You may have arrived here via a direct link to a specific post. To see the most recent posts, click HERE.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Taser CEO grilled by public safety committee

January 31, 2008
OMAR EL AKKAD, Globe and Mail

OTTAWA — With his company under intense scrutiny following a high-profile death, and with a potentially lucrative Canadian business deal on the horizon, the CEO of Taser International vigorously defended his company's signature stun gun on Parliament Hill yesterday.

Appearing for nearly two hours before the House Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, Tom Smith, chairman and CEO of Arizona-based Taser, maintained that his company's product saves lives and that there is "no other device with as much accountability."

The committee's study of tasers, and in turn Mr. Smith's appearance, were in large part prompted by the case of Robert Dziekanski, the Polish immigrant who died last October after RCMP officers tasered him at Vancouver International Airport.

While Mr. Smith said he couldn't comment on the specifics of the Dziekanski incident because of the many separate investigations into the matter, he faced tough questions from MPs about everything from Taser's legal bills to the potential lethality of its devices. However, none of the MPs called for an outright ban on the devices, and some said they believe the stun gun can be a useful tool for police officers.

Some of the most difficult questions came from Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh, who was attorney-general of British Columbia around the time that Victoria police became the first force in the country to try tasers.

Mr. Dosanjh asked Mr. Smith whether he was suggesting that tasers played absolutely no role in the 300 or so North American deaths that occurred after the device's use in the past few years. Mr. Smith said the use of tasers was deemed a contributing factor in only about 30 of the cases.

It was during subsequent questioning about Taser International's financial relationship with Canadian police officers that Mr. Smith revealed the company had paid two Canadian officers for services.

One of those officers, Darren Laur of the Victoria police, was compensated with Taser stock after designing a holster for the device. However, it was not publicly known that a second officer was paid until yesterday's hearing. After the session, Mr. Smith said he believes the second officer was from a Montreal police force and was paid to provide taser training in Europe because he could speak French.

Yesterday marked Mr. Smith's second Canadian public appearance this month. Two weeks ago, the Taser CEO was in Toronto, fielding questions at police headquarters. The Toronto Police Services Board is considering a request by Chief Bill Blair to spend about $8.6-million to equip and train every front-line officer with a taser.

A research analyst covering Taser International said a resulting purchase may be worth more than $3-million in revenue for the company. However, it is unclear when, or if, the deal will go ahead.

Outside yesterday's meeting, Mr. Dosanjh said he'd like to see government funding for an independent study to look at the risks to those hit by tasers.

When he was B.C. attorney-general in the late 1990s, Mr. Dosanjh said, he was under the impression that, when the device first came to the province, it would be used only as the second-last option before firearms and used only sparingly.

Asked whether, knowing what he knows about the devices today, he would have had a different reaction to the introduction of tasers in B.C., Mr. Dosanjh said he's not inclined to take the weapons away from police officers outright. Still, he said, his reaction to their introduction may have been very different.

"There's definitely a question mark," he said.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

New shotgun taser coming, safety committee told

January 30, 2008

OTTAWA – Coming soon to a police force near you: the Taser shotgun, capable of firing a debilitating electronic zap from 20 metres – twice the reach of current 50,000-volt stun guns. Taser International chairman Tom Smith described the new weapon as he took tough questions Wednesday from MPs studying the safety of his company's devices. Taser shotguns are being tested in the U.S. and will likely be available by next year, he said. Police forces all over the world, including Canada, have expressed interest.

Smith appeared before the Commons all-party public safety committee probing events around the death Oct. 14 of Robert Dziekanski. The agitated Polish immigrant died soon after being shocked and subdued by RCMP officers at the Vancouver airport. His ordeal, caught on videotape by a civilian witness, unleashed international outrage.

Smith was repeatedly pressed by Liberal and Bloc MPs on whether police should only use Tasers as a last resort before firing their guns. "I'm going to rely on use-of-force experts who say: 'You don't take a Taser to a gun fight'," Smith replied. He said the idea that Tasers are a last resort before the use of lethal force is a widespread misunderstanding of mysterious origin. "Our position has always been that it's an intermediate device . . . similar to pepper spray or the baton. It's not a substitute for a firearm and was never intended as such."

There are now more than 6,500 Tasers in use across Canada by police and correctional officers.

Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh, former attorney general of B.C., said he was given a much different sales pitch nine years ago when the province was grappling with whether to adopt the new stun guns. "I was told this would be a weapon of last resort before the gun," he told reporters. "The policing community at least gave me the assurance, if I remember correctly . . . that it would be used sparingly."

Reports of "usage creep" – including that delivered last month by the Commission for Complaints Against the RCMP – are feeding concern that Tasers are being abused on even passive suspects with sometimes deadly results, Dosanjh said. He wasn't convinced by Smith's claims Wednesday that there is no direct link between Tasers and the deaths of 16 Canadians soon after they were zapped. Two more cases, including Dziekanski's, are still under review. "They don't have any conclusive Canadian scientific studies," Dosanjh said. Nor are there cross-country statistics on how often police are using the weapons, or how injuries to police and suspects have been affected.

Smith said any risk posed by the devices is far outweighed by the decreased risk to police and suspects. He said he has heard from police officers around the globe: "Thank you for this tool. I didn't have to get hurt." Smith repeatedly described the Taser as "one tool in the tool box. There's no perfect solution." But for those with lingering concerns, there is a sure-fire way not to have to deal with stun guns or police force of any kind, he added: "Don't fight with police."

Smith and his brother loved the Star Wars movies growing up and designed the Taser after two friends were shot in a "crazy road-rage incident," he told MPs. "My brother and I started our company with the mission of protecting life."

But the deaths of about 280 Americans soon after they were Tasered has kept company lawyers busy to the tune of about $5 million in yearly legal fees, he said. Smith stressed that the Taser has never been directly blamed for a death, although it has been cited as a contributing factor in 30 cases.

Amnesty International Canada and other critics have called for Taser use to be suspended until an independent, comprehensive study is done on health effects.

The RCMP directed its officers last month to use the Taser only on people who actively resist them. The Mounties describe stun guns as intermediate weapons but have stressed it's wrong to zap a person for passively resisting officers by acting like dead weight, or making an officer lift, pull, drag or push them to maintain control.

MPs are expected to hear from the RCMP, customs officials and airport workers before drafting a report to Parliament. The committee's work is in addition to a B.C. public inquiry and several other reviews of the circumstances surrounding Dziekanski's death.

On Tasers, Ottawa needs to do more

January 30, 2008
National Post

When a 35-year-old suspected crackhead punched a cop who was easing the Governor General's path through Vancouver's east side last week, he was seconds away from becoming a victim of Taser "usage creep."

There were two bizarre sidebars to the incident. Blasting a bystander with 50,000 debilitating volts within metres of a security-shrouded Gov-Gen. Michaƫlle Jean doesn't happen every day. Even stranger, in what appears to set a precedent, the powerful stun gun was fired by a transit cop under police supervision. Gosh, who's next to be issued Tasers? Dog catchers? Zap. Your dog's frozen in mid-growl.

Taser technology went on trial Wednesday when one of its founding brothers appeared on Parliament Hill to defend a 15-year-old technology that's made the pair filthy rich -- and raised a lot of questions.

Tom Smith appeared before the Public Safety and National Security Committee to plead not guilty to charges the Conducted Energy Device, as it is generically labeled, is a lethal weapon. Mr. Smith spends a lot of time on the road as his company's ambassador of damage control. He was in Toronto earlier this month and repeated his denial before MPs that the 270 North American deaths which allegedly followed a Taser takedown were linked in any way to his device.

He's personally been Tasered. So have his wife and mother. I asked to be Tasered by RCMP last year out of morbid journalistic curiosity, but had my request rejected as too risky. Whew.

But in politics, timing is everything. And Mr. Smith had the misfortune of appearing here the same day a Chicago study suggested pigs offered proof he was wrong. Scientists whacked a bunch of unfortunate swine with two 40-second jolts of Taser power and found most suffered lingering heart irregularities; two died minutes later.

Mind you, that prolonged zap is a tad excessive compared to the five-second hit usually done by police forces. And these are, after all, pigs. But it did raise the spectre of the Taser as something more deadly then pepper spray - and opened up the political floor to questions about its growing deployment in Canada.

One thing's certain. If the Vancouver airport zap on confused immigrant Robert Dziekanski, who died in the struggling aftermath, was to inflict Taser chill on law enforcement, the message didn't make it over the police scanner. News coverage suggests police are as aggressive as ever in using Tasers as a take-down technology, even in seemingly benign circumstances.

