol is far from comprehensive or independent.

The Verus One actually tests to determine whether an ESW is operating within TASER International’s specifications. The Verus One does not determine the electrical energy delivered into a subject. The 600 Ohms resistance value being used in the formula by the B.C. Police Services actually comes from TASER International’s chief engineer Max Nerheim via Adler et.al. According to a study by the American Heart Association (AHA) the resistance for a trans-thoracic shock could be as low as 25 Ohms. So the suggested 600 Ohms indicates a base resistance that would appear to be an artificially high value that does not necessarily reflect the reality of all subjects. When CBC did it’s testing in 2008 and found a 12 percent failure rate, it used a previous test protocol employing 250 Ohms of resistance, which it got from TASER International. The company has since recommended raising the resistance level to 600 Ohms but, I have found no literature from the manufacturer that has offered the scientific references or rationale for doing so.

Several significant considerations should be pointed out concerning the Verus One:

1. It does not determine electrical safety of ESWs

2. It only tests to determine whether ESWs are “in tolerance” or “out of tolerance”.

3. A test result of “in tolerance” does not indicate or imply that injury or death will not result from use of the tested ESW, or that the tested ESW will incapacitate a person against whom the ESW may be deployed.

4. It does not measure the electrical energy delivered into a body (i.e. invasive shocks).

5. It also does not disclose scientific references or rationale as to why 600 Ohms is identified as the measurement base vs. a range of resistances.

In closing it is worth mentioning that the IEC and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the US are presently developing a standardized method of measurement for ESWs. This standard will result in the IEC 62792 ESW measurement method. Moreover, it is my understanding that no Canadian law enforcement agencies have even bothered to investigate, nor has Datrend disclosed the issue of Intellectual Property Rights regarding “Verus One”. This is significant as a lack of Intellectual Property Rights could cost Canadian law enforcement, and the Canadian taxpayer, a significant amount of money due to Intellectual Property and licensing issues. Based upon these concluding statements, I would strongly urge care and caution be exercised before purchasing any ESW analyzer.

Ontario Ombudsman - Ontario Ombudsman honoured for police oversight work

Ontario Ombudsman - Ontario Ombudsman honoured for police oversight work

Monday, October 15, 2012

Justice Pour les Victimes de Bavures Policières /// Justice for the Victims of Police Killings

Justice for Victims of Police Killings:
Third Annual Commemorative Vigil
MONDAY, OCTOBER 22, 6:30pm (2012)
rendez-vous: 480 Gilford, métro Laurier (St-Joseph exit)
Family-friendly; welcome to all! Rain or shine.

http://22octobre.wordpress.com/

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Vermont Taser Death Investigation Stalls

September 13, 2012
By William Boardman, IVN

Vermont Taser Death Investigation Stalls

None of the officials involved in Vermont’s first taser death can explain why it’s almost three months since a Vermont State trooper tasered Macadam Mason, a 39-year-old epileptic artist who died almost immediately, and there’s still no completed autopsy report.

The same officials in two states, Vermont and New Hampshire, also failed to reveal last June that Taser International, the taser manufacturer, almost immediately intervened in the investigation, submitting guidance and background information for the Vermont State Police and the NH medical examiner’s office that was in the midst of performing Mason’s autopsy. That was June 21 and Taser’s involvement remained unknown to the public until reported September 9 by the Burlington Free Press.

Taser’s covert intervention into Mason’s taser-related death is part of apparently long-standing policy on the company’s part to intervene as early as possible to protect the Taser brand from bad publicity.

With some 500 taser-related American deaths since 2001, Taser has already changed its characterization of its 50,000 volt stun gun from “non-lethal” to “less lethal.”

Taser’s approach to taser deaths is to challenge anyone suggesting that taser was in any way to blame. Last July when OpEdNews.com ran a story headlined, “Taser Death In Vermont: Trooper Zaps Unarmed Epileptic Artist,” Stacey Todd of Taser International posted a comment asserting that: “It’s premature to describe Mr. Mason’s death as a ‘Taser death.’ To simply infer that the use of one police tool may be to be to blame for this man’s death is irresponsible as there are no facts to support that causal relationship.”

All reports of the event of June 20 are consistent, relating that when trooper David Schaeffer shot his taser at Macadam Mason, Mason dropped to the ground and never regained consciousness. He was taken to a hospital in NH where he was pronounced dead.

When asked, “do you think Mason would be dead even if no taser was used,” the Taser International spokesperson did not answer the question. Instead, Stacey Todd wrote that: “Until a medical expert, coroner or medical examiner, determines a cause of death it’s speculation to state that the Taser device caused Mr. Mason’s death.”

