December 20, 2006
PETTI FONG, Globe & Mail
Vancouver -- A B.C. Supreme Court ruling has struck down an attempt by the Vancouver Police Board to dismiss a lawsuit against police by the family of a man who died in custody after being shot with a taser gun.
The family of Robert Bagnell, who died on June 23, 2004, are suing the board claiming the force was negligent in purchasing and supplying officers with tasers.
The police board argued that its functions are purely legislative and there is insufficient proximity between the board and members of the public whose family members are harmed by individual police officers using tasers.
Justice Catherine Wedge said she does not accept the board's argument that its role is similar to a municipality and dismissed the police board, which is chaired by Mayor Sam Sullivan, to extricate itself from the lawsuit.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
December 20, 2006
Monday, November 27, 2006
November 27, 2006
Rosie DiManno, The Toronto Star
"Dr. Jim Cairns, the province's deputy coroner, gave evidence in support of Taser use at the inquest. It was Cairns who, as consultant to the province and the Toronto Police Services Board, reviewed Taser incidents, concluding that the 14 Canadian deaths — four of them in Ontario — had been caused by drug overdoses, with excited delirium implicated, and not the electric jolt administered. Tasers were not even a contributing factor, the veteran coroner determined. "If you die from electric shock, from a Taser, you die within seconds," Cairns told the Toronto Star yesterday. "You don't die five minutes later or 10 minutes later." The Toronto Police Services Board reversed its original opposition to Tasers, largely because of the persuasive findings presented to them by Cairns."
My brother died about two minutes after being tasered - does that count, Dr. Cairns?
Peter Rosenthal, lawyer for the Vass family, was quoted in another article in the Toronto Star as saying that, at the Vass inquest, "excited delirium was pushed on the jurors who couldn’t quite resist all that pressure.”
Thursday, November 23, 2006
November 23, 2006
By JIM AVILA and LARA SETRAKIAN, ABC News Law & Justice Unit
Roughly 3 million Americans live with epilepsy. And a surprising number of them go to jail for it.
Why? Around the country, police officers and bystanders who see someone having a seizure mistake it for disorderly, criminal behavior.
That's what happened to Daniel Beloungea of Pontiac, Mich. On most days Daniel lives the normal life of a 48-year-old single man. But roughly once a week, he loses total control of his body and mind to an epileptic seizure.
A seizure took over Beloungea's body while walking through his suburban Detroit neighborhood last April. When an onlooker in a neighbor's house saw Beloungea having the seizure, which includes rapid repetitive arm motion, she misinterpreted it as criminal conduct. Specifically, she thought Beloungea was masturbating in public.
With that misconception in mind, she called the police. When the Oakland County Sheriff's Department arrived on the scene, Beloungea was still undergoing his seizure, acting disoriented and not responding to questions.
When officers couldn't get through to Beloungea they drew their weapons, shocked him with a high-voltage taser, hit him with a baton and wrestled him to the ground. They then handcuffed him and put him in a police car.
Oakland County Undersheriff Michael McCabe said that the officers tasered Beloungea because he lunged at one of them. Beloungea and his lawyer say the more police got physical the more Beloungea got agitated and aggressive -- typical behavior, according to the Epilepsy Foundation of America, for a person restrained while having a partial complex seizure. Beloungea's wild motions and inability to communicate were not defiance or resistance, but classic symptoms of epilepsy
The officers put Beloungea in jail, citing assault of a police officer and resisting arrest. Throughout the incident Beloungea, was wearing a medical alert bracelet identifying him as an epileptic, stating his name and the contact numbers of people who can be reached in case of an emergency.
Later, Michigan state psychologists who examined Beloungea would confirm that he was having a seizure at the time of his arrest and that he was no danger to himself or to others.
The Epilepsy Foundation of America said it sees cases like Beloungea's around the country. The foundation said it could cite more than a dozen cases of police violence toward people in the midst of a seizure over the past 10 years. In 1999, Joaquin Gonzales died after he was arrested and hog tied while having an epileptic seizure in a Taos County, N.M., jail. County officials fired the guards on duty that night and paid Gonzales' family a $1.25 million settlement for his wrongful death.
Eric Hargis, the Epilepsy Foundation's CEO, cites one common aspect in each of those incidents: Police should have been better trained to recognize the seizure and not to use force on an epileptic.
"It's fairly easy, really, with limited amount of training for a police or other emergency first responder to be able to spot a seizure & this didn't have to take place," Hargis told ABC News.
"All [Beloungea] is guilty of is having a medical condition that resulted in a seizure."
The foundation sent a short set of guidelines to police departments around the country to help officers recognize and deal with victims of such seizures, but the Oakland County Sheriff's office claimed never to have heard of it until after Beloungea's case.
Look and Learn
When most people think of epileptic seizures, they think of people shaking on the ground -- symptoms of what's called a tonic-clonic or grand mal seizure. What Beloungea goes through is called a partial complex seizure, and it's actually more common.
A partial complex seizure does not come with the violent shaking symptoms most people associate with epilepsy. It involves a spell of unorganized, unintentional behavior: picking at clothes, chewing motions, and wandering aimlessly.
The Epilepsy Foundation said that the best thing police or bystanders can do when they see someone undergoing a seizure is to not restrain the person. Rather, they should simply let the seizure pass, watch to make sure the seizure sufferer is not in harm's way, and comfort the person when it ends. Call 911 if the episode lasts more than 5 to 7 minutes, the group advises.
Beloungea was ultimately found not guilty by reason of insanity. Beloungea is not insane -- he's simply epileptic. But his lawyer, Otis Underwood, told ABC News there was no other way to get Beloungea off the charges than the insanity defense. The catch: He had to spend 20 days locked in a criminal mental facility.
Beloungea said he's still waiting for an apology from the Oakland Sheriff's Office. What would Beloungea say if he could address them directly?
"I would say, 'In a situation like mine, look for a medical bracelet. Pay attention to what you're doing, know your job. Don't just grab a taser gun & 50,000 volts in a situation like mine could kill a person.'"
Beloungea's case is closed, for now. He's just hoping police will know better next time his body betrays him.
November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
November 16, 2006
Two RCMP officers have given contradictory evidence at a coroner's inquest into the death of a 41-year-old Surrey man in police custody in June 2005.
Gurmit Singh Sundhu, a father of four, died after police had Tasered him during an incident at his home.
The first officer on the scene, Cpl. Shailven Singh, told the five-person jury he had been told by a woman in the home that Sundhu was "coked up."
Singh said Sundhu was punching his wife, Harjit, when he stepped in to subdue him.
Harjit Sundhu had testified earlier that Singh Tasered her husband four times in the chest, and had kicked him while he was lying on the floor.
Singh testified he only Tasered Sundhu three times, and said he kicked Sundhu's hand.
But another officer who attended the call, had a different recollection. Const. Vladimir Napolean says he saw Singh kick Sundhu in the head.
Napolean says eventually both he and Singh, who are each over six feet tall and weigh more than 200 pounds, had to pepper spray Sundhu to subdue him.
Another officer, Const. James Connor testified the five-foot-seven-inch Sundhu displayed an "absolutely unreal" show of strength as he fought with police in his home.
Sundhu stopped breathing as the officers took him into custody. Paramedics and police couldn't revive him and he was pronounced dead at Surrey Memorial Hospital.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
November 15, 2006
By Richard Warnica, TheTyee
A series of crime stories got big play in a couple spots today. The Globe led with the sentencing of a pair of brutal child rapists in Ontario. And went below the fold in the BC section with jail times for some lower mainland kidnappers.
Stories on crime-stoppers were also big. CBC, among others, follows on a VPD internal investigation. Police are investigating four officers for “possible assault, assault causing bodily harm, abuse of authority and conduct unbecoming an officer” after another officer tipped his superiors to a photo of the alleged posing with their victim.
Meanwhile, in Burnaby, a coroner’s inquest into the death in custody of a 40-year-old father continued with testimony from his wife of 20-years. Gurmit Singh Sundhu was hit with a Taser, pepper spray and even police boots before losing consciousness and dying in his Surrey home last June.
Crime stories like these hinge on events - sentencing, investigations, inquests – but they raise questions too. Questions about police procedure, sentence length and other core justice issues.
The problem is, when there is no event to hook a news story on, those questions, once asked, often stay unanswered.
More than two years ago Dee Hon reported in these pages on the death of Roman Andreichikov. Andreichikov, a 25 year old Vancouver man, died after 50,000 volts of electricity were shot through his body by way a policeman’s Taser.
We don’t know what killed Andreichikov. He was on the wrong end of a days long crack cocaine binge when he died and appeared to be in the midst of drug induced psychotic episode.
But the story raised an important question: In a city with large populations of hard drug users and the mentally ill, do we know enough about the effects of police takedowns on the highly agitated?
Thanks to Hon’s reporting, both in the initial story and a follow-up six weeks later, it was pretty clear back then that we didn’t. And, thanks todays eerily similar story on Gurmit Singh Sundhu, it's equally clear we still don't.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
November 14, 2006
The widow of a 41-year-old Surrey man who died in RCMP custody last year said officers did nothing to try to calm her husband down before using a Taser gun on him.
Harjit Sundhu told a coroner's inquest on Tuesday that police shot her husband, Gurmit Singh Sundhu, four times in the chest with the Taser, pepper sprayed him and that one officer even kicked him while he was lying on his bathroom floor.
She testified that her husband had been a gentle man, but admitted his behaviour had begun to change before the incident, and that his daughter suspected he had been using cocaine before his death on June 30, 2005.
She told the five-person jury that her husband had woken up in a panic at about 3 a.m. and was having trouble breathing.
Sundhu said she called for an ambulance, but it was the Surrey RCMP who showed up instead.
She said her husband had begun to calm down — until the officers began to arrive at their home.
The victim's 17-year-old daughter, Natasha, testified her father said he was seeing snakes and rats shortly before police arrived and Tasered him.
