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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Taser deaths are rising - can we defend ourselves from abuse?

I recommend that you click on the above link and read this article at opednews, so that you will have the benefit of the links Mr. Cormier provides.

July 26, 2008
Written by Richard Cormier

Death by Taser is increasing, and as the safety of the Taser is being debated, how do Americans protect themselves against a weapon the police believe (maybe) is safe, while testing proves it’s not, especially when wielded by police officers that use it as an instrument of torture. Most cases aren’t that extreme, however, the latest in the news is, and even in CNN’s article, the contradictions are striking - and no matter who dies, the police still attempt to defend themselves by claiming it’s safe - while the evidence proves it isn’t:

Ex-cop may be charged in case of man Tasered to death
From Drew Griffin and David Fitzpatrick
WINNFIELD, Louisiana (CNN) — A police officer shocked a handcuffed Baron “Scooter” Pikes nine times with a Taser after arresting him on a cocaine charge.

He stopped twitching after seven, according to a coroner’s report. Soon afterward, Pikes was dead.

Now the officer, since fired, could end up facing criminal charges in Pikes’ January death after medical examiners ruled it a homicide.

Dr. Randolph Williams, the Winn Parish coroner, told CNN the 21-year-old sawmill worker was jolted so many times by the 50,000-volt Taser that he might have been dead before the last two shocks were delivered.

After reading the first few paragraphs, it seems obvious that this was a homicide, and a suspect that was handcuffed was brutally “Tased” until he was dead; I doubt the officer planned on murdering his victim, but operating under the mistaken claim that Tasers are safe, it’s obvious the officer, if not attempting murder, was using the Taser to torture his victim. No matter how you look at it, a crime occurred and the officer in question was fired and may face charges. Knowing that, if you read further into the article, one statement stands out, and it’s almost absurd that the police would say something this outrageous after reading the factual evidence at the beginning of the article:

But Winnfield police Lt. Chuck Curry said race “isn’t an issue at all” in the matter. “This has come down to a police officer that was trying to apprehend a suspect that they had warrants for,” he said. “He done what he thought he was trained to do to bring that subject into custody. At some point, something happened with his body that caused him to go into cardiac arrest or whatever.”

The statement is utterly absurd after you read the complete story, however, the police are relying on the Taser’s manufacturer who claims it’s safe, therefore, whether the evidence contradicts that fact - the police continue to use these devices because they can - and also “Curry said Taser International, the device’s manufacturer, indicates that “multiple Tasings do not affect a person.”

The statement by Taser International that states “multiple Tasings do not affect a person” has been proven to be incorrect, however, Taser International is a huge corporation, and like anything that involves huge sums of money, they have their own lobbyists to thwart the investigations and safety tests that prove the Taser is an extremely dangerous weapon. If you visit Taser International’s website, I’m sure you’ll be struck with the irony of the first three words on their site: TASER - Protect Life. (sic)

Taser International can hire all the lobbyists they want, but that doesn’t change the fact that Tasers are dangerous, and under the right (or wrong) circumstances, this new “weapon” does not save lives, it takes them - and the next one could be you or a close family member. The controversy is beginning to heat-up, and now there’s a site on the Internet which exclusively points-out the danger of the Taser, STAT! Stop Taser Abuse Today:

Taser Factsheet
Despite manufacturer’s label of “less-lethal,” tasers have been involved in close to 250 deaths.


Despite police claims that tasers reduce injuries and save lives by providing officers with an alternative to using their firearms or batons, independent studies conclude that tasers are mostly used in situations where police use of lethal force – or even batons, sprays, or hand controls – would never be justified. This means that tasers actually increase the amount of danger to the public, not decrease it. (Emphasis aded) Electro-shock weapons are particularly open to abuse as they can inflict severe pain at the push of a button without leaving substantial marks. Police often subject targets to multiple taser shocks, even while in restraints and often use them against people posing no physical threat, such as against non-violent protesters or simply anyone they perceive to not be heeding a verbal command. Other studies have shown that suspect deaths by gun, or suspect and police injuries have not decreased. (Emphasis added)


Taser International is being sued by police officers across the nation claiming they were seriously injured after being shocked with the electronic stun gun during training classes. Injuries listed included “painful, permanent and progressive” hearing and vision loss and neurological damage, multiple spinal fractures, burns, a shoulder dislocation and soft-tissue injuries. Many lawsuits, including a few class action suits, have been filed from victims and victim’s families for wrongful tasering or death, although Taser, Int. has managed to get many thrown out via legal loopholes.

When people are claiming that the United States is rapidly becoming a “Police State”, the Taser is adding to that perception; I’m fifty-seven years old, and I can’t remember a time when the public was as afraid or suspicious of the police whom are hired “To Protect and Serve.” Depending on where you live, some police forces appear to be “militarizing” themselves, and when you are pulled over for a speeding ticket or other minor infraction, it’s disquieting looking in your rear-view mirror and noting that the officer who is getting out of his car is wearing combat boots, is dressed in what appears to be military fatigues, and hair that’s cut so short they almost appear to be skinheads. (I’m fortunate. I live in a county in Northern Georgia where most of the Sheriff’s officers still look like police, not Nazi Storm Troopers - and I haven’t heard of any Taser abuse.)

