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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

EDITORIAL: More than a mere shock

July 30, 2008
Editorial in the Salisbury Post, North Carolina

The weekend death of a Statesville man who was shocked by police Tasers — the second such death in the Charlotte area this year — is another grim reminder of the concerns surrounding these devices and why they need to be used judiciously and in accordance with strict guidelines.

Anthony Davidson, 29, died Sunday after being Tasered at the Statesville Police Department. Authorities said the shoplifting suspect become physically aggressive while being booked and was Tasered by at least one officer. The suspect, whom officers believed was perhaps under the influence of drugs or another impairing substance, was taken to the hospital, where he later died.

It will take a thorough investigation to provide more details about Davidson's death, what role Tasers may have played in it and whether their use conformed with departmental guidelines. The duration and number shocks administered, in particular, appear to be key factors in fatalities. In a March incident in which a Charlotte teen died after being Tasered, an investigation found that the suspect had been shocked for 35 seconds, longer than the recommended limits.

More law enforcement agencies in North Carolina and across the nation are issuing Tasers to some officers, including the Rowan County Sheriff's Office, which has used them for a few years, and the Salisbury Police Department, which recently made its first Taser purchases. Statistically, only a minute percentage of Taser incidents result in death or serous injury, and there's no corresponding computation of how many officers — and suspects — have been escaped serous harm because the officers used a Taser to disable a violent suspect rather than resort to a firearm. Certainly, a Taser is a lower level of force than a bullet.

But with more than 277 Taser-related deaths recorded nationwide, these are not benign instruments. They're potentially deadly weapons and should be used with due restraint.

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