In fact, in three different cases in Ohio in 2005-06, when the Chief Medical examiner’s office in Summit County, Ohio, made exactly that determination, Taser International took the county to court. After a four-day trial in 2008, Ohio Judge Ted Schneiderman found for Taser on every item in the company’s complaint, as well as some items it had not requested, and ordered the medical examiner to re-write three separate death certificates.

The judge’s 13-page decision in May 2008 described three events that unambiguously included tasers and fatalities, as well other factors like extreme drug use, a badly slashed wrist, serious mental impairment, and obesity. These descriptions alone raise doubts about the taser use directly causing any of the three deaths, but tasers were indeed deployed just a matter of minutes before each of three men died, belying the judge’s conclusion that: “The Taser device had nothing to do with their deaths.” [emphasis added]

In Arizona, where Taser International is based in Scottsdale, the Arizona Republic newspaper of Phoenix covered the decision in a story that starts: “Taser International has fired a warning shot at medical examiners across the country. The Scottsdale-based stun gun manufacturer increasingly is targeting state and county medical examiners with lawsuits and lobbying efforts to reverse and prevent medical rulings that Tasers contributed to someone’s death.”

The medical examiner appealed the decision on seven separate issues, getting upheld on one and denied on the rest. In April 2009, the three-judge appeals court denied the medical examiner’s constitutional due process argument on the ground that it had not been raised in the original trial. The appeals court also reversed the trial judge for granting Taser items it had not requested.

In a pointed dissent, Judge Donna J. Carr argued that Taser International had no basis for bringing the suit in the first place “because it has not suffered an actual injury and because the interests it seeks to protect do not fall within the zone of interest to be protected by the statute.” The statute in question is concerned with preserving the integrity and finality of cause-of-death determinations.

Judge Carr went on to say that the cases the majority cited to support its position “involved persons with direct interests in the cause of death of the decedent, such as persons accused in the death, not corporations seeking to make a preemptive strike to preclude lawsuits from being filed against it.”

In Ohio, at least, “the controversy of medical examiners and Taser-related deaths” continued to make news in 2012 when WCPO-TV in Cincinnati looked into the taser-related death of a teenager that was ruled “unknown/undetermined” after he was tasered by a police officer. That ruling was challenged by the family’s attorney who said, “He’s a very clean and upstanding kid, very healthy kid…and the only thing that happened that night is he was tased and then he died and she’s saying this doesn’t matter, the Taser doesn’t matter…I don’t think so.”

WCPO also reported on a 2003 study by the Dept. of Defense that discussed the difficulty of assessing tasers as a cause-of-death, since electric shock leaves no tracks. Without direct evidence, medical examiners must rely on inference to assess the elements of a death, the same inferences that seemed so obvious to the Summit County medical examiner until Taser took her to court.

Asked if she had an opinion of the courts’ rulings, medical examiner Dr. Lisa J. Kohler said, “Yes.” She did not elaborate except to say, “I respectfully disagree with the original ruling. The death certificates reflect that disagreement in that they are unsigned.”

Whether any of these events have anything to do with the delay in Vermont getting Macadam Mason’s autopsy report from NH is anyone’s guess. Taser International has contacted at least some of the officials involved. The Vermont Attorney General’s office and the Vermont State Police won’t comment. The NH Medical Examiner’s office says that Taser hasn’t influenced them. The NH Attorney General’s office refers inquiries to the Vermont Attorney General and other NH officials refers autopsy questions to the Vermont State Police. The Vermont State Police won’t comment beyond saying that, when it gets the autopsy report, it will forward copies to the Attorney General and to the Orange County State’s Attorney Office, which has primary jurisdiction, since Mason died in Thetford in Orange County.

Monday, September 10, 2012

This message was received today via this site's guestbook and it raises an interesting issue:
 
The issue of how to correctly remove taser darts is an issue that has not been considered by most. The risk of improper removal are severe. According to Taser International, approximately 2 million people have been "tased" If any of these taser darts were removed with dirty instruments such as a contaminated Leatherman of pliers, the person having the taser dart removed may have contracted a blood borne disease such as HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, or MRSA. In my opinion, this is a civil rights issue. If I am a protester, and I get tased, I can live with that. But if the fireman or cop removes the darts and infects me with a disease, that may kill me, that is a serious issue. Correct taser dart removal is not complicated...but unclean instruments are used all the time.
 
Please see this recent article for more information.
 

This problem will only be solved by raising awareness.