Even in Chicago, in a city known for it’s violence, there are studies underway that are also disputing the safety of the Taser. When the police themselves are starting to sue Taser International, that should be a nationwide wake-up call that Tasers need to go - into a trash can!

Chicago Study Calls Taser’s Safety Claims Into Question
January 30, 2008 by CBC News
Taser stun guns may not be as safe as their manufacturer claims, according to a study carried out by Chicago researchers, CBC News has learned. The team of doctors and scientists at the trauma centre in Chicago’s Cook County hospital stunned 11 pigs with Taser guns in 2006, hitting their chests with 40-second jolts of electricity, pausing for 10 to 15 seconds, then hitting them for 40 more seconds. When the jolts ended, every animal was left with heart rhythm problems, the researchers said. Two of the animals died from cardiac arrest, one three minutes after receiving a shock. (Emphasis added)

Even USA Amnesty International is getting involved in the controversy in regard Tasers, and below are excerpts from a document that was filed in October, 2007:

USA - Amnesty International’s concerns about Taser®(1) use: Statement to the U.S. Justice Department inquiry into deaths in custody

However, we have serious concerns about the use of electro-shock devices in law enforcement, both as regards their safety and their potential for misuse. Portable and easy to use, with the capacity to inflict severe pain at the push of a button without leaving substantial marks, electro-shock weapons are particularly open to abuse, as our organization has documented in numerous cases around the world.

While in the United States police operate under professional standards,(8) we are concerned that many U.S. police departments are using Tasers to subdue non-compliant or disturbed individuals who do not pose a serious danger to themselves or others. As our reports have documented, there are many cases where we believe use of Tasers has contravened international standards which require that police use force only when strictly necessary, in proportion to the threat posed, only for as long as the threat exists and in a manner designed to minimize pain or injury. We have documented disturbing instances where we believe that Taser use has amounted to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment which is absolutely prohibited under international law. (Emphasis added)The U.N. Committee against Torture has called on the United States to deploy Tasers only as a non-lethal alternative to using firearms.

We are particularly concerned about the capacity of Tasers to be used in close contact situations as a stun weapon – including in situations where individuals appear to be already effectively in custody – and to inflict repeated shocks over a relatively prolonged period. While we believe the drive-stun mode is especially open to abuse, we note that in dart-mode also there have been instances of alleged abuse, with officers able to inflict repeated shocks once the darts have taken hold.

We know that Taser abuse is rising, and again, Amnesty International has been documenting cases where Tasers have been used when they weren’t necessary, and in fact, on several occasions, appeared to be used out of pure spite - and when people witness police officers abusing citizens for refusing to turn around, or evening sitting while handcuffed, the public is left with the impression that our police forces are becoming mean-spirited and seem intent on intimidating the public rather than protecting them - and that perception is one that leads many citizens to view the current conduct of many of our police forces to be more “Soviet Style” and thus believe that America is turning into a “Police State.”

These are some of the cases documented by Amnesty International and all include a video of the incident:

TASERs on Video
Viewer discretion is advised.

* December 20, 2007, Daytona Beach, FL - Elizabeth Beeland was struck by a TASER after she became loud and unruly at Best Buy.

* November 18, 2007, Trotwood, OH - Valreca Redden was struck by a TASER while pregnant. Police claim that they did not know she was pregnant at the time.

* October 14, 2007, Vancouver, BC - Robert Dziekanski became agitated after waiting ten hours in the Vancouver International Airport. Police shocked Dziekanski with a TASER multiple times, and soon after he was pronounced dead.

* September 17, 2007, Gainesville, FL - Andrew Meyer persistently questioned Senator John Kerry at a university forum. University of Florida police tried to escort him from the auditorium and later struck him with a TASER for resisting arrest.

* September 14, 2007, UT - Jared Massey was struck by a TASER for refusing to sign a speeding ticket.

* September 2, 2007, Warren, OH - Heidi Gill got into an altercation with a bartender and mistakenly got into the wrong car while waiting for her friend to drive her home. When she refused to get out of the vehicle, she was struck by a TASER multiple times.

* November 23, 2006, Austin, TX - Eugene Snelling was pulled out of his car after trying to get his license and registration. He was struck by a TASER less than a minute later.

* November 14, 2006, Los Angeles, CA - Mostafa Tabatabainejad, a student at UCLA, neglected to show his student identification card at the library. He was then asked to leave, and when he refused he was struck by a TASER multiple times.

* November 13, 2006, Sheffield Lake, OH - Kristina Fretter was taken to the Sheffield Police Department after being picked up for drunk driving. She was later struck by a TASER while wearing handcuffs.

Last night, while finishing-up this article, we experienced a severe thunderstorm and I lost my last four paragraphs - and they say everything happens for a reason. Early this morning, I was interviewed by Don Nicoloff on “Evident Footprints”, which is a BBS Radio Production, and during the course of the interview I learned there had been another Taser death in Cleveland, Ohio that he had just learned about on the radio. There’s no doubt the Taser is dangerous, and the way it’s being used in the U.S. and Canada is, IMO, a type of “behavior modification” which dates back to Pavlov’s Dogs and the famous psychologist, B.F. Skinner, who is known as the “father of behavior modification.”