There are no legislative recommendations facing MPs on this committee. They are not (yet) advocating a moratorium or a national Taser restraint policy. But with the explosive growth in its use by RMCP, provincial and city police forces to occasionally iffy consequences, hard questions had to be asked.

Knowing what was coming, Taser International had hired influential former Conservative heavyweight Ken Boessenkool to work the federal backrooms. Perhaps that's why Conservative MPs eagerly defended the technology and polished the company's reputation with softball questions. Or perhaps they're just being unusually polite.

But Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh, the former B.C. attorney-general who approved Canada's first Taser pilot project, was incredulous at Mr. Smith's blanket exoneration of the technology in all deaths. It is "riskier than I was led to believe and not used as sparingly" as intended, he noted.

There are many examples where Tasers have saved police from life-threatening circumstances and spared civilians a nasty if not fatal bullet wound from an officer's firearm.

But there are also links between itchy Taser trigger fingers and Canadians suffering medical distress or even death in the aftermath.

MPs might consider imposing national standards on the technology. As the RCMP's Commissioner of Public Complaints noted, there is no national police policy governing Taser use, no cost/benefit analysis of the results, no databank on the reasons for its deployment and no universal public reporting requirement.

Tasers make sense where physical restraint by police officers is not an option. But they're hard to justify in dealing with other circumstances such as drunks deemed too slow to obey orders, domestic incidents where weapons are not involved or against those offering only profane resistance to arrest.

For better or worse, the Taser is here to stay. With most Canadian police forces now packing a Taser punch and thousands of the devices on order, anyone threatening an officer should expect a major shock en route to a criminal record. But sneaking aboard a bus or subway will never rate a Taser charge -- so let's keep the technology away from transit cops.

Taser president denies weapons cause death

January 30, 2008
Meagan Fitzpatrick, Canwest News

OTTAWA - The president of Taser International Inc., fiercely defended his products on Parliament Hill on Wednesday, saying the devices reduce injury and save the lives of police officers and suspects around the world.

Tom Smith was on the hot seat at the House of Commons public safety committee, taking questions from MPs and making a case for Tasers, the brandname for conducted energy devices used by police forces across the country and the RCMP.

"My brother and I started our company with the mission of protecting life. That remains our mission today," said Smith.

Taser International Inc. president Tom Smith says there are less than 30 cases where Tasers have been listed as a contributing factor in a death. He referred to a binder beside him containing more than 120 studies that he says prove Tasers do not cause death and that his company has its own medical advisory board to help answer questions about safety.

"We have world class experts helping us conduct the studies and the research so that we can answer those questions so that we know, and take corporate responsibility, for knowing what we're going to introduce before it hits into the marketplace," Smith said.

He outlined how the Taser works and said the voltage that actually enters the body is very low. "I think some people are surprised to learn that the energy source for the Taser, the batteries that power it are the same batteries that are in most digital cameras," he said.

Smith said there are less than 30 cases where Tasers have been listed as a contributing factor in a death, meaning it was listed along with other devices. "But that is completely different than saying that a Taser caused a certain outcome," he said.

He said Tasers are used by more than 12,000 law enforcement agencies worldwide and that everywhere they've been used they've helped reduce the number of injuries to officers and suspects.

The company president acknowledged that his company has twice paid Canadian police officers - once to conduct Taser training on his own time in Europe and the other was paid to design a holster for the device.

The safety and use of Tasers by police dominated headlines in the fall after a Polish immigrant died at the Vancouver airport following an encounter with the RCMP in which a Taser was used. The incident was caught on video and viewed online around the world. Several investigations are underway into the death, which set off a national debate about the devices.

The RCMP later promised to curb the use of Tasers following an interim report by Paul Kennedy, the head of the watchdog Commission for Complaints Against the RCMP. The RCMP appeared to agree with Kennedy's recommendation to restrict Tasers to situations where suspects are combative or risk seriously injuring themselves or others. The force policy now dictates Tasers may be used only on people who show "active resistant behaviour and higher categories of behaviour, e.g. combative or death, grievous bodily harm." The RCMP has 2,840 conducted-energy weapons in its arsenal.

Tasered-teen case raises new questions for MPs

January 30, 2008
BRODIE FENLON, Globe and Mail

Troubling new questions are being raised about the police use of tasers just as a House of Commons committee hears Wednesday from one of the inventors of the controversial stun guns.