Please feel free to post this on the blog if you would like, I don't know how...sorry I am not very savvy with this sort of thing. Thanks...great blog.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Taser lawsuit dismissal is upheld on appeal

9th Circuit Court says Taser International had no reason to advise in 2004 that repeated jolts from its stun guns could cause a condition that raises heart attack risk.

Maura Dolan, Los Angeles Times

July 11, 2012

A federal appeals court Tuesday upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit against the manufacturer of Tasers, ruling the company had no duty to warn that repeated jolts from the stun guns could trigger death.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed unanimously that Arizona-based Taser International had no reason to advise police agencies in 2004 that the stun guns could cause metabolic acidosis, a condition in which lactic acid, produced during physical exertion, accumulates more quickly than the body can expel it. The condition raises the risk of a heart attack.

The parents of Michael Rosa, 38, who died in 2004 after police repeatedly shocked him with electricity from Tasers, sued the manufacturer on the grounds the company should have warned of the risk. The company maintains there is no evidence that Tasers cause acidosis but began warning about it anyway in 2009.

The suit stemmed from an incident in the Monterey County city of Del Rey Oaks. Someone called police to report that a "pretty disturbed" man was walking around and yelling. The first officer on the scene believed the man, Rosa, was "either really high or crazy" and called for backup, the court said. More officers arrived, and officers repeatedly fired Tasers at Rosa before wrangling him into handcuffs.

"At this point, Michael slumped, his lips blue, his breathing erratic," Judge Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain wrote for the court. "He quickly stopped breathing entirely."

Efforts to resuscitate Rosa failed, and he died shortly thereafter. High levels of methamphetamines were discovered in his blood, and his death eventually was linked to acidosis, the court said. But studies previous to the Rosa incident failed to substantiate that Tasers cause acidosis, the court said.

John Maley, an attorney for the company, said it has been sued several times on the grounds the weapon caused the condition. One case led to a jury award of about $200,000 against the company. Maley said he hoped Tuesday's ruling would end the litigation.

"The science even today doesn't establish that dangerous acidosis results from Taser application," Maley said. He said the company decided to issue warnings only to avoid potential liability.

Peter Williamson, one of Rosa's lawyers, disagreed, citing a 2005 study that he said showed Tasers can trigger the deadly condition. The Rosa suit was dismissed only because the death occurred before that study was published, Williamson said.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) should explain use of force, Tasers

A family member’s description of the circumstances that led to a mentally ill man being Tasered last week and the OPP’s reluctance to explain what happened raise questions about how well the situation was handled.

Jake Lee Smith, a 44-year-old City of Kawartha Lakes resident, called 911 after suffering a breakdown and taking an overdose of pills. City of Kawartha Lakes officers went to Smith’s home and when he refused to come out an emergency response team was called in.

According to Smith’s brother, John Garton, Smith panicked when he saw officers in riot gear with semi-automatic rifles and barricaded himself in the house, along with his elderly mother. Some media reports indicated Smith might have had a gun. Garton says the only firearms in the house were a pellet gun and a flare gun used as safety equipment in a boat.

That situation could easily have let to trouble. However, Garton’s version of what happened after he arrived suggests the incident could also have ended quietly. Garton said the officers refused to let him to speak to his brother. Only after a 3-1/2 hour standoff was he allowed to phone in to the home, and convinced Smith to come out and give himself up.

Garton says his brother walked out of the house with his dog and was almost immediately shot twice with a Taser, once in the leg and once in the neck. He described it as a “huge overreaction.”

The OPP refuses to release any details of what the officers reported following the incident. Last week a spokeswoman would say only that the officers were well trained and were protecting the safety of “community members.” On Tuesday she said police will not comment because Smith has been charged with weapons offences and breach of probation.

Police need to be more upfront when they use force during an arrest, particularly in light of the number of deaths following Taser incidents and concerns about the handling of mental health patients. It not clear that Smith was a danger to anyone or that he had threatened the officers in any way.

If not, a full team of specially trained officers should have been able to arrest him peacefully, and should at least have considered letting his brother try to calm him down.

If police saw evidence of a threat serious enough to require Taser use the OPP should say so. The facts will come out if charges against Smith go to court, but the public interest would be better served by not waiting for when, or if, that happens.

A Trial Lawyer’s Guide To Taser Lawsuits

http://www.litigationandtrial.com/2012/06/articles/attorney/civil-rights-1/a-trial-lawyers-guide-to-taser-lawsuits/

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Taser recommendations to be examined by British Columbia

June 13, 2012
Rob Shaw, timescolonist.com

 
The use of Tasers by police officers will be put under the microscope by a special committee of provincial politicians.
 
