You may have arrived here via a direct link to a specific post. To see the most recent posts, click HERE.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Police officers from five states sue Taser International for serious injuries suffered during stun gun training classes

August 25, 2005

While the Canadian Police Research Institute has now stated that Tasers and other “conducted energy devices” are acceptable because the advantages they provide outweigh the risks they pose.

In reaching this conclusion in its report to Canadian police chiefs, the Institute was apparently not overly troubled by the enormous number of deaths that have occurred in cases where a Taser has been used. The specific finding by the Coroner of Cook County, Illinois, that a Taser was, in fact, the cause of death of a man arrested in Chicago also appears to have been ignored in the report as the type of definitive evidence it was seeking to support the claim that the devices can cause death.

This report comes at the same time that police officers in five states have filed lawsuits against Taser International claiming they suffered serious injuries after being shocked with the device during training classes.

One officer, a Missouri police chief, alleges that he suffered heart damage and two strokes after he volunteered to be shocked with a Taser in April 2004, while hooked up to a cardiac monitor that was supposed to show the Taser was safe. The officer also claims he suffered hearing and vision loss as well as neurological damage.

Other injuries claimed by the officers involved include spinal fractures, burns, a dislocated shoulder, and soft-tissue damage. A previous lawsuit file in February 2004 alleged a sheriff's deputy suffered a fractured back in 2002.

The lawsuits challenge Taser International's central marketing claim that its device is safe and charge the manufacturer of misleading its customers concerning the potential risks posed by the stun guns. Taser is also accused of minimizing and misrepresenting the 2002 fractured back case even after its own doctor found a one-second shock from a Taser caused the injury.

The lawsuits also allege Taser International withheld reports of injuries to at least 12 other police officers and that the company has ignored credible research suggesting the device can be extremely dangerous, if not fatal.

As with all previous allegations against it, Taser International has stated that it intends to vigorously defend the claims. The company has denied any of the 144 deaths which have occurred following the use of a Taser was caused by its product.

Clearly, both sides cannot be right in this matter. As we reported on August 7, Taser International has now issued a training bulletin warning that repeated blasts of the Taser can "impair breathing and respiration."

According to a posting on Taser's website, for subjects in a state known as excited delirium, repeated or prolonged stuns with the Taser can contribute to "significant and potentially fatal health risks."

The three-page bulletin appears to counter instructions in a training manual Taser International issued only last year. It also departs from Taser's previous dismissals of safety concerns raised by groups such as Amnesty International, which has documented 129 U.S. and Canadian deaths of people stunned by Tasers.

The Houston Police Department (HPD), Taser's biggest U.S. customer, has formed a review committee of police officials and community leaders, including representatives from the NAACP and League of United Latin American Citizens, to study the use of Tasers in the city of Houston.

The committee started by reviewing the HPD use-of-force policy, training sessions that officers receive, and the first 200 incidents in which Tasers were used in Houston.

Houston will also be involved in a study of Taser use conducted by a national police-research organization according to a report in the Houston Chronicle.

Obviously, a non-lethal weapon becomes a problem when it starts killing people. Many experts and critics of the Taser stun gun believe that time has long since passed.

For example, using a number of sources, The Arizona Republic has now compiled a list of 144 cases in the United States and Canada since 1999 where a death followed the use of a Taser stun gun. http://www.azcentral.com/specials/taser/#

The sources used included autopsy reports, computer searches, police reports, media accounts, and Taser International's own records. To date, the research indicates that medical examiners have cited the Taser to some extent in 18 deaths. In four cases it was a cause of death, in 10 it was a contributing factor, and in four it could not be ruled out as a cause of death.

This, however, seems to be just the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to Taser International's mounting problems with respect to its approximately 100,000 stun guns now being used by some 7,000 U.S. law-enforcement agencies.

Despite the company's spirited defense of its product, Taser International's stock has continued to fall from $33.45 in December 2004 to $9.72 on July 30, a decline of over 70%.

From the very beginning, many experts questioned the safety of the 50,000 volt “non-lethal” weapon. A lack of adequate testing and independent medical evidence supporting the company's bold marketing claims have been cited by such diverse critics as Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, and a consulting electrical engineer as reasons for removing the stun guns from the market until more extensive testing is done especially with respect to how the device affects pregnant women, people on drugs, or those with heart conditions.

