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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

More Regina police to get Taser weapons

June 28, 2006
CBC News

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

Dead man's family sues police and Taser company

June 23, 2006
Canadian Press

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

Feds Probe Stun Gun Deaths

June 14, 2006
CBS News

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

US Justice Department looks into deaths of people subdued by stun guns

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."

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Cocaine not stun gun killed man

June 7, 2006

A cocaine overdose -- not a police stun gun - is to blame for the death of a 33-year-old city man last Christmas Eve, a medical examiner has found.

Alesandro Fiacco died on the way to hospital after he was shocked with a stun gun by police trying to subdue him.

Witnesses to the bizarre Dec. 24, 2005, incident said Fiacco was behaving erratically and had wandered into traffic near 113 Street and 76 Avenue.

Police said officers made several attempts to bring Fiacco, who was unarmed, under control before the stun gun was used. A senior cop at the scene told the Sun that Fiacco was shocked four times.

Assistant chief medical examiner Dr. Bernard Bannach said yesterday that neither the stun gun nor a condition called excited delirium killed Fiacco.

Excited delirium - known to hit drug and alcohol abusers and some psychiatric patients - has been blamed for four city deaths since 2001 involving men who police had to subdue because of violent behaviour.

Bannach said the condition doesn't occur when the amount of cocaine in the body is at overdose levels.

"Although (Fiacco) may have been exhibiting symptoms of psychotic behaviour, it was the overdose that killed him."

An Amnesty International report earlier this year cited 156 deaths related to stun guns in the U.S. and 14 in Canada since April 2003, two of which were in Edmonton.

But Bannach said there's no convincing medical evidence that a stun gun has ever killed anyone.

He said even if the device malfunctioned and the person it was being used on was electrocuted, death would occur almost instantly.

"In the Fiacco case, he died at least 12 minutes after the last time he was shocked, if not longer."

Staff Sgt. Peter Ratcliff, president of the Edmonton Police Association, said the cop who used the stun gun on Fiacco will be relieved to hear the device didn't kill the man.

A fatality inquiry will be held in the case because Fiacco died in police custody. No date has been set.

Tasered man died of cocaine poisoning: examiner

June 7, 2006
Edmonton Journal

A man who died on Christmas Eve after being Tasered by city police Edmonton succumbed to cocaine poisoning, the medical examiner has found. In a report released today, the medical examiner has determined Alesandro Fiacco, 33, died from acute cocaine toxicity.

Witnesses said Fiacco had been Tasered by police around 3 p.m. last Dec. 24 at 113th Street and 75th Avenue.

Police had been trying to subdue the man, who had been acting erratically by yelling and flailing his arms in traffic.

A statement from police today said numerous attempts were made to bring him under control. When those attempts failed, an officer used his conductive energy device - or Taser - to subdue him.

He was transferred to an ambulance and taken to hospital. He suffered health problems along the way and was pronounced dead on arrival.

Police haven't said whether the shock from the Taser, used to disable troublesome people with short bursts of high-voltage electricity, contributed to the toxic effect of the high quantity of cocaine in his system.

The provincial Justice Department has ordered a fatality inquiry.

His death and other concerns about Tasers prompted police Chief Mike Boyd to review the department's policy on the devices, which have been the source of controversy since 2001 when Edmonton became the first Canadian force to start using them.

The department adopted a new policy in March requiring officers to report Taser use immediately. Each use of the devices will be investigated by a senior officer.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

20th product liability lawsuit dismissed against TASER International

June 6, 2006

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz., June 6, 2006 -- TASER International, Inc. (NASDAQ: TASR), a market leader in advanced electronic control devices announced that the Circuit Court for the County of Saginaw, Michigan entered a judgment in favor of TASER International ordering the dismissal of the product liability lawsuit filed by Devica Thompson, et. al. against TASER International, Inc. This is the twentieth wrongful death or injury lawsuit that has been dismissed or judgment entered in favor of TASER International.

In the Court order granting TASER International's motion for summary disposition, the Court held that the plaintiff's complaint failed to state a legally recognized claim against TASER International as a matter of law and ruled that the Plaintiff was unable to prove that the ADVANCED TASER® M26 device was a cause of Mr. Thompson's death.

The Court stated that there was no dispute as to his immediate cause of death from metabolic and respiratory acidosis and noted that the autopsy report found high concentrations of lactic acid and carbon dioxide in Mr. Thompson's blood. The Court then stated that lactic acid is typically generated as a by-product of creating energy for muscle contractions without oxygen and held that "accepting as fact that some lactic acid can be produced by muscle contractions induced by a TASER, there is no evidence that this makes the M26's design inherently or unreasonably dangerous."

The Court then concluded "...Any attempt to pinpoint the TASER M26 as a 'but for' cause without which Thompson would have lived would involve nothing more than sheer speculation on the part of a jury. It is equally likely, if not more so, that Defendant's exertions in fighting with friends and officers that night generated more lactic acid than which his body was able to cope."

The Court also noted that Plaintiff's own experts did not conflict with TASER's theory of Mr. Thompson's death, "but explicitly acknowledges that the physical confrontations played an undeniable role in bringing about his acidosis."

In a very significant ruling, the Court also held that "it is equally possible the use of the TASER led to the release of less lactic acid than would have been produced naturally by the additional physical wrestling necessary to subdue an offender if use of the device had not been used."

In ruling that the TASER device was not defective out of a failure to warn, the Court held that there is no evidence that the device would have harmful effects on healthy individuals. The Court also held that, "No warning can guide the officer's discretion if the potential for harm only exists in an offender beset with unobservable latent physical ailments."

"We are very pleased that the Court held that the TASER device was not the cause of this unfortunate death and also to see judges accept the fact that early use of TASER technology to end a struggle is much safer and produces much less lactic acid than what would have been produced naturally by the additional physical struggle had the TASER M26 not been used," commented Douglas Klint, Vice President and General Counsel for TASER International. "The Court's opinion in the Thompson case is one of the first to rule as a matter of law that the TASER device is not the cause of death in cases involving metabolic or respiratory acidosis which is the primary cause of most in-custody deaths; and also to rule that TASER had met its duty to warn," concluded Klint.

"Our strategy of aggressively defending these product liability lawsuits is continuing to show results and we will relentlessly fight these lawsuits with the overwhelming medical and scientific evidence showing that the TASER device was not the cause of injury or death," concluded Klint.