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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Taser Ruled Partial Cause of Ohio Man's Death

February 23, 2005
AP News

The medical examiner in Akron has ruled that the police use of a Taser electronic restraint contributed to the death of a drug-using man who struggled with officers in a home invasion. The ruling came yesterday in the January 5th death of 30-year-old Dennis Hyde of Hartville.

In a separate ruling, the prosecutor said the use of the Taser against Hyde was justified.

The medical examiner says other factors in the man's death include his use of methamphetamine and the loss of blood from a cut suffered from a home break-in. When police arrived, Hyde said he was the devil and threatened to kill the officers and the homeowner.

Tasers fire metal barbs attached by a wire that deliver 50,000 volts of electrical charge for five seconds. The idea is to temporarily immobilize suspects so that officers can gain control.

Tasers have also been in the news in Lucas County. Sheriff James Telb suspended his department's use of Tasers, just weeks after a man was shocked nine times by authorities and died within minutes of the final jolt. Jeffrey Turner, 41, of Toledo, died Jan. 31 after he was shocked five times by Toledo police and four times a few hours later by sheriff's correction officers at the jail.

Lucas County Sheriff James Telb said that he also wants a policy requiring any suspect shocked by a Taser to pass a medical examination at a hospital before being booked into the county jail.

"Many times we do that now," said Richard Keller of the Lucas County Sheriff's Department. "If an inmate is injured when they come in here prior to booking we have our nurses look at them and if it's a medical decision, we still have the arresting officer take that person to a medical facility. But I think that's the direction, way we're gonna go."

Telb said the device will not be used until he receives more results from safety studies. He said his officers have used Tasers about a dozen times since they went into service last year.

Telb said no policy violations were committed in Turner's death and no administrative or criminal charges would be filed by his office. The Lucas County coroner's office said the cause of death remains inconclusive pending the results of toxicology tests and further investigation.

The family of Jeffery Turner reacted strongly about the new procedures in Lucas County concerning Tasers. Turner's brother Shawn Turner said the new policy is a step in the right direction but it's two weeks too late and more can be done. "I think [Sheriff Telb] should have pulled those Tasers immediately instead of waiting two more weeks," said Shawn.

Shawn told News 11 he's done research on Taser-related deaths around the country and in the world. He says he's done some math about his brother being hit nine times at 50,000 volts a pop. "When I see that, that's over the limit, that's extreme. That's excessive, that's ridiculous," he told us.

Shawn likens the sheriff's new policy on Tasers to recalls on bad cars. "Now it's a problem, so they bring it to the public and recall the car. Just like these people, these people are dying, too many people dying in a short amount of time. I think we have a problem now we should look into it," he said.

Meanwhile, the Toledo Police Department will continue using Tasers at least for the time being. Police Chief Mike Navarre tells us he has sent two letters out, one to the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the other to the attorney general. Both letters ask for an independent study into the safety of Tasers. The department has used Tasers at least 225 times to subdue suspects in Toledo.

Amnesty International said in a report last November that at least 74 people have died in the United States and Canada in the past four years after being shocked with Tasers. The manufacturer, Scottsdale, Arizona-based Taser International Inc., has said the device is among the safest ways to subdue a violent person.

Taser International, Inc. has said all along it has done extensive research, its products are safe and have never been the sole reason someone has died.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Stun-gun maker hires police to tout weapon

February 21, 2005
Alan Gathright, San Francisco Chronicle

The maker of a police stun gun associated with the deaths of 93 people, including several in Northern California, has hired hundreds of officers to peddle the electroshock device to law enforcement agencies in the Bay Area and across the nation.

Critics question whether Taser International's 263 police consultants, dubbed "master instructors,'' are making it clear to law enforcement agencies that they are working for the stun-gun maker or giving the impression that they represent their departments. Two months ago, a Minnesota officer quit after superiors found he had been moonlighting for Taser without their approval.

"When a police department contacts one of these master instructors for information or a demonstration, do they identify themselves as someone who's been paid by Taser International?" asked John Crew, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. "The potential conflict of interest is huge.''

The Arizona-based stun-gun maker has been promoting Taser as a lifesaving device despite a growing concern among law enforcement officials and calls from human rights groups for a stun-gun moratorium. The International Association of Chiefs of Police plans to call for a review of Taser-related deaths and to advise its members to examine how stun guns are used. Tasers fire metal barbs that emit a five-second, 50,000-volt charge into the suspect.

Taser acknowledges using active-duty officers to promote its stun guns, a practice it says has helped drive sales.

The company noted in its latest annual report that the master instructors' "training sessions have led directly to the sale of Tasers to a number of police departments.''

Taser also has signed up about 1,000 police officers to provide a one- hour in-home training course to people who purchase a civilian stun-gun model, which the firm began marketing last fall.

Since it began marketing the police stun gun in 1999, Taser has sold the devices to more than 6,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide, including about 80 percent of California's 636 agencies.