Even the International Association of Chiefs of Police have suggested that further testing is needed. The organization advocates using the device only to subdue violent suspects; not to use it on handcuffed persons unless they are “overly assaultive;” to use it the least number of times; and to seek medical attention for anyone who has been shocked.

In addition, all types of Taser-related lawsuits abound. Personal injury and death claims have been commenced in a number of states. In March of this year, Mesa, Arizona, settled a claim by a 43-year-old man who fell out of a tree after being shocked twice with a Taser by a city police officer. The City paid $2.2 million to the man who became a quadriplegic and another $200,000 to the hospital where he was treated.

A class-action lawsuit was commenced only last week in U.S. District Court in Chicago by the city of Dolton, Illinois, on behalf of police departments across the country for being misled about the safety of the Taser and for leaving the police with weapons that are too dangerous to use on the street.

The law firm representing the city of Dolton claims to have already been retained by other police departments in four states. Paul Geller, an attorney from that firm, states that the law suit would be dropped if Taser would agree to take back the stun guns.

The potential for huge personal injury and death claims have left many municipalities rethinking their purchase of Tasers. Some police forces like those in Birmingham and Lucas County ( Ohio) have either stopped issuing the weapons or have pulled them of the street altogether. Other cities like Chicago have backed off making additional purchases.

The mayor of Birmingham ordered police to stop using Tasers after the death of an inmate who had been shocked with a Taser several hours before he died.

The mayor of Dolton, which suspended their use, calls his city's purchase of Tasers “a mistake” because “they need far more testing.” He went on to say that losing the money his city paid for the Tasers was far less than the financial risk posed by even one wrongful-death lawsuit.

On January 6, 2005 Taser officials disclosed that federal authorities had launched an inquiry into claims made by the company with respect to its safety studies. The Securities and Exchange Commission was also probing an end-of-year sale which appeared to inflate sales in order to meet annual projections.

In May, The Arizona Republic also reported that “Taser International was deeply involved in a Department of Defense study that company officials touted to police departments and investors as ‘independent' proof of the stun gun's safety...This information is surfacing at a time when the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Arizona attorney general are pursuing inquiries into safety claims that the Scottsdale firm has made.”

On July 17, the Associated Press reported a Texas man died after being shocked between three and six times with a Taser by an off-duty police officer who was acting as a security guard. The man's wife said she was suing Taser International because her husband “didn't deserve the death penalty.” It appears the men had done little more than trespass on private property and confront the officer who had chased him.

The report went on to state: “In the past nine months, at least six people in Texas – including three in Fort Worth – have died after authorities shocked them with a Taser gun.”

On July 27, a prisoner being held in a Queens, New York, police station died after being shocked with a Taser.

Finally, on July 30, several news sources reported that (for the first time) the Cook County ( Chicago, Illinois) Medical Examiner had ruled the February 10 death of an agitated 54-year-old man was caused by being shocked excessively with a Taser.

The finding indicated that the 57-second shock was sufficient, in and of itself, to have killed the man. Why such a long shock (ten times the usual amount) was administered has not been explained.

Although the Chicago police force will continue to use the Tasers they already have, an order for additional units was suspended.

Taser has vigorously defended its stun guns in every situation where it has been linked to an injury or death. The company continues to maintain that Tasers are non-lethal and that all of the reports regarding deaths and injuries associated with the device are baseless and can be explained away on the basis of other causes.

A recent training bulletin issued by Taser, however, advised police that “repeated, prolonged, and/or continuous exposures to the Taser may cause strong muscle contractions that may impair breathing and respiration, particularly when the probes are placed across the chest or diaphragm.”

Given all of this information, it is difficult to image how the Canadian Police Research Institute reached its conclusion that the benefits of the Taser and similar devices outweigh the risks they pose to anyone who is shocked with any of them. It now appears that the courts will be the forum in which the final verdict on the Taser will be rendered.

