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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Taser rushed into use, competitor tells inquiry

May 10, 2008
Terri Theodore

VANCOUVER–Taser International rushed its product to market with faulty safety and medical research, claims the head of a company that plans to market a device to compete with the Taser.

Ken Stethem, founder and chairman of Ageis Industries, told a public inquiry into Taser use that Taser International's methodology was flawed in designing, developing and deploying the conducted energy weapons.

Normally a company would develop medical and safety data, then test the product on animals and humans, Stethem told the inquiry, launched after the public video of the minutes before Robert Dziekanski's death was aired world-wide. It showed the Polish immigrant creating a disturbance last October at the arrivals area of the Vancouver airport and being twice shocked by an RCMP Taser.

"In my humble opinion that's not how the current CEWs were developed and deployed. And that's why we're having problems today.

Stethem disputed several claims made by Taser on medical evidence and safety connected to the device. He pointed to Taser's patent information that says the device puts out between 100 and 500 milliamps of electricity.

Medical experts say it only takes about 100 milliamps to cause the heart to go into a fatal rhythm, Stethem told the inquiry. He said medical studies say low voltage electrocutions can happen without any visible evidence of injury.

"Now the burden of proof has been shifted to the public that these aren't safe, instead of law enforcement and manufacturers that they are," Stethem told the inquiry.

Stethem's company designs intermediate force options, similar to a conducted energy weapon, in a baton that incapacitates muscles via an electrical output.

"I'm not here to bang Taser International or anybody else," he told commissioner Thomas Braidwood. "I'm here to report what we've learned through our research."

A heart-rhythm expert also told the inquiry there are real risks to Taser use, despite the company's safety claims.

"Just because somebody collapses of sudden death minutes later after a Taser application doesn't mean that the two are not connected," said Dr. Zian Tseng, a San Francisco cardiologist and electrophysiologist.

Tseng said any normal, healthy person could die from a jolt of the conducted energy weapon if the shock was given in the right area of the chest and during the vulnerable point in the beating of the heart. He stressed the risk of death is far greater if there is adrenaline or illicit drugs coursing through the body or if the person has a history of heart or other medical issues.

Tseng said there needs to be much more real-world studies on the use of the weapon, instead of using police officers – often large, healthy males – to test the device. He also said medical examiners should be given more freedom to investigate such deaths. "If there's a person that dropped dead suddenly after Taser application and you can find nothing else on the autopsy, I would venture to say that's due to arrhythmic death."

The risk to suspects being shocked could almost be zero to the heart if police avoided using the weapon in the chest area, and Tseng suggested that be one of Braidwood's recommendations.

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