The father of four became unresponsive while being taken into custody. Efforts were made to revive him, but he was pronounced dead on arrival at Surrey Memorial Hospital.
Monday, November 13, 2006
November 13, 2006
By Silja J.A. Talvi
TASER International Inc. maintains that its stun-guns are “changing the world and saving lives everyday.” There is no question that they changed Jack Wilson’s life. On Aug. 4, in Lafayette, Colo., policemen on a stakeout approached Jack’s son Ryan as he entered a field of a dozen young marijuana plants. When Ryan took off running, officer John Harris pursued the 22-year-old for a half-mile and then shot him once with an X-26 Taser. Ryan fell to the ground and began to convulse. The officer attempted cardiopulmonary resuscitation, but Ryan died.
According to his family and friends, Ryan was in very good physical shape. The county coroner found no evidence of alcohol or drugs in his system and ruled that Ryan’s death could be attributed to the Taser shock, physical exertion from the chase and the fact that one of his heart arteries was unusually small.
In October, an internal investigation cleared Officer Harris of any wrongdoing and concluded that he had used appropriate force.
Wilson says that while his son had had brushes with the law as a juvenile and struggled financially, he was a gentle and sensitive young man who always looked out for his disabled younger brother’s welfare, and was trying to better his job prospects by becoming a plumber’s apprentice.
“Ryan was not a defiant kid,” says his father. “I don’t understand why the cop would chase him for a half-mile, and then ‘Tase’ him while he had an elevated heart rate. If [the officer] hadn’t done that, we know that he would still be alive today.”
Ryan is one of nearly 200 people who have died in the last five years after being shot by a Taser stun gun. In June, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it would review these deaths.
Over the same period, Taser has developed a near-monopoly in the market for non-lethal weaponry. Increasingly, law enforcement officials use such weapons to subdue society’s most vulnerable members: prisoners, drug addicts and the mentally ill, along with “passive resisters,” like the protesters demonstrating against Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s attendance of a Rick Santorum fundraiser in Pittsburgh on Oct. 9. (See sidebar, “Passive Resisters.”)
Taser has built this monopoly through influence peddling, savvy public relations and by hiring former law enforcement and military officers—including one-time Homeland Security chief hopeful, Bernard Kerik. And now that questions are being raised about the safety of Taser weaponry, the company is fighting back with legal and marketing campaigns.
Birth of a Taser
In 1974, a NASA scientist named Jack Cover invented the first stun gun, which he named the TASER, or “Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle,” after Tom Swift, a fictional young inventor who was the hero of a series of early 20th century adventure novels. Because it relied on gunpowder, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms classified Tasers as registered firearms.
That changed in the early ’90s. According to Taser’s corporate creation story, co-founder Rick Smith became interested in the device after friends of his “were brutally murdered by an angry motorist.” Smith contacted Cover in the hopes of bringing the Taser as a self-defense weapon to a larger market. In 1993, with money from Smith’s brother Tom, they created Air Taser Inc., which would later become Taser International Inc. When Tasers were re-engineered to work with a nitrogen propellant rather than gunpowder, the weapon was no longer categorized as a firearm. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department adopted the guns, but they were not widely embraced by other departments.
Taser’s fortunes improved in 1998, after the company embarked on a new development program, named “Project Stealth.” The goal was to streamline stun gun design and deliver enough voltage to stop “extremely combative, violent individuals,” especially those who couldn’t be controlled by non-lethal chemicals like mace.
Out of Project Stealth, the Advanced Taser was born. When the weapon premiered in 2000—a model eventually redesigned as the M-26—the company brought on a cadre of active and retired military and law enforcement personnel to vouch for the weapon’s efficacy. The new spokespersons ranged from Arizona SWAT members to a former Chief Instructor of hand-to-hand combat for the U.S. Marine Corps.
Taser began to showcase the Advanced Taser at technology-related conventions throughout North America and Europe, billing it as a non-lethal weapon that could take down even the toughest adversary. Soon to be among those “dangerous” opponents were the protesters assembling in Philadelphia for the 2000 Republican National Convention.
By the following year, 750 law enforcement agencies had either tested or deployed the weapon. Today, more than 9,500 law enforcement, correctional and military agencies in 43 countries use Taser weaponry. In the past eight years, more than 184,000 Tasers have been sold to law enforcement agencies, with another 115,000 to citizens in the 43 states where it is legal to possess a stun gun.
When the electricity hits
Taser’s stun guns are designed to shoot a maximum of 50,000 volts into a person’s body through two compressed nitrogen-fueled probes, thereby disrupting the target’s electromuscular system. The probes are connected to the Taser gun by insulated wires, and can deliver repeat shocks in quick succession. The probes can pierce clothing and skin from a distance or be directly applied to a person’s body—a process known as “dry stunning”—for an ostensibly less-incapacitating, cattle-prod effect.
“The impetus for Tasers came from the often community-led search for ‘less-than-lethal’ police weapons,” explains Norm Stamper, former chief of the Seattle Police Department and author of Breaking Rank. “[There were] too many questionable or bad police shootings, and cops saying, correctly, that there are many ambiguous situations where a moment’s hesitation could lead to their own deaths or the death of an innocent other.”
According to Taser’s promotional materials, its stun guns are designed to “temporarily override the nervous system [and take] over muscular control.” People who have experienced the effect of a Taser typically liken it to a debilitating, full-body seizure, complete with mental disorientation and loss of control over bodily functions.
Many Taser-associated deaths have been written up by coroners as being attributable to “excited delirium,” a condition that includes frenzied or aggressive behavior, rapid heart rate and aggravating factors related to an acute mental state and/or drug-related psychosis. When such suspects are stunned, especially while already being held down or hogtied, deaths seem to occur after a period of “sudden tranquility,” as Taser explains in its CD-ROM training material entitled, “Sudden Custody Death: Who’s Right and Who’s Wrong.” In that same material, the company warns officers to “try to minimize the appearance of mishandling suspects.”
Taser did not respond to requests for an interview. But its press and business-related statements have consistently echoed the company’s official position: “TASER devices use proprietary technology to quickly incapacitate dangerous, combative or high-risk subjects who pose a risk to law enforcement officers, innocent citizens or themselves.” Another brochure, specifically designed for law enforcement, clearly states that the X26 has “no after effects.”
Ryan Wilson’s family can attest otherwise, as can many others.
Casualties and cruelties
In the span of three months—July, August and September—Wilson’s Taser-related death was only one among several. Larry Noles, 52, died after being stunned three times on his body (and finally on his neck) after walking around naked and “behaving erratically.” An autopsy found no drugs or alcohol in his system. Mark L. Lee, 30, was suffering from an inoperable brain tumor and having a seizure when a Rochester, N.Y., police officer stunned him. In Cookeville, Ala., 31-year-old Jason Dockery was stunned because police maintain he was being combative while on hallucinogenic mushrooms. Family members believe he was having an aneurysm. And Nickolos Cyrus, a 29-year-old man diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, was shocked 12 times with a Taser stun gun after a Mukwonago, Wis., police officer caught him trespassing on a home under construction. An inquest jury has already ruled that the officer who shot Cyrus—who was delusional and naked from the waist down when he was stunned—was within his rights to act as he did.
Although the company spins it otherwise, Taser-associated deaths are definitely on the rise. In 2001, Amnesty International documented three Taser-associated deaths. The number has steadily increased each year, peaking at 61 in 2005. So far almost 50 deaths have occurred in 2006, for an approximate total of 200 deaths in the last five years.
Amnesty International and other human rights groups have also drawn attention to the use of Tasers on captive populations in hospitals, jails and prisons.
In fact, the first field tests relating to the efficacy of the “Advanced Taser” model in North America were conducted on incarcerated men. In December 1999, the weapon was used, with “success,” against a Clackamas County (Ore.) Jail inmate. The following year, the first-ever Canadian use of an Advanced Taser was by the Victoria Police, on an inmate in psychiatric lockdown. Since that time, Taser deployment in jails and prisons has become increasingly commonplace, raising concerns about violations of 8th Amendment prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment.
This summer, the ACLU of Colorado filed a class action suit on behalf of prisoners in the Garfield County Jail, where jail staff have allegedly used Tasers and electroshock belts, restraint chairs, pepper spray and pepperball guns as methods of torture. According to Mark Silverstein, legal director for ACLU of Colorado, inmates have told him that Tasers are pulled out and “displayed” by officers on a daily basis, either as a form of intimidation and threat compliance, or to shock the inmates for disobeying orders.
A recent report from the ACLU’s National Prison Project (NPP), “Abandoned and Abused: Orleans Parish Prisoners in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina,” concerns the plight of the estimated 6,500 New Orleans prisoners left to fend for themselves in the days after the monumental New Orleans flood. The NPP’s Tom Jawetz says that the organization has been looking into abuses at Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) since 1999, but that the incidents that took place in jails and prisons in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina were unprecedented.
Take the case of New Orleans resident Ivy Gisclair. Held at OPP for unpaid parking tickets, Gisclair was about to be released on his own recognizance when Hurricane Katrina hit. After languishing with thousands of other prisoners in a flooded jail, Gisclair was sent to the Bossier Parish Maximum Security Prison. Once there, Gisclair apparently had the nerve to inquire about being held past his release date. Gisclair has testified that he was then restrained and stunned repeatedly with a Taser, before being thrown, naked and unconscious, into solitary confinement.
“I can’t imagine any justification for that,” says Jawetz. “[Prison guards] were kicking, beating and ‘Tasing’ him until he lost consciousness. A line was crossed that should never have been crossed.”
In March, Reuben Heath, a handcuffed and subdued Montana inmate, was shocked while lying prone in his bed. The deputy involved—a one-time candidate for sheriff—now faces felony charges.
Gisclair and Heath are among the inmates who have survived in-custody incidents involving the abuse of Tasers. Others haven’t been as fortunate. This year alone, those who have died in custody in the aftermath of being stunned by Tasers include Arapahoe County Jail (Colorado) inmate Raul Gallegos-Reyes, 34, who was strapped to a restraint chair and stunned; Jerry Preyer, 45, who suffered from a severe mental illness in an Escambia County, Fla., jail and was shocked twice by a Taser; and Karl Marshall, 32, who died in Kansas City police custody two hours after he was stunned with PCP and crack cocaine in his system.