Monday, August 22, 2005

A Review of Conducted Energy Devices

August 22, 2005
One of the authors of this review was Sgt. Darren Laur, a former Taser Shareholder

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Police in 5 states sue Taser in past 2 weeks

Robert Anglen
The Arizona Republic
Aug. 20, 2005 12:00 AM

Police officers in five states filed lawsuits against Scottsdale-based Taser International over the past two weeks claiming they were seriously injured after being shocked with the electronic stun gun during training classes.

Among them is a Missouri police chief who says he suffered heart damage and two strokes when he volunteered to be shocked while hooked up to a cardiac monitor as a way to demonstrate the safety of the Taser to his officers.

Four of the suits were filed in Maricopa County Superior Court on behalf of officers in Florida, Kansas, New Mexico and Ohio who claim they suffered "severe and permanent" injuries, including multiple spinal fractures, burns, a shoulder dislocation and soft-tissue injuries. advertisement

In St. Louis on Thursday, Hallsville Police Chief Pete Herring filed a lawsuit claiming "painful, permanent and progressive" hearing and vision loss and neurological damage in addition to the strokes and cardiac damage.

Chief agreed to do it

Herring's lawyer, Spencer Eisenmenger, said Friday that the chief agreed to be the first officer shocked during an April 2004 training class for the department's newly purchased Tasers.

"Chief Herring was attached to an EKG when he was shocked with a Taser . . . He agreed as chief of police to be the first person shocked," Eisenmenger said. "(Hallsville) has no Taser program right now."

The suits challenge Taser's principal safety claim and accuse the company of misleading law enforcement about the extent of potential injuries. They also accuse company officials of concealing reports of injuries to at least a dozen other law enforcement officers.

Taser has marketed the weapons to 7,000 law enforcement agencies. Company officials have not only encouraged police officers to experience Taser shocks, they have used those shocks to promote the gun's safety, claiming that 100,000 officers have been shocked without a single serious injury.

Taser statement

Taser Vice President Steve Tuttle said in a statement Friday that the company would fight all of the lawsuits.

"We are aware of the filings in Arizona and intend to aggressively fight any such claims," he said.

"We have not been served papers regarding the Missouri filing but will aggressively defend this matter."

In an Aug. 3 memo to law enforcement officials, Taser Chief Executive Officer Rick Smith acknowledged that, "we've had a small number of volunteers experience injuries similar to athletic exertion." But he said realistic training carries a risk of injury and suggested that the company should not be held liable for those injuries.

"Imagine if the shoe manufacturer Nike was sued every time an athlete sprained an ankle," Smith wrote.

Phoenix lawyer John Dillingham, who represents the police officers in Florida, Kansas, New Mexico and Ohio, said Smith's comparison is ridiculous.

Not the same as Nike

"This is not the same as wearing a Nike tennis shoe and spraining an ankle. It's more like breaking an ankle every time you tie the laces on a Nike shoe," he said.

"Every time an officer takes a hit from Taser, they are at risk."

In their lawsuits, the four officers allege they were injured in training classes between August 2003 and October 2004. They say that Taser instructors did not reveal any medical information suggesting that the guns could cause injuries and they claim the company has ignored important research suggesting the guns could be extremely dangerous, if not fatal.

Some allegations

The 104-page complaints filed Aug. 5 each allege that Taser was aware of injuries to other officers but did nothing to warn police departments, "knowing full well that such a reported serious injury would have devastating ramifications on its safety claims and, most importantly, its most-effective sales tool, the law enforcement training program."

Specifically, the lawsuits point to the injury of former Maricopa County sheriff's Deputy Samuel Powers, who filed the first product liability suit against Taser in February 2004 and claims that his back was fractured when he was shocked during a training exercise two years earlier.

Misreporting the facts?

Although Taser officials were notified of Powers' fractured back, four of the lawsuits accuse the company of continually misreporting the injury to shareholders and the public as a minor shoulder injury, even after a doctor hired by Taser concluded in September that a one-second Taser jolt was responsible for Powers fractured back.

Dillingham said that if Taser had taken steps to warn officers in September of the possibility of injury, other officers might have avoided being injured.

He pointed to Belle Glade (Fla.) police Officer John Gerdon, who claims in his lawsuit that he suffered spinal fractures and burns when he was shocked during a training class in October.