The general population is being taught, through negative reinforcement that if you question authority in any way, protest, fail to mow your lawn when told, and other insignificant incidents that brought about Taser discharges, the message is loud and clear - you will be hurt, and in some instances, that may include the loss of your life. Taser use is widespread and growing by the day, so we can expect more deaths and incidents where ordinary citizens are “taught a lesson” that if they don’t comply immediately, no matter how absurd or insignificant the incident is, each and every one of us will feel the pain of non-compliance and Tasers are being used to intimidate large swaths of the general population. This could be an unintended consequence of their use, or it could be part of a larger plan to teach the citizenry that “resistance is futile.” I believe it’s the latter based on the enormous amount of taser incidents that occur almost daily, and in situations where if the office was armed with only his firearm and baton, death might have been circumvented. The studies have indicated that Tasers have not brought down officer related “shootings” where they needed to use deadly force, but add to an officer’s arsenal to use punishment whenever they feel their authority is challenged or in some cases, to “teach some suspects a lesson.”

To increase their bottom-line, Taser International is now offering these devices to the general public, and because they have been classified as “safe”,they are being allowed to sell what is sometimes a lethal weapon to the general public. LINK Imagine yourself operating a business, going to your car with the nightly deposit, and suddenly, from a distance, being “Tased” and find yourself writhing on the ground in pain while a thief runs off with your deposit, purse, or anything else they choose to steal. It’s bad enough that we have to fear how the police use these devices, but to know they could easily wind-up in the hands of criminals is so shocking to the conscious that I find it hard to believe. Criminals that are inclined to robbery and strong-arm theft will have a silent method of rendering a victim helpless without anything more than a muffled scream - and IMO, this is a device that should not be released to the general public.

In summation, imagine that you are an individual such as I with multiple health problems, and you see an officer drawing a Taser. You know the effects could be lethal, and if you attempt to run, it’s can be classified as “felony evading the police” or “resisting arrest.” It seems that there should be a way that the public can protect themselves from being “tased”, however at this point, there is absolutely nothing we can do to stop the use of a device that is nothing more than an advanced “cattle prod”, and in this author’s opinion, treating those whom they are supposed to “protect and serve” like a common animal is demeaning, unconstitutional, and if we make it through the Bush administration with our Constitution and liberty intact, this is an issue that needs to be raised on local, state, and federal levels. No matter how you parse the argument, being hit with 50,000 Volts is “cruel and unusual punishment”, and the Taser is a device that can be used to torture, maim, and kill its victims, and for the general health and welfare of the public, Congress needs to step-in and make the discharge of a Taser at least as serious as when an officer discharges his/her firearm - or in the alternative, ban these devices completely.

People all over the United States are expressing opinions that we are rapidly turning into a “police state”, and I have to agree. Below is the definition of a “police state” by Wikipedia. Read it, and as you do, perhaps you will understand the necessity of removing Tasers from the police arsenal and expecting our police officers to behave in a civilized manner, which is the general public’s expectation and constitutional right(s). At any rate, the fallacy that Tasers are safe is incorrect, the deaths are mounting, and if we intend on keeping our dignity and respect as a nation, our police forces need to take a look in the mirror and decide if they are there to serve the public, or act in a manner that is turning public opinion against the police in many communities throughout this country - and that in itself is a sad state of affairs. We need the police, they are part of any civilized society, and I look forward to the day when some of our police departments return to their roots and their appearance is one that invokes trust and respect. When you look in your rear-view mirror and see what looks like a “Nazi Storm Trooper” approaching your vehicle, or even your home, that stereo-type will always invoke fear and distrust; hopefully, once Bush is gone, sanity will return to our nation and we can begin to operate again as a free and democratic society - one that doesn’t require our police officers to “militarize” themselves and intimidate those who rely upon them for their safety and well-being.


Riki Bagnell said...

Finally, someone has hit the nail on the head. My heart was thumping and I had tears in my eyes as I read this post from Mr. Cormier. In the 4 years since our son, Robert Bagnell's death, we have written and spoken to thousands, including members of parliament. Our spirits have been beaten and kicked repeatedly with each new death as nothing was being rectified.. we believed that few were listening. People often looked at us as if we had lost our minds. But we continued on our journey, hoping that somehow, the lid would finally be blown off the barbaric use of this murderous device. I will never forget the sad excuse of an inquest that we were offered, explaining nothing about the death of our son, rather, they spent two weeks of our time, thousands of miles from home and at our own expense as they "saved the taser". And with each new taser death, these useless inquests keep covering up the truth. Thankyou so much Mr. Cormier...your editorial has covered the situation very well and I would be overjoyed to see it written in every newspaper in North America and/or wherever these tasers are being deployed. You have done us a great service...and we are ever grateful.....Riki Bagnell

Mr. E-D said...

Your blog has made it to Google Finance page, under blogs, for TASR: