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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Alberta man Tasered by police dies

August 31, 2006
CBC News

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

Alberta man hit by RCMP Tasers three weeks ago dies

August 30, 2006
Canadian Press

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

Taser Maker Staunchly Defends Product Even as Bodies Pile Up

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

ACLU - "Non lethal" force can kill

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.