More than a dozen Bay Area law enforcement agencies use Tasers, including those in San Jose, Fremont and Vallejo, and others are weighing purchases.

The San Francisco, Newark and Palo Alto agencies are holding off on their use until independent research resolves safety concerns.

Since August, six people have died in Northern California after being jolted by police stun guns. The victims include an emotionally disturbed Pacifica man whose family said he was shocked repeatedly and an unarmed Vallejo car-theft suspect zapped as he climbed a fence.

Taser and law enforcement officials say businesses often hire officers with special training skills to give demonstrations for everything from pepper spray to riot shields. But most police departments require officers to gain approval for outside jobs and consult on their own time, out of uniform, and without claiming that their agency endorses a product.

Controversy erupted in late December when the Minneapolis Police Department's top Taser trainer quit while being investigated for his work for Taser without the required departmental approval.

Sgt. Ron Bellendier, who had touted Taser's safety while demonstrating the weapon on national television a month earlier, quickly had a new job: Midwest regional manager for Taser International, which called the ex-officer a man of high integrity and "a real straight shooter,'' according to Minneapolis TV station WCCO.

In the Bay Area, Sacramento police SWAT team member Sgt. Rick Guilbault began moonlighting for Taser in 2002 after developing his department's stun- gun training program. Guilbault said he did off-duty training for the San Francisco Sheriff's Department and Rohnert Park Police Department, among others, and taught regional seminars to training officers from Bay Area departments.

Guilbault, who said his department approved of his work for Taser, also served on Taser's police training board for a year before leaving the Sacramento agency last April to become the firm's full-time director of training.

The training board drew headlines last month when Taser President Tom Smith disclosed that four active-duty police officers on the panel received lucrative stock options.

Taser refuses to identify paid police consultants or the agencies where they work, citing their privacy rights.

"We do require that our consultant instructors notify their respective agencies and ensure that they comply with any department policies regarding off-duty work,'' said Steve Tuttle, a spokesman for Taser.

Guilbault declined to say if he obtained Taser stock options.

Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, recently sent a letter to Taser Chief Executive Officer Rick Smith demanding that the firm identify police consultants and disclose whether they are working for California law enforcement agencies or marketing stun guns to departments here.

"I believe that any and all potential conflicts of interest that might impact consideration of Taser International's weapons in California should be fully and immediately disclosed, not withheld,'' wrote Leno, chair of the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

Taser officials maintain that their stun gun lives up to the company motto -- "Saving Lives Every Day" -- by preventing attacks on police officers and incapacitating dangerous suspects without the need to use deadly force.

Although Amnesty International and other groups point to at least a dozen deaths in which coroners cited the Taser as a contributing cause, the company maintains that drug intoxication, heart disease or psychosis often kills suspects involved in altercations with police.

Many police officers and chiefs across the country credit the Taser with quickly subduing violent individuals while reducing injuries to officers, suspects and bystanders.

"I get a lot of calls from cops every day saying how this thing saved them or saved someone else from being hurt on the street," said Guilbault, now Taser's training chief.

Guilbault said he always disclosed to other police agencies that he was working for the company and wore a shirt emblazoned with Taser International, "because I'm there as a representative of Taser International, not my department.''

Robert Castelli, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said moonlighting police consultants have benefits and drawbacks.

"There is an upside to having an active police trainer doing this, because you want the best people to train other police officers to do what they have to do to save their lives,'' said Castelli, a former New York State Police training supervisor who now teaches police use of force. "Where I kind of cringe is the idea that the officers are operating on a contract basis for a private company.''

Newark Police Chief Ray Samuels said he didn't care that a Portland police training officer was working for Taser when he gave a stun-gun demonstration to the Newark agency in September. "I presumed that there was a financial relationship" between the officer and Taser, Samuels said.

"I appreciated that he was a working police officer who could answer questions, not as a salesman but as someone who has practical experience in the deployment of the device,'' Samuels said.

Yet Samuels said he decided not to buy Tasers, because there is not enough independent research to ease his concerns about whether stun guns can accidentally kill.

"I'm not willing to run the risk of an unintended death under any circumstances," he said.

"At this point, I don't feel we have enough impartial and scientific information.''


Taser International Inc. has sold its Taser stun guns to more than 6,000 police agencies amid growing concern about the safety of the weapon and whether it is proper for the company to hire officers to promote the device to other law enforcement agencies..

A Taser’s electrical current overrides the target’s central nervous system for five seconds, temporarily paralyzing him

- Probes hook wires to target’s skin or clothing

- Dataport stores date and time of Taser firing

- ID tags ejected like confetti when fired; printed with the serial number

- Insulated wires transmit 50,000 volts of electricity through up to two inches of clothing

- Disposable cartridge uses compressed nitrogen to launch probes up to 21 feet.

- Batteries – older models use eight AA batteries, newer models are rechargeable Sources: Amnesty International; Taser International Associated Press

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Suspect dies after being hit by taser 9 times

February 2, 2005
Christina Hall, Toledo Blade (Ohio)