He said in his suit that Taser instructors and training materials all told him the stun gun had not and could not cause an injury.

In the Missouri suit, Police Chief Herring said he was given the same assurances before he demonstrated the device.

Eisenmenger said the chief, who is 6-foot-10 and weighs 300 pounds, insisted that he be hooked up to a machine that measures cardiac functions to show other officers that the stun gun was safe.

"He was assured by the defendant in this case that no harm could come of it," he said.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Drugs shadow Taser cases

August 14, 2005
Antigone Barton, Palm Beach Post

Gordon Randall Jones

In July 2002, an Orange County deputy shocked Gordon Randall Jones with a Taser 14 times in four minutes on the day the 37-year-old Orlando man died. Jones had taken cocaine that day and was acting strangely when deputies came to remove him from a hotel where he was a paid guest. But Jones had not been violent and was not being arrested for a crime when the Taser darts hit him in the back, crumbling him to the floor.

A lobby surveillance tape shows Jones lying, sometimes still, sometimes writhing, while a circle of deputies stands near him, some with arms folded, waiting for him to follow orders to put his hands behind his back.

Eventually, deputies discussed another plan to gain control over Jones, who had bloody drool frothing from his mouth. By then, observers in the lobby had begged deputies to stop shocking him. One woman had fled from the smell of burning flesh.

According to depositions, deputies didn't tell paramedics about the repeated Taser shocks as they loaded Jones facedown into an ambulance.

He died on the way to a hospital.

The Orange County deputy chief medical examiner found Jones suffocated, with Taser shocks and cocaine intoxication contributing.

The Taser shocks, Dr. William Anderson said, interfered with the muscles Jones needed to breathe, making him already short of breath when he was eventually handcuffed lying on his chest.

As a result, Anderson said, Jones' blood was starved of oxygen.

Orange County officials hired Pennsylvania-based pathologist Cyril Wecht to take another look. Wecht found Jones' death resulted primarily from cocaine intoxication, with being restrained facedown reduced to a contributing cause. The multiple Taser shocks did not contribute to his death, Wecht said.

"Which doesn't make sense, when you think about it," Anderson said. If being placed in a position that makes breathing difficult contributed to Jones' death, he said, the Taser shocks that interrupted his breathing would have contributed as well.

Taser later hired Wecht as a paid consultant to "independently review" deaths following the weapon's use, according to a letter the company sent to medical examiners.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Court asked to force Taser death inquest

August 10, 2005

VANCOUVER -- More than a year after a man died after being shocked with a Taser-brand stun gun by Vancouver police, his family is asking the B.C. Supreme Court to force a coroner's inquest into his death.

Patti Gillman said she wants to see for herself reports describing why her brother Robert Bagnell died, and she wants the police to finish their investigation.

"We want closure," she said. "We want to be able to see what happened the night my brother died. That's been really hard on us.

"The legal costs are rising with all of the delays that have occurred in the last several months. I don't know how much longer we can afford to wait without any results."

Mr. Bagnell died on June 23, 2004, high on cocaine and barricaded in a bathroom on the fifth floor of a Granville Street hotel.

While trying to remove him, two officers shocked the struggling 54-year-old twice with the 50,000-volt device. His heart stopped.

At the time, the man's family was told he died of a cocaine overdose. A month later, police told them of the stun gun's use, and seven weeks after the death, police said the situation was "urgent" because there was a fire in the building.

In the petition, Ms. Gillman's lawyer, Cameron Ward, claims that the Coroners Service has neglected or refused to schedule an inquest.

Chief Coroner Terry Smith said a coroner's inquest is mandatory when there is a death in police custody, but it can't begin during an investigation that could lead to criminal charges.

"If these things are being concurrently evaluated, it makes obvious good sense to hold the criminal stuff first so as not to taint it by holding an inquest prematurely."

On Aug. 5, 2004, the police complaint commissioner ordered an investigation by the Victoria police department into stun gun use and into the death.

They released recommendations on stun gun use on June 14, but the investigation into Mr. Bagnell's death has been extended three times from its original Feb. 5 deadline. It's now set to finish Sept. 15.