“We are seeing far too many cases where Tasers are not being used for their intended purposes,” says Sheley Secrest, president of NAACP Seattle. “And many of these cases don’t end up getting reported or properly investigated because people are so humiliated by the experience.”
Former U.S. Marshal Matthew Fogg, a long-time SWAT specialist and vice president of Blacks in Government, says that if stun guns are going to be used by law enforcement, training on their use should be extensive, and that the weapons should also be placed high up on what police officers call the “use-of-force continuum.”
Fogg isn’t alone in calling for such measures. In October 2005, the Police Executive Research Forum, an influential police research and advocacy group, recommended that law enforcement only be allowed to use Tasers on people aggressively resisting arrest. The organization also recommended that law enforcement officers needed to step back and evaluate the condition of suspects after they had been shocked once. Similar recommendations were included in an April 2005 report from the International Association of Chiefs of Police. That report also urged police departments to evaluate whether certain vulnerable groups—including the mentally ill—should be excluded altogether from being shot with Tasers.
Although Fogg’s organization has called for an outright ban of Tasers until further research can be conducted, Fogg says that he knows responsible members of law enforcement are perfectly capable of using the weapons effectively. Officers who are willing to put their lives on the line for the sake of the community, he emphasizes, must be given the tools and training to be able to minimize harm to themselves and to others.
Fogg, who also serves on the board of Amnesty International USA, says that too many members of law enforcement seem to be using them as compliance mechanisms. “It’s something along the lines of, ‘If I don’t like you, I can torture you,’ ” he says.
Some law enforcement agencies have already implemented careful use policies, including the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, which selectively hands out Tasers to carefully trained deputies. The department also prohibits use of Tasers on subjects already “under control.” According to Sheriff Michael Hennessey, deputies are not allowed to use stun guns in response to minor ineffectual threats, as a form of punishment, or on juveniles or pregnant women. Within the department, stun guns are purposely set to turn off after five seconds. Additionally, every use of the weapon in a jail facility must be videotaped.
“I authorize Tasers to be used on people who are at high risk of hurting themselves or deputies,” Sheriff Hennessey emphasizes. “Without options like these, the inmate and the deputies are much more likely to get seriously hurt.”
But when stun guns are used on people who don’t fit that criteria, Secrest says, the public should be asking serious questions about the efficacy of Taser use, particularly because of the emotional trauma related to Taser-related take-downs.
“When a person comes into our office after they’ve been [Tased], it’s not as much the physical pain they talk about as much as the humiliation, the disrespect,” she says. “The people [who are stunned by these guns] talk about not being able to move, and thinking that they were going to die.”
As for actual Taser-associated deaths, Secrest believes that they should be investigated just as thoroughly as deaths involving firearms. Instead, Taser injuries and deaths are typically justified because officers report that the suspect was resisting an arrest.
“That’s the magic word: ‘resisted,’” says Secrest. “Any kind of police oversight investigation tends to end right there.”
Capitalizing on 9/11
Despite these concerns, Taser International Inc. has thrived. The 9/11 terrorist attacks sent the company’s profits soaring. Many domestic and international airlines—as well a variety of major law enforcement agencies—were eager to acquire a new arsenal of weapons. Homeland Security money flooded into both state and federal-level departments, many of which were gung-ho to acquire a new arsenal of high-tech gadgets.
In 2002, Taser brought on former New York police commissioner Bernard Kerik as the company’s director. Kerik had attained popularity in the wake of 9/11 as a law-and-order-minded hero; the company had seemingly picked one of the best spokespersons imaginable.
With Kerik’s help, company’s profits grew to $68 million in 2004, up from just under $7 million in 2001, and stockholders were able to cash in, including the Smith family, who raked in $91.5 million in just one fiscal quarter in 2004.
Unbeknownst to most stockholders, however, sales have been helped along by police officers who have received payments and/or stock options from Taser to serve as instructors and trainers. (The exact number of officers on the payroll is unknown because the company declines to identify active-duty officers who have received stock options.)
The recruitment of law enforcement has been crucial to fostering market penetration. For instance, Sgt. Jim Halsted of the Chandler, Ariz., Police Department, joined Taser President Rick Smith in making a presentation to the Chandler city council in March 2003. He made the case for arming the entire police patrol squad with M-26 Tasers. According to the Associated Press, Halsted said, “No deaths are attributed to the M-26 at all.”
The council approved a $193,000 deal later that day.
As it turned out, Halsted was already being rewarded with Taser stock options as a member of the company’s “Master Instructor Board.” Two months after the sale, Halsted became Taser’s Southwest regional sales manager.
In addition, Taser has developed a potent gimmick to sell its futuristic line of weapons. In 2003, Taser premiered the X-26. According to Taser’s promotional materials, the X-26 features an enhanced dataport to help “save officer’s careers from false allegations” by recording discharge date and time, number and length and date of discharges, and the optional ability to record the event with the Taser webcam. The X-26 also boasts a more powerful incapacitation rating of 105 “Muscular Disruption Units”, up from 100 MDU’s for the M-26.
The X-26 is apparently far more pleasing to the eye. As Taser spokesperson Steve Tuttle told a law enforcement trade journal, “It’s a much sexier-looking product.”
Lawsuits jolt Taser
As increasing numbers of police departments obtained Taser stun guns, the weapons started to be deployed against civilians with greater frequency.
Many of the civilian Taser-associated incidents have resulted in lawsuits, most of which have either been dismissed or settled out of court. But there have been a few exceptions.
In late September, Kevin Alexander, 29, was awarded $82,500 to settle an excessive force federal lawsuit after being shocked 17 times with a Taser by a New Orleans Parish police officer. The department’s explanation: the shocks were intended to make him cough up drugs he had allegedly swallowed.
One recently settled Colorado case involved Christopher Nielsen, 37, who was “acting strangely” and was not responsive to police orders after he crashed his car. For his disobedience, he was stunned five times. When it was revealed that Nielsen was suffering from seizures, the county settled the case for $90,000.
An Akron, Ohio, man also recently accepted a $35,000 city settlement. One day in May 2005, he had gone into diabetic shock and police found him slumped over his steering wheel. Two officers proceeded to physically beat, Mace and Taser him after he did not respond to orders to get out of the car.
Taser’s lack of response to the misuse of the company’s weapons is troubling. The company relentlessly puts a positive spin on Taser use, most recently with a “The Truth is Undeniable” Web ad campaign, which contrasts mock courtroom scenes with the fictionalized, violent antics of civilians that prompt police to stungun them.
The campaign involves print ads, direct mail DVDs and online commercials that “draw attention to a rampant problem in this country: false allegations against law enforcement officers,” according to Steve Ward, Taser’s vice president of marketing.
“We’re going to win”
The lawsuits have scared off some investors, making Taser’s stock extremely volatile over the years. But press coverage of the company this past summer largely centered around Taser’s “successes” in the courtroom. In addition to settling a $21.8 million shareholder lawsuit revolving around allegations that the company had exaggerated the safety of their product (they admitted no wrongdoing), Taser has triumphed in more than 20 liability dismissals and judgments in favor of the company. And the company’s finances are on the upswing: Third-quarter 2006 revenues increased nearly 60 percent.
Regardless, CEO Rick Smith claims his company is target of a witchhunt. “We’re waiting for people to dunk me in water and see if I float,” is how he put it during a March 2005 debate with William Schulz, the executive director of Amnesty International USA.
Last year, with 40 new lawsuits filed against it, Taser dedicated $7 million in its budget to defending the company’s reputation and “brand equity.” The company has also gone on the offense, hiring two full-time, in-house litigators.
At one point, Taser hinted that it might sue Amnesty International for taking a critical position regarding Taser-associated injuries and deaths. In November 2004 Smith announced that the company’s legal team had begun a “comprehensive review of AI’s disparaging and unsupported public statements [to] advise me as to various means to protect our company’s good name.”
In one of the company’s brashest legal maneuvers to date, Taser sued Gannett Newspapers for libel in 2005. The lawsuit alleged USA Today “sensationalized” the power of Taser guns by inaccurately reporting that the electrical output of the gun was more than 100 times that of the electric chair. This past January, a judge threw the case out, saying that the error in the article was not malicious, and that the story was protected by the First Amendment.
The company remains unwavering and aggressively protective, even as Taser-associated deaths mount each month. As Smith told the Associated Press in February, “If you’re coming to sue Taser, bring your game face, strap it on and let’s go. We’re gonna win.”
From Jack Wilson’s standpoint, citizens are the real losers. His son Ryan lost his life in a situation that could have been handled any number of other ways, and no amount of legal posturing can bring Ryan back.
“I still can’t believe my son is gone,” he says. “The fact is that these Tasers can be lethal. No matter how they’re categorized, Tasers shouldn’t be treated as toys.”
Thanks to the Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund for research support, and to David Burnett for research assistance.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Monday, October 16, 2006
October 16, 2006
Don't taser me!
Don Weitz, The ACTivist Magazine
"It's important to note that the overwhelming majority of people tasered or threatened with tasers during the Toronto police force's recent 3-month 'pilot project' posed no immediate or serious threat to the officers' life or personal safety. One-third of the citizens taser-targeted were psychologically vulnerable, which challenges Chief Bill Blair's conclusion that "there is no correlation between TASER use and EDPs [emotionally disturbed persons]" ('Statistical analysis of the 2005 Annual Report: Use of Tasers' by the Toronto Police Service, August 15, 2006).
Let's take a look at another section of Blair's 2006 report on use of the Taser by the ETF (Emergency Task Force or 'SWAT Team'). In this report, we find the Taser targeted a disproportionately large number of psychiatric survivors or emotionally disturbed persons ("EDPs"). According to this report, among 65 people tasered in Toronto in 2005, 26 or 40% were "EDPs". Another disturbing finding is that among these psychologically vulnerable people, nine or approximately one-third were classified as "suicidal." In short, police threatened to shoot or shot suicidal citizens with the Taser's 50,000 volt-electrical barbs!"