Eight government and Opposition MLAs were quietly appointed to study the issue, amid a flurry of other business on the last day of the spring session of the legislature.

The MLAs will focus on recommendations made by Justice Thomas Braidwood on Tasers, as well as how those recommendations have been implemented throughout the province, said Murray Coell, the Liberal MLA for Saanich North and the Islands and the committee convener.

“The direction we were given [by the legislature] was basically to look at the recommendations of Justice Braidwood, that’s the starting point,” Coell said.

MLAs will also consider “the scientific research into the medical risks to persons against whom conducted-energy weapons are deployed,” according to the committee’s terms of reference.

The politicians have the power to call witnesses, gather evidence and travel throughout the province, though it’s not known to what extent they will exercise those abilities.

Coell said it is reasonable to assume that police officials would be called to give evidence.

The first meeting is scheduled for July 18, and the committee must produce a report within a year.
Braidwood released recommendations on the use of and training surrounding Tasers in 2009.

The provincial government accepted them all and, in late 2011, approved new mandatory policing standards for Taser use, as well as crisis intervention and de-escalation techniques.

The Braidwood commission then went on to examine the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, who died after police repeatedly Tasered him while restraining him face down on the floor at Vancouver International Airport on Oct. 14, 2007.

The video of the incident sparked international criticism, and Braidwood ultimately said the actions of the four RCMP officers involved were shameful and not justified.

The officers have since been charged with perjury, and B.C. has launched a civilian Independent Investigations Office to handle police-involved serious injury and death cases.

“Clearly, given the death of Robert Dziekanski, given the serious concerns raised about the Taser … the committee has the chance to bring forward some good recommendations,” said NDP justice critic Leonard Krog, who is also a committee member.

The MLAs will also conduct a random audit of the police misconduct cases handled by B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner.

Coell said the government is doing “due diligence” in examining the office’s performance.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Warren, MI Police Department drops Tasers after shocking letter from manufacturer

June 10, 2010
Norb Franz, Oakland Press

Macomb County’s second-largest police force has dropped Tasers from its daily weaponry.

The Warren Police Department recently discontinued use of the stun guns after Arizona-based Taser International notified the city that the “general useful life” of the 152 devices carried by officers has expired.

After receiving an email that X26 and M26 Tasers more than 5 years old with certain serial numbers are past the recommended “deployment lifecycle,” police administrators and training division staff weighed whether Warren — which is Michigan’s third-largest city and has the most criminal incidents in the county — should eliminate Tasers, after six years of use.

Police Commissioner Jere Green cited multiple reasons for his decision to order all patrol officers, shift commanders and others on the street to turn in their Tasers. Warren’s top-ranking police administrator emphasized he will not risk officers’ safety if there’s potential for a delay when a Taser trigger is pulled; that use of Tasers failed to produce the desired results nearly a quarter of the time they were deployed; and that he doesn’t have the money in his budget to replace the aged models with new ones.

“If it doesn’t work, it’s going to give the bad guy time to go to plan B,” Green said. “We don’t have much wiggle room on the road for mistakes.”

The Taser model used by Warren police fires two barbs with 25 feet of wire. If both probes penetrated the target’s skin or clothing, the device delivers 50,000 volts for five seconds. All were purchased using drug forfeiture funds.

Police officials said their review found that the Tasers were used unsuccessfully 23 percent of the time they were used by Warren officers. The failures ranged from batteries and cartridges that became disconnected, to both probes not striking the target, to suspects wearing several jackets preventing complete penetration.

“It wasn’t really a no-brainer,” Green said. “It was a tough decision to make.”

Use of Tasers, formally regarded as an electronic control device, is touted as a non-lethal use of force. But the devices and police have made headlines together when a person dies after being struck.

Two people have died after being shot by a Taser fired by Warren police.

Last September, Richard Kokenos, 27, of Warren, died after a city police officer stunned him with a Taser as he attempted to break out of a squad car after being handcuffed, according to media reports.

A neighbor of Kokenos on Kendall Street said Kokenos had appeared “freaked out” while knocking at his door, asking to use a telephone. When the neighbor returned with a phone, Kokenos knocked on a door next door, went to a third house before returning to the second house, then walked to nearby Eureka Street, where he reportedly was seen slamming his body against the home.

In the other incident, Robert Delrico Mitchell, 16, bolted from a car during an April 2009 traffic stop by Warren police on Eight Mile Road. Mitchell was cornered by officers inside a vacant house on Pelkey Street in Detroit. Officers ordered him to show his hands after he told police he was 15 years old, Warren police said. An officer tried to grab him, but the teenager pulled free, police said. Mitchell pushed away and turned like he was heading to the front door to run again, and one of the two additional officers who arrived at the house fired a Taser, detectives said.