On top of that, the Crown has requested more information from the police departments to assess whether any police officers should be criminally charged.

That investigation has no time limit.

"If that was all completed, we'd move right now," Mr. Smith said.

"[Mr. Bagnell's family's] efforts would be better focused on letting these processes finish rather than filing petitions in court. I don't think it's particularly productive."

Coroner's inquests are fact-finding hearings that neither assign blame nor lay criminal charges, but rather determine the circumstances of a death.

Mr. Ward said it's time for a coroner's inquest.

He said he wants to look at documents related to Mr. Bagnell's death to investigate the family's questions.

"We've got to look at the results of the autopsy and consult experts . . . to try and determine what it all means," he said. "The family has been completely in the dark for the last 14 months."

In North America, 147 people have died since 1999 after being struck with a stun gun.

"We need a moratorium on taser use until we can figure out what is killing these people," Ms. Gillman said. "I feel for those families as well if they're going through anything we've gone through over the past year. I hope they have some idea of what they're in for."

Thursday, August 04, 2005

In some cases, Tasers can kill, company warns

August 4, 2005
St. Petersburg Times

The stun gun maker says subjects in a state of excited delirium are at risk, and law enforcement officials say they are training users to recognize symptoms.

TAMPA - Taser International, maker of the controversial stun guns used by thousands of law enforcement agencies from Tampa Bay to London, has issued a training bulletin that warns repeated blasts of the Taser can "impair breathing and respiration."

For subjects in a state known as excited delirium, repeated or prolonged stuns with the Taser can contribute to "significant and potentially fatal health risks," according to a recent posting on Taser International's Web site.

The three-page bulletin, which comes as the Tarpon Springs and St. Petersburg police departments prepare to outfit officers with stun guns, appears to counter instructions in a training manual issued last year by Taser International last year.

It also departs from the manufacturer's previous dismissals of safety concerns raised by groups such as Amnesty International, which has documented 129 U.S. and Canadian deaths of people stunned by Tasers.

Most deaths were later attributed to drugs, pre-existing heart problems and excited delirium, a psychotic and typically drug-induced state in which the heart is susceptible to cardiac arrest.

But last month, a medical examiner in Chicago became the first in the United States to attribute a criminal suspect's death to a Taser. The suspect had methamphetamine in his system when the officer stunned him, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Taser vice president of communications Steve Tuttle wrote in an e-mail this week that the company is simply reminding officers to use "only the necessary amount of force" when stunning suspects.

St. Petersburg police Chief Chuck Harmon is aware of the bulletin, but it won't affect his recent decision to let officers carry Tasers, said agency spokesman Bill Proffitt. "People in this excited delirium state are already at death's doorstep, and we already have to restrain them to get them medical care," Proffitt said. "The training that we provide officers will include the ability to recognize symptoms, and it will go over the limitations on use of the weapon and the necessary medical procedures."

Pinellas sheriff's spokesman Mac McMullen said agency leaders attended a seminar in April in which excited delirium and the use of Tasers were discussed. Since then, deputies have been advised during roll call about the symptoms, he said.

The department's policy, like those of other large agencies in Tampa Bay, does not address the issue of multiple, prolonged firings.

But it advises deputies to consider other options besides Tasers for subjects who are very young or very old. Pinellas deputies are not to use Tasers on pregnant women.

"At this point it doesn't appear the bulletin will impact our policy," McMullen said.

Tampa police Cpl. Tommy Downes, a longtime sniper team member, said any use of force - hand-to-hand, Tasers or pepper spray - is more of a health risk for subjects high on drugs or in some other psychotic state.

"Their pain receptors aren't working, they're overheated, they're super strong," Downes said. "Yet if you have someone who's tearing up a place or attacking people and exhibiting all the hallmarks of excited delirium, you have to do something."

The Tampa Police Department and Hillsborough Sheriff's Office are working to craft new Taser use policies that mirror each other. Neither policy currently addresses multiple firings, but they prohibit "indiscriminate or punitive" Taser use.

Hillsborough deputies are trained to use the Taser "until the person quits resisting arrest," Sheriff David Gee said.