Thursday, October 12, 2006
October 12, 2006
League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)
LULAC National Board of Directors also calls for additional accountability and oversight from local leaders.
October 12, 2006
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz., October 12, 2006 – TASER International, Inc. (NASDAQ: TASR), a market leader in advanced electronic control devices, today announced that the National Board of Directors of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) unanimously passed a motion last Friday stating that LULAC should continue to work with TASER International to establish best practice guidelines for the proper use of TASER® systems. The motion also states that LULAC aims to serve as a facilitator for proper training and use-of-force guidelines in communities throughout the country.
“TASER technology is redefining how law enforcement officials best protect the communities they serve and themselves,” said Tom Smith, president of TASER International, Inc. “We are dedicated to working with civil rights organizations such as LULAC to communicate the valuable role that TASER technology can bring to law enforcement departments when those agencies provide extensive training and clear use-of- force policies.”
Over the past two years, TASER International has engaged LULAC leaders at the national and state level to educate members about the TASER technology and its impact in local communities across the country in the reduction of lethal force, excessive use-of-force complaints, and police officer and suspect injuries.
TASER devices are now used by more than 9,500 law enforcement agencies nationwide and are largely responsible for a trend of decreasing citizen complaints and excessive use-of-force complaints as well as declines in both officer and suspect injuries.
“TASER International’s commitment to convening community groups to advance policies and oversight of TASER stun guns is an effort that we fully support,” said LULAC National President Rosa Rosales. “Use-of-force policy is a part of every community throughout the country and we look forward to taking a leadership role in encouraging a dialogue in our local communities and beyond.”
For complete content of the LULAC motion please request a copy.
Steve Tuttle; TASER International, Inc.; 480.444.4000 (Media ONLY Hotline)
Lizette Jenness Olmos; LULAC; 202.365.4553 (cell)
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
October 3, 2006
Terri Theodore, Canadian Press
VANCOUVER -- The chairman of the RCMP Public Complaints Commission believes a comprehensive report on police use of the taser could save lives.
Paul Kennedy told a convention on police oversight he has concerns over how the 50,000-volt device is being used and how early into a police confrontation the stun gun should be put into action.
"I'm not saying tasers are bad, because the officer also carries a gun," he told the audience yesterday.
"You give me the option between being hit by a taser and hit by a bullet, I'll tell you which I'll select," he said as the group chuckled.
While Mr. Kennedy said the device is used less frequently in Canada than it is the United States, he said a comprehensive report would be a good tool for police here.
"And if we do it right, then maybe we'll have fewer deaths," he added.
Mr. Kennedy suggested his commission and all the other provincial civilian police oversight bodies pool funds to pay for the report.
He was speaking at the start of the conference of the Canadian Association for Civilian oversight of Law Enforcement.
The use of tasers by police has become an increasingly controversial subject in Canada.
Across the country, at least six people have died after being shocked by tasers, which fire two barbs attached to a wire that deliver a 50,000-volt shock on contact for up to five seconds. The weapon is meant to immobilize aggressors by shocking their muscles.
Manufacturers of the guns, used by more than 50 police and correctional services across Canada, say their weapons have never been held directly responsible for a death.
In a 2005 letter made public last month, Victoria's police chief told British Columbia's police complaints commissioner that he had "philosophical concerns about whether police 'by themselves' should be defining where the taser belongs on the force continuum.
"As various studies rapidly evolve, it may be necessary to change placement in the continuum and I am not convinced this can be done by police by themselves," Chief Paul Battershill said.
Amnesty International has called for suspension of taser use until an independent study can be done.
The group's Hilary Homes welcomed Mr. Kennedy's suggestion, as long as the study is independent.
Mr. Kennedy said there isn't a consensus among police forces on the use of the weapon.
"They're almost being used as a come-along tool. That's my concern, where you put it on stun mode, [ask people to] move along. . ., and then you get zapped with this thing," he said.
Lawyer Cameron Ward, who has represented many people in police-related assaults, said it's worse in some places.
"The reality is that police are using these devices not as an alternative to lethal force, but rather as an easy tool to incapacitate someone.
"In some cases we've seen circumstances where they've been used to wake people up, to get them to comply with a demand to be handcuffed," Mr. Ward said.
Ms. Homes pointed out the taser was originally introduced as an alternative to lethal force, but now it's in the mid-level range of police force.
"It's very easy to use," she said. "You can take any piece of police equipment and misuse it. But some things are easier to misuse than others and tasers certainly fall into that category."
Monday, October 02, 2006
October 2, 2006
TERRI THEODORE VANCOUVER - Canadina Press via Macleans.ca
The chairman of the RCMP Public Complaints Commission believes a comprehensive report on police use of the Taser could save lives.
Paul Kennedy told a convention on police oversight he has concerns over how the 50,000-volt device is being used and how early into a police confrontation the stun gun should be put into action.
“I’m not saying Tasers (Nasdaq:TASR) are bad, because the officer also carries a gun,” he told the crowd Monday. “You give me the option between being hit by a Taser and hit by a bullet, I’ll tell you which I’ll select,” he said as the group chuckled.
While Kennedy said the device is used less frequently in Canada than it is the United States, he said a comprehensive report would be a good tool for Canadian police officers.
“And if we do it right, then maybe we’ll have fewer deaths,” he added.
Kennedy suggested his commission and all the other provincial civilian police oversight bodies pool their funds to pay for the report.
He was speaking at the start of the conference of the Canadian Association for Civilian oversight of Law Enforcement.
The use of Tasers by police has become an increasingly controversial subject in Canada. Across Canada, at least six people have died after being shocked by Tasers, which fire two barbs attached to a wire that deliver a 50,000-volt shock on contact for up to five seconds.
The weapon is meant to immobilize aggressors by shocking their muscles.
Manufacturers of the Taser guns, now used by more than 50 police and correctional services across Canada, say their weapons have never been held directly responsible for a death.
In a 2005 letter made public last month, Victoria’s police chief told British Columbia’s police complaints commissioner that he had “philosophical concerns about whether police ‘by themselves’ should be defining where the Taser belongs on the force continuum.”
“As various studies rapidly evolve, it may be necessary to change placement in the continuum and I am not convinced this can be done by police ‘by themselves,”‘ said Chief Paul Battershill.
Amnesty International has called for suspension of the use of Tasers until an independent study can be done. The group’s Hilary Homes welcomed Kennedy’s suggestion, as long as the study is independent.
Kennedy said there isn’t a consensus among police forces on the use of the weapon.
“They’re almost being used as a come-along tool. That’s my concern, where you put it on stun mode, (ask people to) move along. . ., and then you get zapped with this thing,” he said.
Lawyer Cameron Ward, who has represented many people in police-related assaults, said it’s worse in some places. “The reality is that police are using these devices not as an alternative to lethal force, but rather as an easy tool to incapacitate someone. In some cases we’ve seen circumstances where they’ve been used to wake people up, to get them to comply with a demand to be handcuffed,” Ward said.
Homes pointed out the Taser was originally introduced as an alternative to lethal force, but now it’s in the mid-level range of police force. “It’s very easy to use,” she said. “You can take any piece of police equipment and misuse it. But some things are easier to misuse than others and Tasers certainly fall into that category.”
Tasers came into use by Canadian police forces in the late 1990s.
Ward said he is astonished the weapons are being used without any independent safety testing. “There’s a real question as to whether or not these are safe for use on all people.”
Most Canadian coroner’s inquests have ruled out Taser use as the cause of death, instead ruling the death was set off by drug overdose and mental illness, or a condition called excited delirium, evident by aggressive, violent and confused behaviour.
“My concern is who is actually telling the officer how to use these things,” Kennedy said outside the conference. “Now police are doing their best. It’s a valid tool, but I’m not sure if it’s being taught as to when you recourse to it.”
A coroner’s inquest is underway in Vancouver over the death of a man who died after being zapped with a Taser. Police were trying to subdue him after he went on a violent rampage in a burning hotel’s washroom in Vancouver in June 2004.
In Alberta, a police officer is on trial in Edmonton for assault over the use of a Taser.
And in Ontario, a Chatham-Kent police officer faces assault charges after being accused of improperly using a Taser on a man who was being booked at police headquarters on July 6.
Thursday, September 28, 2006
September 28, 2006
Starting Friday, Taser guns will be added to Winnipeg police arsenals as another "less-lethal force option" along with batons and pepper spray.
The hand-held guns, which police say use 50,000 volts of electricity at low wattages, can temporarily paralyze even the most resilient criminals.
Every officer has been trained in using the device, but not all officers will be issued with one, said Sgt. Kelly Dennison. Instead, there will be one Taser gun for each cruiser car.
"On that day, when you go to work and you sign on and you go out into your cruiser car, you will actually have the Taser on your belt," he said Thursday.
"So one member of that unit will be carrying that Taser with them to perform their duties throughout their entire shift."
Dennison would not specify in what situations an officer will use the device, although he would say it is meant to be used on violent individuals in stable situations.
"I think officers are going to have to individually assess each 'use of force' situation that they get themselves into," he said.
"And upon that, they're going to have to make the determination for themselves: what is the proper use of force to use? The Taser that our officers are going to have with them now is just another tool for them."
Dennison emphasized that a Taser gun is not a substitute for handguns.
Monday, September 25, 2006
September 25, 2006
DALLAS - Police found 23-year-old Jose Romero in his underwear, screaming gibberish and waving a large kitchen knife from his neighbor's porch.
Romero kept approaching with the knife, so officers shocked him repeatedly with a stun gun. Then he stopped breathing. His family blames police brutality for the death, but the Dallas County medical examiner attributed it to a disputed condition known as "excited delirium."
Excited delirium is defined as a condition in which the heart races wildly — often because of drug use or mental illness — and finally gives out.
Medical examiners nationwide are increasingly citing the condition when suspects die in police custody. But some doctors say the rare syndrome is being overdiagnosed, and some civil rights groups question whether it exists at all.
"For psychiatrists, this is a rare condition that occurs once in a blue moon," said Warren Spitz, a former chief medical examiner in Michigan. "Now suddenly you are seeing it all the time among medical examiners. And always, police and police restraint are involved."
Excited delirium came to doctors' attention in the 1980s as cocaine use soared, said Vincent DiMaio, chief medical examiner in Bexar County, Texas, and a proponent of the diagnosis. No reliable national figures exist on how many suspects die from excited delirium because county medical examiners make the ruling, and some use different terminology.
In Dallas, at least three in-custody deaths in the past five months have been linked to excited delirium. This prompted the police department to start offering mental health assessment training they say will stem the sudden deaths.
Other police departments, including San Diego, have done the same to try to prevent community protests and costly lawsuits. In Phoenix, a jury awarded $9 million in April to the parents of a suspect whose death was attributed to excited delirium.
The condition, described as an overdose of adrenaline, largely affects men with histories of drug use or mental illness, DiMaio said. He said most cases are triggered by drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine.
The drugs elevate blood pressure and heart rate, and the increase is pronounced if a person is experiencing paranoia, hallucinations and violent impulses, DiMaio said.
Police often respond to calls of sufferers stripping off clothes to cope with a soaring body temperature, breaking glass and threatening others. The officers and the suspect struggle, and the excitement stresses the suspect's heart until it fails, DiMaio said.
"You are gunning your motor more and more and more, and it is like you blow out your motor," said DiMaio, who estimates that the condition kills as many as 800 people nationwide each year. "You are just overexciting your heart from the drugs and from the struggle."
Sunday, September 24, 2006
September 24, 2006
Eva Ferguson, Calgary Herald
Almost one year after Calgary police began using Tasers to subdue civilians, five controversial Alberta cases are raising questions about whether officers are using stun guns recklessly as "cowboy policing."
In Red Deer, a man died in hospital last month after being Tasered. In Edmonton, two police officers are facing assault charges after zapping suspects in separate incidents.
A Stettler man is feeling the sting of being Tasered by Calgary cops after he cornered a drunk who urinated on his 12-year-old daughter.
And only days ago, a provincial court judge convicted a Morinville RCMP officer of assault for firing his Taser at a man he wrongly arrested for refusing to pay cab fare.
The cases highlight questions surrounding the use of a weapon that police believe saves lives. Critics, however, say stun guns lead to officers needlessly shooting first, and asking questions later.
"It's become a problem-solving device for police -- instead of taking the time, talking to people, calming them down, and then arresting them quietly, they're depending on Tasers," says Stephen Jenuth, president of the Alberta Civil Liberties Association.
"They're moving officers away from good police work to bad police work."
Leo Knight, a former Vancouver police officer and securities expert who now runs a security company, agrees these cases suggest Tasers can lead to lazy policing, highlighting the fact some officers aren't being properly instructed.
"Tasers can be too easy to fall back on -- especially if the proper training isn't there.
"They should only be used in serious incidents where officers are in danger . . . some of these cases would indicate that isn't happening."
Janel Boettger, whose husband Darcy was shot twice by a Taser earlier this year, says the stun guns are a clear excuse for inexperienced officers to skip verbal negotiations and shoot before even knowing who their bad guy is.
"It's cowboy policing and it's totally unnecessary," she says.
The Stettler family was attending a Calgary funeral in January when suddenly a drunken mourner inside the community hall exposed himself and began urinating on the couple's daughter.
Livid, Darcy ran down the drunk and chased him through a glass door. The drunk quickly closed it behind him, leaving Darcy to smash his head through broken glass.
Ultimately Darcy, a 6-foot-one, 250-pound "pussycat" with a shaved head, subdued the man in a corner of the hall.
Janel says when police arrived and saw her husband covered in blood, they mistook Boettger for the bad guy and tasered him -- twice.
The family has issued a complaint with Calgary police, which is still investigating the matter.
Sgt. Chris Butler, who heads up the Calgary Police skills and procedures unit that trains officers in Taser-use, can't speak to the details of the case until the probe is finished.
"My husband wasn't doing anything, he wasn't threatening. He actually said to them 'I'm not the guy,' " says Janel, who witnessed the incident.
"But this young 20-year-old cop didn't even listen, he just walked right up to him and shot the Taser.
"Everybody in the hall couldn't believe it. They were all upset, they were all saying 'You Tasered the wrong guy!' "
Police say when suspects are Tasered, a 50,000-volt zap of electricity jolts their body causing severe cramps, leaving them with no muscle control for up to five seconds.
But Janel believes her husband suffered long-term physical damage, and is still battling high blood pressure and nightly muscle cramps.
Butler, however, says there is no conclusive medical evidence that Tasers injure or cause death.
Ald. Craig Burrows, a member of the city's police commission, argues the use of Tasers is still an excellent alternative to shooting a gun and that lives are saved because of them.
He added the police commission studied the issue closely last year, and found not using a Taser was more dangerous to the public.
"Tasers are a nice opportunity where it's force, but not lethal force.
"And I guarantee anytime you get a bullet, you're going to hospital. When you get Tasered, it's very rare that you'll have to go to hospital."
Still, the question of whether Tasers can cause physical harm was brought to light yet again last month in the alarming death of a Red Deer man.
Jason Doan, 28, died in hospital three weeks after RCMP subdued him with a Taser.
Officers were called to a Red Deer neighbourhood after a man was seen damaging vehicles.
The man, who had fled when Mounties arrived, resisted arrest after he was apprehended and zapped three times.
RCMP said they used Tasers after an officer was hit with the wooden handle of a pitchfork.
Members of the Doan family have not spoken to the media, but the Alberta Medical Examiner's office is now investigating.
Butler says the cause of death won't be known for several weeks until toxicology tests and a coroners' report are complete.
But he believes Doan's death may have been caused by "excited delirium" a common medical condition -- often exacerbated by alcohol or drug use, or mental illness -- that causes severe chemical imbalances in the brain.
The mix can lead a suspect to act extremely agitated, excited or violent, in such a way that police are usually called.
Butler says that when police arrest such suspects, using a Taser or not, the overload with excited delirium can lead to heart failure
"Many of these suspects that we arrest, in this agitated state, will die anyway even if we don't use a Taser. And many were dying well before we even introduced tasers, simply because of excited delirium."
RMCP officers in Alberta were the first in the country to start using stun guns as a pilot project in 1999.
One year later, other parts of the country followed suit. Last year, RCMP officers across the province deployed them 80 times.
But many city police detachments, like Calgary, didn't start using Tasers until well after the RCMP.
In Calgary, police officers have fired tasers 84 times since January.
A study done last year by the Canadian Police Research Centre found the advantages of Tasers far outweigh the risks and although there have been reports of deaths, no evidence exists showing the devices alone are to blame.
The study, which included police and medical professionals, stated the conducted energy devices are "effective law enforcement tools that are safe in the vast majority of cases."
Butler stresses that Calgary officers are specifically trained to never shoot a Taser unless they are being physically threatened or assaulted by a suspect.
But Knight says as hard as police departments try to train officers, there are members who shoot before they should.
"It's just the law of averages. You're always going to get a few people who just don't follow the rules."
On Wednesday, Const. Stephen Shott of the Morinville RCMP detachment was reassigned to administrative duties following his conviction of assault with a weapon in an Edmonton court.
Judge Allan Lefever said Shott had no legal justification to arrest Gordon Brown at his home in Gibbons in February 2004.
Shott fired his Taser at Brown, who was holding a cat in his arms, then handcuffed him and placed him in the back of a cruiser.
Shott later discovered Brown was not the person he suspected of refusing to pay a cab fare and released him without charge.
Lefever wrote in his 40-page decision that "the force used by the accused on Brown was unnecessary" and that Shott "did not act on reasonable and probable grounds."
Earlier this month, an Alberta judge said an Edmonton police officer looking for an excuse to fire his Taser chose to punish a 15-year-old boy following a break-in. The officer then tried to cover up his blatant abuse of authority, the judge said.
Judge Patricia Kvill stayed the charges against the boy, citing a violation of the teenager's Charter rights.
She described the behaviour of Edmonton police Const. Todd Hudec as a "shocking abuse of police powers," and noted Hudec did not record the Taser incident in his notebook, nor file a mandatory report about firing the weapon.
The police officer was himself charged earlier this year with assault with a weapon against the teen and his trial is set to begin in January.
Hudec's case comes on the heels of another Edmonton officer being charged with assault for using his Taser on two sleeping men.
Const. Jeffrey Resler, charged with two counts of assault and two counts of assault with a weapon, testified earlier this month that he believed firing his Taser at the men was a safe way to wake them up.
He and three other officers had entered a hotel room looking for an armed robbery suspect, and found two men in the bed and another lying face down on the floor.
The hotel was well-known for violent crime and drugs and Resler had said in a statement that the room smelled strongly of chemicals.
But Const. Jeff Minten, an expert in the Edmonton police department's use of force model, testified that using a Taser to wake a sleeping person is inconsistent with police standards.
The three cases outline the strict policies police have surrounding Taser use, and the consequences officers face when Tasers aren't used properly, says RCMP Const. Blaine Kobeluck, an expert in tasers who also trains officers and instructors.
"If they overstep their boundaries, they are liable to criminal charges just like anyone else.
"When it does happen, it usually means there has been a miscommunication in training."
Resler's trial is set to resume Oct. 25.
Friday, September 22, 2006
Thursday, September 21, 2006
September 21, 2006
Amnesty International is questioning the repeated use of a Taser gun on a 17-year-old boy by police officers at a house party in Hampton, N.B.
Amnesty spokesman Andy Buxton says nobody should be hit with the weapon, which can deliver up to 50,000 volts of electricity in one shot, especially vulnerable groups like children, teenagers and the elderly.
The international human rights group is calling for a suspension of the use of all Tasers by police officers.
"Typically you wouldn't shoot somebody 13 or 14 times, you'd only shoot them once," Buxton said. "It's important to understand, of course, that the police very rarely shoot people with their guns and unfortunately, they have this sort of tendency to pull out their Tasers and use them way more often … when they're out they tend to get used multiple times and we think that's excessive and abusive."
But New Brunswick RCMP officers are defending the use of a Taser on the teen, saying he was being combative with officers and needed to be subdued.
Two RCMP officers were called to a rowdy house party in Hampton, a town 30 kilometres east of Saint John, last Saturday night, where they found approximately 30 teenagers.
The officers said they tried to get the teens to calm down by giving them verbal warnings, but some of them refused.
RCMP Sgt. Terry Lee Kennedy says one of the teens was particularly belligerent, and officers had to use the stun gun to bring him under control.
"The members were trying to calm down the teens, but weren't able, through verbal commands, to calm down the youth," Kennedy said. "They ended up having to arrest four teenaged boys who appeared to be out of control. One teenage boy was combative and resistant, and the members, to effectively and safely arrest him, had to use a directed energy weapon to get him under control."
The 17-year-old's back and belly are covered in burns from the Taser. The boy has seven Taser marks on his lower back, and approximately six more on the front of his body, even on his groin area. He can't be identified, but told CBC the incident was terrifying.
"I was pretty scared," he said. "I didn't know how dangerous this thing was, how much of a risk it could be. I didn't know what they were trying to do. I was down on the ground for a while and after you've been hit with that thing a few times, you're not thinking too straight."
Carley Nichols was at the house party and witnessed the exchange between the boys and the police. She says the Taser wasn't necessary because her friend was not resisting arrest.
"It went on for like 20 minutes. They kept telling him to get on his back but every time he tried to turn, they'd keep Tasering him. It was just horrible," she said.
RCMP Cpl. Gary Fournier is reviewing the incident and says the Taser was used on what is called the "touch-stun" mode.
"The Taser can be deployed in two modes," said Fournier, "one in which it shoots two prongs that go into the individual …. The other mode is a touch-stun mode, which simply means the weapon itself is pressed against the person that it's being deployed against."
Fournier said the Taser delivers a big jolt, but it doesn't hurt as much as being struck by a police baton.
The boy who was Tasered and three other teens were taken into custody and kept overnight. Police say the boys could be charged with mischief and obstructing the police.
They're expected to make an appearance in court at a later date.
September 21, 2006
The RCMP say a Taser is not to blame for the death of a man who struggled with three officers in Digby last year.
Paul Saulnier, 42, died outside the RCMP detachment in Digby on July 15, 2005, after officers used a stun gun to immobilize him.
On Thursday, Nova Scotia's chief medical examiner said Saulnier died of a heart attack brought on by excited delirium, linked to his paranoid schizophrenia.
"It's a disease that's characterized by sudden onset of very violent and aggressive behaviour, confused thinking, superhuman strength," Dr. Matthew Bowes told CBC News.
Bowes said excited delirium usually affects two groups: chronic cocaine addicts and people with pre-existing disorders.
RCMP Sgt. Frank Skidmore said the deputy chief medical examiner for Ontario reviewed the case and concluded that the Taser played no role in Saulnier's death.
Wife filed complaint
Saulnier ended up in police custody after his wife filed a harassment complaint.
Helen Saulnier said she did so in an attempt to get him psychiatric treatment.
Saulnier walked into the RCMP detachment. When officers told him he was being arrested and charged, he fled the building.
Three officers tried to bring him down in the parking lot by using pepper spray and a baton. When that didn't work, they used a Taser, which delivers a jolt of electricity.
A few minutes later, Saulnier stopped moving. Paramedics arrived, but Saulnier died at the scene.
An investigation headed by Halifax Regional Police found the three officers were justified in using force, Skidmore said.
He said Saulnier's family has met with Bowes to discuss the report.
Friday, September 15, 2006
September 15, 2006
An inquest into the death of former P.E.I. resident Robert Bagnell has been adjourned to Nov. 6, to the shock of family who travelled to British Columbia from P.E.I. and Ontario to attend.
The seven-week delay is due to the coroner's need to further study a particular point of law.
Bagnell was jolted twice with a police Taser before he died in a hotel washroom in Vancouver in June 2004. A pathologist's report found he died from a cocaine-induced heart attack.
Bagnell's mother, Riki, lives in Charlottetown, and was one of the family members who travelled across the country to attend the inquest.
The Bagnell family has initiated a lawsuit against the Vancouver Police Department, the officers involved and the company that manufactures Tasers.
September 15, 2006
Coroner's move shocks victim's kin
Petti Fong, Globe and Mail
VANCOUVER -- A B.C. coroner abruptly shut down the inquest into the death of Robert Bagnell and adjourned hearings for six weeks after the family of the victim tried to introduce a letter from the Victoria chief of police that raised concerns about the use of tasers.
The surprise announcement by coroner Stephen Fonseca caught lawyers off guard and shocked Mr. Bagnell's family who had travelled from Ontario and Prince Edward Island to attend. The inquest was to wrap up today after a two-week hearing before a five-man jury. The coroner announced the adjournment without the jury present and left the hearing before Cameron Ward, the family's lawyer, could file any argument or submission requesting the inquest continue. Mr. Fonseca also ordered a ban on the distribution of the letter from Victoria Police Chief Peter Battershill to Dirk Ryneveld, the police complaint commissioner. A copy of the letter was also sent to Vancouver Chief Constable Jamie Graham. Karen Johnston, a spokeswoman from the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor-General, said yesterday that there was an issue over the handling of third-party documents. "There's a confidentiality around those documents," she said. "The presiding coroner ordered an adjournment so he could seek clarification on that." Ms. Johnston said the issue was raised by legal representatives of parties with standing at the inquest, but declined to say which party had raised the objection. The reported parties with standing at the inquest are Mr. Bagnell's family, Tasers International Inc., the weapon's manufacturer and the Vancouver Police Department. Coroners counsel Chris Godwin declined to comment on why the inquest was shut down.
Mr. Ward said the letter is important and should be known to the jury. "The suppression of the letter is against public interest. The letter in my view has public safety implications," he said yesterday.
Mr. Bagnell's sister, Patti Gillman, and his mother, Riki Bagnell, have filed a civil suit against the Vancouver police.
Mr. Bagnell, 44, died from acute cocaine intoxication, according to the medical examiner, but his family believe that the use of a taser played a role in his death.
In earlier testimony, the jury heard from Mr. Bagnell's neighbours that he was violent the night he barricaded himself in the fifth-floor washroom of the hotel where he lived. A medical examiner and toxicologist had also testified that Mr. Bagnell had enough drugs in his system that night to cause his death. Police officers testifying at the inquest said that a fire on the first floor of the hotel created an urgency to the barricade situation four floors above where an emergency response team had been trying to get Mr. Bagnell to come out. Although police originally informed Ms. Bagnell that her son died of an overdose, a detective confirmed a month after his June 23, 2004, death that a taser was used. One month after confirming the taser use, police released information about the fire on the first floor of the hotel.
Patti Gillman said she was shocked to hear the inquest ordered shut down. "I can't believe we won't be able to walk away from here with the truth and some recommendations to prevent this from happening to others," she said. Ms. Gillman travelled from Ontario to attend the hearing and her mother came from Prince Edward Island.
The jury will also return to hear the rest of the testimony from witnesses including the emergency response team officer who fired the taser. The inquest is supposed to resume Nov. 6.
The inquest into my brother's death was abruptly adjourned after we tried to introduce a letter from the Victoria chief of police that raised concerns about the use of tasers.
September 15, 2006
The continued use of Tasers by police in Canada needs to be discussed in a wider forum than just the policing community, Victoria's police chief says. In a 2005 letter to Police Complaints Commissioner Dirk Ryneveld and copied to Vancouver Chief Const. Jamie Graham, Paul Battershill said he had "philosophical concerns about whether police 'by themselves' should be defining where the Taser (Nasdaq:TASR) belongs on the force continuum. "As various studies rapidly evolve, it may be necessary to change placement in the continuum and I am not convinced this can be done by police 'by themselves," he said.
Battershill said he arrived at that view after comments by Los Angeles Deputy Chief Michael Berkow at the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police meeting in Ottawa on Aug. 22, 2005. Berkow stated the Taser will ultimately end up as 'only' a specific alternative to lethal force.
"This requires further discussion," Battershill said.
Lawyer Cameron Ward agreed with the Victoria police chief that the issue of Taser use should be discussed in the public arena because the device, which delivers an electric shock, has safety implications.
Questions about the safety of Tasers have come in the wake of several deaths. However, the makers of the weapon say they're safe and the deaths resulted from other factors. The issue has been contentious in court cases across the country.
In Alberta, a police officer is on trial in Edmonton for assault over the use of a Taser. Const. Jeffrey Resler said in a statement to the Edmonton police internal affairs unit that he feared that the men he found in a hotel room on Nov. 27, 2003, had recently smoked methamphetamines or popped prescription pills. He said he believed that firing his Taser at two sleeping men was a safe way to wake them up.
In Ontario, a Chatham-Kent police officer faces assault charges in connection with an alleged incident in the booking room of police headquarters in Chatham. Sgt. Edmund MacLean, 58, is alleged to have assaulted and improperly used a Taser on a 33-year-old Chatham man who was being booked at headquarters on July 6.
Vancouver police say their officers unholstered their Taser weapons about once a week last year - a total of 52 times. The number includes not only when Tasers were used to deliver an electric shock, but also when they were deployed to get a suspect's attention.
Police defend the use of the weapon, saying they're safe and effective - saving lives and preventing injuries. Across Canada, at least six people have died after being shocked by Tasers, which fire two barbs attached to a wire that deliver a 50,000-volt shock on contact for up to five seconds. The weapon is meant to immobilize aggressors by shocking their muscles. Amnesty International has said the weapon should be banned until more tests are done to determine its safety. The human rights group said the guns can be deadly when someone is in a weakened state because of heart problems or drug use. Manufacturers of the Taser guns, now used by more than 50 police and correctional services across Canada, say their weapons have never been held directly responsible for a death. Taser International Inc. also says its weapons have saved more than 6,000 lives and are a safer alternative to police revolvers.
September 15, 2006
"Ryan Michael Wilson, 22, died of an irregular heartbeat associated with being blasted by the stun gun coupled with a narrow heart artery and physical exertion, Coroner Thomas Faure said in a statement. Steve Tuttle, spokesman for stun gun manufacturer TASER International Inc., said the company was disappointed with the findings."
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
September 6, 2006
The mother of a man who died following a struggle with Vancouver police in June 2004 has told a coroner's inquest she only learned that officers used a Taser on her son when she saw the story on television in P.E.I.
Robert Bagnell, 44, died in police custody after officers jolted him with a Taser and dragged him from the bathroom of a rooming house hotel in downtown Vancouver where he had barricaded himself.
Riki Bagnell told a Vancouver coroner's jury Wednesday that police never told her that a Taser had been used on her son.
Riki Bagnell, who travelled to B.C. from P.E.I. for this week's inquest, told the five-member jury on Wednesday that in the days following her son's death, police were helpful and even helped arrange to get her son's remains back to P.E.I.
But she says that in at least five conversations with police, no one mentioned that officers had used a Taser to subdue him.
She says she only learned that when her daughter called from Ontario and told her to turn on the TV.
Robert Bagnell, 44, had large amounts of cocaine in his system when he died, a pathologist testified on Tuesday.
Long history of drug abuse
Bagnell also told the inquest she wasn't surprised when she received the first phone call from police telling her that her son was dead. She said he had started using drugs at age 18, and he chose a lifestyle that was a "one-way street" that he could never come back from.
Post-mortem toxicology reports showed Bagnell had a large amount of cocaine, along with other illicit drugs, in his system. A pathologist told the inquest on Tuesday it was likely cocaine-induced psychosis and not the Taser that caused his cardiac arrest. The jury was also told that Bagnell had had open heart surgery several years before his death.
The Bagnell family has launched legal action against the Vancouver Police Department, the officers involved and the company that manfactures and distributes Taser stun guns.
Thursday, August 31, 2006
August 31, 2006
A man Tasered earlier this month by Red Deer RCMP died Wednesday in hospital.
An RCMP official told the Canadian Press that Jason Doan, 28, had been in a Red Deer hospital since the Aug. 10 incident.
According to police, Doan was hit with a Taser three times after Mounties responded to reports of a man seen smashing car windows.
Police say they used the Tasers after an officer was hit with the wooden handle of a pitchfork.
RCMP declined to comment further, except to say the medical examiner is investigating.
Tasers are hand-held weapons that deliver a jolt of electricity — up to 50,000 volts — from up to 6.5 metres away. The shock temporarily stuns a person, causing them to be immobilized and fall to the ground.
Amnesty International Canada has been calling for a suspension in the use of Tasers until more studies are conducted on their use.
Calgary police have been asked to review the incident. An autopsy is scheduled for Thursday.
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
August 30, 2006
RED DEER, Alta. — A Red Deer man who was subdued by RCMP with Tasers three weeks ago died in hospital Wednesday.
An RCMP official said Jason Doan, 28, had been in Red Deer regional hospital ever since the Aug. 10 incident.
That's when officers were called to a Red Deer neighbourhood after a man was seen damaging vehicles.
The man fled when Mounties arrived. He was apprehended after a foot chase, but he resisted arrest, said police. A scuffle broke out and police zapped the man three times.
Mounties said they used the Tasers after an officer was hit with the wooden handle of a pitchfork.
“A police officer was struck ... once in the head and once in the arm,” RCMP Superintendent Brian Simpson said earlier this week.
“This individual was demonstrating a high level of frustration, anger, whatever it may have been.”
RCMP declined further comment Wednesday, except to say the investigation is now in the hands of the medical examiner.
Calgary police have also been overseeing an investigation into the arrest.
Tasers can administer shocks of up to 50,000 volts, meant to temporarily stun a person.
Taser International distributes the weapons to police; depending on the model they can be used from a fair distance away or touched directly to skin or clothes.
Mr. Simpson said the man was Tasered by direct touch.
Amnesty International has reported that 14 Canadians died after being Tasered between April 2003 and December 2005.
The organization has urged police to stop using the weapon until more independent research is done on its use and effect.
Mr. Simpson said earlier that using a Taser three times to subdue a struggling suspect is not unusual, adding the weapons are safe.
“I've been Tasered twice myself,” he said, referring to training. “I would not have allowed myself to be Tasered twice if I didn't think they were safe weapons.”
Saturday, August 19, 2006
August 19, 2006
Mark Silverstein, Rocky Mountain News
The tragic death of 22-year-old Ryan Wilson on Aug. 4th has justifiably refocused public attention on the dangers posed when police officers fire their new high-powered electroshock weapons. Sold by Taser International, Tasers are promoted to the public as devices that can save lives when police would otherwise use firearms. The public is less aware, however, that police departments, with Taser International's blessing, encourage and authorize officers to use Tasers in situations like Ryan's, where no one would claim that firearms are justified.
Nor is the public generally aware of an increasingly common result: more than 200 persons have died shortly after being shocked by law enforcement Tasers. Ryan is the fifth such person to die in Colorado since 2002.
The number of Taser-associated deaths has steadily increased. There were 4 in 2001; 13 in 2002; 20 in 2003; 57 in 2004; 73 in 2005; and an additional 44 so far in 2006.
Most of the deceased posed no serious physical threat to police. Many were extremely agitated or intoxicated. Some had underlying heart problems. Taser International has reported that 80 percent of suspects shocked by Tasers were not brandishing any weapon.
Before the death toll mounts any higher, law enforcement agencies must declare a moratorium. They must immediately stop using Tasers in situations that do not present a substantial threat of death or serious bodily injury.
According to the sparse information released so far, undercover police spotted Ryan near a small patch of marijuana plants. He ran. A Lafayette police officer caught up and discharged an X26 Taser. Ryan immediately began convulsing and died.
With aggressive marketing and a well-oiled PR machine, Taser International has persuaded thousands of law enforcement agencies to buy Tasers. Beginning in 1999, promotional materials hawked the new M26 Advanced Taser as a nonlethal magic bullet that instantly and safely incapacitated suspects without physical struggle. Police departments rely on company-supplied training materials, which continually assure that Tasers are safe, effective and recommended in numerous situations where suspects pose no serious physical threat.
As the bodies began piling up, however, critics began asking whether Taser International had overstated its claims of safety. Company officials scoffed. One spokesperson maintained that Tasers were no more dangerous than Tylenol, while Taser International's president denied the existence of any evidence that Tasers could be dangerous.
Two years ago, Taser International spokespersons claimed that no medical examiner had ever implicated a Taser. As more autopsy reports began listing Tasers as a primary or contributing cause of death, however, ( Amnesty International counted 23 in February ), Taser International argued that coroners were not qualified to assess whether Tasers played a causal role.
Investigative reports by The New York Times and The Arizona Republic have raised serious questions about Taser International's safety claims, its marketing practices, and the reliability of the limited and flawed studies that Taser International cites. After the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Arizona attorney general launched inquires about allegedly deceptive statements, Taser International toned down some rhetoric and recently agreed to pay $20 million to settle a stockholders' lawsuit.
Taser International has always claimed that Tasers cannot produce enough current to cause fatal heart problems. In 2005, however, a U.S. Army memorandum concluded that Tasers could indeed cause ventricular fibrillation. It therefore recommended against shocking soldiers during training exercises.
Earlier this year, a peer-reviewed forensic engineering journal published a study that tested a Taser and concluded that it discharged current far more powerful than Taser International acknowledged - powerful enough to cause fatal heart disrhythmias.
In May, a biomedical engineering professor reported that Tasers caused the hearts of healthy pigs to stop beating, contradicting earlier Taser International-sponsored studies.
Taser International lavishly praises reports that provide qualified support to its safety claims. The company's critics ably dissect those analyses, while Taser International relentlessly grinds out a critique of every study that questions Tasers' safety.
With at least 211 deaths linked to this supposedly nonlethal weapon, however, the Taser proponents must bear the burden of proof in any battle of experts. It is a burden they have not met. There are no reputable independent studies that confirm the manufacturer's assurances of safety, especially in the real-world conditions in which Tasers are actually used and in which suspects actually die.
Law enforcement agencies must stop and question whether they have been sold a bill of goods. Agencies that currently use Tasers must reassess, not only to prevent the deaths of more Ryan Wilsons, but also to spare the public purse from the expensive lawsuits that will surely follow the ever-widening trail of broken bodies and shattered lives.
Friday, August 18, 2006
August 18, 2006
ACLU - Guest commentary for the Denver Post
With at least 211 deaths linked to this supposedly nonlethal weapon, however, the taser proponents must bear the burden of proof in any battle of experts. It is a burden they have not met. There are no reputable independent studies that confirm the manufacturer's assurances of safety, especially in the real-world conditions in which tasers are actually used and in which suspects actually die.
Friday, July 21, 2006
CONCLUSIONS: In an experimental model, NID discharges across the chest can produce cardiac stimulation at high rates. This study suggests that NIDs may have cardiac risks that require further investigation in humans.
Saturday, July 08, 2006
July 8, 2006
United States District Judge James Ware of the Northern District of California today denied Taser International INC's motion to dismiss claims arising from the February 20, 2005, death of a Monterey County, California, man following repeated shocks from one of its electric shock weapons.
San Jose, CA (PRWEB) July 8, 2006 -- United States District Judge James Ware of the Northern District of California today denied Taser International’s motion to dismiss claims arising from the February 20, 2005, death of a Monterey County, California, man following repeated shocks from one of its electric weapons.
On February 20, 2005, Robert Heston, Jr. began acting erratically inside his family’s Salinas, California home. His father, believing his son might be under the influence of drugs, called the police reporting his bizarre behavior. Officers from the Salinas Police Department responded to the Heston home and confronted Mr. Heston. Approximately 4-5 police officers used their Taser electric weapons repeatedly as other officers restrained Heston on the ground. Heston stopped breathing, and then died shortly thereafter.
In the lawsuit, Heston v. City of Salinas, et al., N.D. Cal. Case No. C 05-03658 JW, Heston’s parents alleged that Taser electric shock weapons are unreasonably dangerous and defective for use on human beings because they are sold without warning about the effect of multiple shocks for extended durations, the danger of shocking people who are under the influence of drugs, and the effects of Taser shocks on respiration. The weapon, when used repeatedly and in combination with aggressive police restraints, causes unnecessary deaths.
Taser International, Inc., asked the district court to dismiss the claims of the Heston family, contending that (1) Robert Heston’s death was not reasonably foreseeable, (2) its product is not inherently dangerous, and (3) it had no duty to warn of the dangers of its product.
Judge Ware denied Taser International’s Motion to Dismiss without comment. Taser International has been ordered to respond to plaintiffs’ complaint. No trial date has been set in the case as yet.
Judge Ware’s ruling follows on the heals of a similar ruling by United States District Judge Jeremy Vogel on March 7, 2006 in the case of Rosa v. City of Seaside, N.D. Cal. Case No. C 05-03577 JF. That case, which is also being litigated by Messrs. Burton and Williamson, involves the death of Michael Rosa on August 29, 2004 after he had been repeatedly subjected to multiple uses of Taser electric weapons by police officers from several police agencies.
In denying Taser International’s Motion to Dismiss, Judge Fogel ruled that Taser has a duty to design and manufacture its products to avoid foreseeable dangers arising from their use, and to warn its customers and users of any foreseeable dangers that could arise when people such as Michael Rosa are shocked repeatedly and then subjected to aggressive restraint procedures. No trial date has been set in this case either.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
June 28, 2006
The Regina city police will be training more of its officers to use Taser-type weapons, a new report says.
The hand-held devices deliver a powerful electric shock through wires fired at a suspect. They're considered a non-lethal way of subduing a person, but they are not without their detractors.
The RCMP has been using them for years. So have officers on the Regina Police Service's Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams.
Now, according to a report being considered by the Regina Board of Police Commissioners, Regina city police are expanding their use to front-line officers.
Taser is a trademark for weapons that are generically known as conductive energy devices, or CEDs.
The Regina police will buy the devices and phase them in over three years. It has already developed policies for their use and says it will train officers in "best practices."
The report says several coroner's inquests have recommended that police be given more options dealing with suspects that don't involve lethal force.
It also notes Taser-type devices have been controversial in some jurisdictions.
Regina police chief Cal Johnston said he would make sure other officers are properly trained and only use the device in approved circumstances.
He said any time one is used, it will be reported to the department's "use of force" board.
Friday, June 23, 2006
June 23, 2006
VANCOUVER -- The parents and sister of a man repeatedly shot by police with a Taser weapon are suing for his death in what their B.C. Supreme Court lawsuit claims is gross negligence.
In June 2004, Robert Bagnell, 44, was jolted with 50,000 volts of electricity while being subdued by Vancouver police officers. A report conducted later by Victoria police said Bagnell died from cardiac arrest due to cocaine-induced psychosis.
Taser International Inc, the maker of the X26 Tasers used on Bagnell, is named in the lawsuit, along with the Vancouver Police Department, police Chief Jamie Graham and five other Vancouver police officers.
The statement of claim, filed Thursday, said two police officers repeatedly shot Robert Wayne Bagnell, who was unarmed and represented no threat to anyone, with two weapons manufactured by the defendant Taser International."
The lawsuit accuses the police department of unlawful acts and gross negligence for failing to train its officer in the use of the Taser.
Bagnell's father, also named Robert, his mother Janna, and sister Patricia Gillman accuse Taser of failing to conduct independent safety testing of its products, and promoting the Taser as "non-lethal when it knew or ought to have known that they were lethal and had caused deaths."
It also accuses police of "concealing the X26 Taser weapons that were used on Robert Wayne Bagnell from persons investigating the circumstances of his death."
It also claims the police department concealed the circumstances of Bagnell's death from his family, and arranged for the cremation of his body when they should have known the family would want an independent autopsy.
A 700-page report by Victoria police looking into Bagnell's death cleared the officers in connection to the death, but recommended better training and tracking of Taser deaths.
The lawsuit asks for general and special damage awards and for an injunction stopping the defendants from selling or using the X26 Taser weapons in British Columbia.
"Although more than 190 people have died after being shot by Taser weapons, including the X26 Taser, the defendants. . .continue to promote and market the weapons as 'non-lethal' weapons," the lawsuit states.
A statement of defence had not yet been filed by the defendants.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
June 14, 2006
With over 180 deaths in recent years among suspects subdued with stun guns, the government is taking a closer look into their use.
The review by the Justice Department, which will initially involve 30 such cases, follows the rapid growth in deployment of stun guns as a nonlethal alternative to bullet-firing weapons. The department's research arm, the National Institute of Justice, said there have been 184 such deaths since 1986, the overwhelming majority since 2000. Amnesty International, which has called for a moratorium on stun gun use, says there have been roughly 160 deaths in the past five years.
The study will not look at whether the use of stun guns was appropriate, John Morgan, the institute's assistant director, said Wednesday. Instead, researchers will make medical assessments of the 30 cases, which include deaths that were attributed to a stun gun and some in which authorities could not determine whether a stun gun caused or contributed to a death, he said.
Two deaths occurred in 1986, one in 1990 and the rest since 2000, Morgan added.
In the remaining 154 cases, stun guns were ruled out as a factor in the deaths, but the study could eventually include those deaths as well, he said, saying the review could take up to two years.
“We hope this will help improve less-lethal technology generally,” Morgan said. “If we find a particular operating characteristic is contributing to a problem, we hope that will be way to improve that technology.”
Taser International of Scottsdale, Ariz., the largest maker of stun guns, said that the devices have saved more than 9,000 lives because police officers have been able to the weapon instead of handguns that fire bullets. Tasers deliver a 50,000-volt jolt through two barbed darts that can penetrate clothing.
“Given that the NIJ conducted a similar study on pepper spray which effectively ended the debate regarding its safety, we are hopeful this study will lead to the same outcome regarding electro-muscular disruption devices,” Taser vice president Steve Tuttle said.
Dalia Hashad, director of Amnesty's USA Program, said the study is a good first step. “We've been asking the federal government for the last six years to take seriously that people are dying after being shot by this weapon,” Hashad said.
A government study last year said more than 7,000 of the nation's 18,000 police agencies used Tasers, up from 1,000 in 2001.
Many of those who died were high on drugs, mentally ill or otherwise agitated, according to an Amnesty International report released in March. Many deaths in the past year occurred after victims were hit by Tasers at least three times and, in some cases, for prolonged periods, the report said.
Some police agencies have tightened their rules on stun-gun use following Taser-related deaths.
One goal of the new study is to get a better understanding of how the body reacts when hit by electricity from the devices.
Researchers will include medical examiners, pathologists, cardiologists and other experts, said Dr. Robert Hunsaker, president of the National Association of Medical Examiners and co-chairman of the group that is designing the study.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police, which has called for careful monitoring of stun gun use, also will be part of the review.
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
June 13, 2006
Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Justice Department is reviewing the deaths of up to 180 people who died after law enforcement officers used stun guns or other electro-shock devices to subdue them.
"These deaths raise a question in our mind that should be examined," said Glenn Schmitt, acting director of the department's National Institute of Justice. He said the review will initially focus on 30 deaths, including one from two decades ago.
Most of the deaths occurred within the past four years, corresponding with the mass deployment of stun guns to police departments throughout the country. A number of departments have re-evaluated their use of the weapons because of the fatal incidents.
More than 80 deaths since 1999 were identified in a recent analysis by The Arizona Republic. Amnesty International has identified more than 150 deaths since 2001.
The devices, marketed as alternatives to lethal force, are designed to incapacitate unruly suspects through electric shock.
Taser International, the nation's largest maker of stun guns, has supplied more than 130,000 devices to about 7,000 of the nation's 16,000 police agencies.
The company has maintained that its products are safe and have saved the lives of police officers and suspects.
"As we know, in-custody deaths are part of policing," Taser spokesman Steve Tuttle said when asked about the Justice Department review. "The more we can study and understand the circumstances that lead to in-custody deaths, the more opportunities there are to develop law enforcement tactics and procedures that will help prevent these unfortunate events in the future."
According to Taser, the company is a named defendant in 49 lawsuits alleging either wrongful death or personal injury. An additional 20 lawsuits have been dismissed.
The Justice Department review, which could take up to two years, was proposed last year after law enforcement authorities expressed concern about the increasing numbers of deaths after stun guns were used to incapacitate suspects, Schmitt said.
Schmitt said the review will enlist the help of the National Association of Medical Examiners, the American College of Pathologists, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Teams of medical examiners will begin reviewing individual cases this fall.
Amnesty International called the Justice review a "good first step."
"The fact that the government is doing this is an important acknowledgement that there is a serious problem," said Dalia Hashad, director of Amnesty's USA Program. "People are dying needlessly. It's important that the federal government is taking this responsibility."
Last year, the IACP recommended that law enforcement agencies closely monitor use of the devices after noting safety concerns involving stun guns.
Schmitt said investigators are expected to examine a range of issues in each case, including ages, weight, possible physical impairments, evidence of drug use and other factors that could have contributed to the deaths.
In addition, Schmitt said, investigators will explore a phenomenon known as "excited delirium," in which a shutdown of bodily functions occurs after sensory overload.
Schmitt said the department is not urging any immediate change in the deployment of the devices.
"There is no reason to do anything different for now," he said. "We'll let the research answer the questions."