Mitchell fell unconscious. Police said officers and paramedics performed CPR, but he died.

The incident triggered a public outcry from Mitchell’s family and members of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality. Ten days after her son’s death, Cora Mitchell filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the city of Warren and its police department, claiming police violated his constitutional rights and used a “code of silence” to cover up the incident.

An attorney for the family alleged the Taser was a factor in the teen’s death. Attorney William Goodman died of “cardiac arrhythmia induced by (a thin heart wall)” with the “use of an electrical delivery device a contributing factor.”

A toxicology test showed Robert Mitchell had marijuana in his system, but the illegal drug was not a contributing factor in his death, Warren police said.

In 2007, 47-year-old Steven Spears, a bodybuilder and hairdresser from Shelby Township, died after he was involved in a tussle with police that included the deployment of a Taser by township police. Autopsy reports attributed his death to cocaine use. Spears’ family filed an excessive force lawsuit against the township and settled the case for $1.95 million.

Green, the Warren police commissioner, stressed the Mitchell case was not a factor in his order to halt Taser use by the city’s officers.

Warren also is engaged in a lawsuit filed by the city against Taser International.

The decision leaves officers in Warren without the device intended to temporarily incapacitate suspects who resist arrest without making direct contact. Patrol officers and shift commanders still carry batons and chemical spray.

Cpl. Matt Nichols of the Warren police training division said nearly all officers eagerly turned in their Taser and only about three officers expressed concern about being ordered to turn in their Taser. “Once we explained it … they freely handed it over,” Nichols said.

Warren could have purchased Taser’s newest model designed for law enforcement use at a cost of approximately $800 including the holster, four cartridges and after a $250 trade-in allowance.

A Taser International spokesman did not return a phone call seeking comment for this report. In an email to Warren police, the company wrote: “We were contacted by several agencies seeking help in determining how many of their Taser ECDs are approaching or have passed the recommended five-year lifecycle. We learned that we could better serve our customers if we took the time to run a proactive analysis of agencies’ ECDs so they could better plan for the future.”

Last month, Michigan became the 45th state to allow residents to arm themselves with Tasers. Under the new law, anyone trained in the use of a stun gun and with a license to carry a concealed pistol can carry a Taser for personal protection.

The consumer model reportedly can incapacitate a person reportedly with 1,200 volts for 30 seconds — far less electricity than the police model.

Use varies around Macomb

A Macomb Daily survey of police departments in Macomb County showed all make Tasers available to patrol officers and commanders, but in a few departments carrying the stun guns is optional. Several communities keep only enough for each shift.

The Fraser Public Safety Department has had Tasers since about 2005, Lt. Dan Kolke said.

“When a Taser is over five years old, we’re just getting rid of it and buying a new one,” he said.

Utica Police Chief Dave Faber said the city’s officers have been equipped with Tasers since 2004. He said the devices are tested daily to show they are charged.

“I don’t see a need to take them out of service,” Faber said. “We’ve had no problems with anyone not wanting to use them.”

The Utica Police Department has seven Tasers, which are signed out by officers at the start of their shift.

New Baltimore Police Chief Timothy Wiley said the Tasers purchased by the city in 2004 were replaced in 2009. The seven units are assigned to the department’s road patrol officers and commanders, and the city’s school resource officer.

In the St. Clair Shores and Richmond police departments, carrying the stun guns is optional.

New Haven Police Chief Michael Henry and his Romeo counterpart, Chief Grag Paduch, both carry a Taser.

Henry said his village’s police department traded in Tasers for new models four years ago.

“The ones we turned in were operating well. We didn’t have any problems,” he said. “My concern was the warranty had expired on them.

“That means more liability for the (village) government.”

Taser International’s recommendation that older models be replaced has been a controversial topic in Michigan police administrative circles.

“Some say it might be a sales pitch by the company. Others say there’s nothing wrong,” Richmond Police Chief Dave Teske said.

At the annual Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police convention in February, Taser touted its latest models designed for law enforcement agencies.

Center Line Public Safety Director Paul Myszenski said his department’s Tasers are more than four years old.

“We have no reason to get rid of them, but we will address that when we get to that five-year mark,” said Myszenski. He noted that officers still have a baton and pepper spray on their belts.

“The biggest tool an officer has is his mouth and his brain,” said Myszenski, explaining that officers can often talk an uncooperative suspect into complying with police orders. “Nothing’s going to be 100 percent. There’s always risk involved.”