Top of mind for many MPs will be the acquittal Tuesday of a 17-year-old Halifax girl who was charged last year with assaulting police and resisting arrest after she was tasered in her bedroom during a confrontation with three officers.

Politicians will also be interested in a Chicago study unearthed by CBC News which reportedly found the weapon may not be as safe as the manufacturer claims.

Tom Smith, co-founder of Arizona-based Taser International Inc. and chairman of the company, appeared before the Commons public safety committee Wednesday afternoon.

His testimony follows a provincial court decision Tuesday in which a Halifax judge had harsh words for the city's police service for stunning a teenager when she resisted arrest inside her home. “The spectacle of a 17-year-old girl being tasered in her bedroom is a very disturbing and disconcerting one,” Judge Anne Derrick said.

The arrest happened last February in Dartmouth after the girl's mother asked police to remove the teen from their home. Two male officers and a female officer confronted the girl in her bedroom. When they tried to arrest her for breaching the peace, she fought back. Two officers struggled with the teen while a third hit her once with the taser. Judge Derrick said the police had no legal grounds to arrest her, because there had been no breach of the peace, said Megan Longley, a legal aid lawyer who represented the teen.

“I still am astounded that ... three-full grown police officers cannot find some way to deal with a 17-year-old girl apart from using a taser,” Ms. Longley said, noting her client was unarmed at the time and has no criminal record. “It certainly highlights for me the need for specific policies on taser use,” she said.

The girl, who is now 18 and can't be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, told reporters outside court she intends to file a complaint against the Halifax Police service and is considering a lawsuit. “I just don't understand why I was tasered because I'm not a criminal,” she said.

Halifax Regional Police Const. Jeff Carr, spokesperson for the service, said he couldn't comment on the arrest or the tasering. However, he said police are taking a close look at the evidence presented at trial and are in discussions with the Crown about an appeal of the judge's decision. Const. Carr also noted that the media did not cover the trial, only the decision, and would not have heard all the evidence.

Mike Taylor, president of the Nova Scotia Criminal Lawyers' Association, agreed that the case raises serious questions about when and why police officers use tasers. “To me, the taser is the last line before the gun is drawn. It's supposed to take the place of that,” said Mr. Taylor, a former Calgary police officer. “It's just completely ludicrous that they would taser a 17-year-old because she was being non-compliant when there was no weapon,” he told globeandmail.com. Mr. Taylor said his view on the necessity of the taser as a police tool has been shaken recently by some high-profile arrests and deaths. He said he welcomes the committee hearing in Ottawa. “There has to be something done in a formal fashion, because some internal report from a police force is not going to satisfy the public at large that the police are being monitored appropriately in the use of the taser.”

CBC News reported Wednesday on a study by a team of doctors and scientists at the trauma centre in Chicago's Cook County hospital that found 11 pigs stunned twice with tasers were left with heart rhythm problems. Two of the animals died from cardiac arrest, one three minutes after being shocked, CBC reported.

Commons committee probes taser use amid debate over stun gun safety

January 30, 2008
The Canadian Press

OTTAWA - A spokesman for the maker of Taser stun guns defended the powerful weapons before a Commons committee that's studying their growing use. Thomas Smith, chairman of Taser International, says injuries to police officers and suspects have decreased in communities where the electronic guns are used. The public safety committee has launched an investigation amid an international uproar over the death last October of Robert Dziekanski. The Polish immigrant, who did not speak English, became agitated after spending hours in a wing of the Vancouver airport. He died soon after being Tasered and pinned to the floor by RCMP officers.

MPs are expected to hear from RCMP officers, customs officials and airport workers before drafting a report to Parliament.

The committee's work is in addition to a B.C. public inquiry and several other reviews.

Today on The Current (CBC Radio)

CBC Reporter Sandra Bartlett investigated the safety concerns regarding tasers, and tells us what she found.

Go to The Current website to hear the program.

Chicago study calls Taser's safety claims into question

January 30, 2008
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.

The findings call into question safety claims made by Taser International, the Arizona company that makes the stun guns, which are used by dozens of police departments across Canada.

According to Taser International's website, "independent medical and scientific experts have determined Taser devices to be among the safest use-of-force options available."

Taser director Mark Kroll has also published a paper called Safety of Taser Electronic Devices, in which he says when electricity kills, it is an immediate death that occurs within four seconds because electricity can't linger in a living being's body "like a poison."

But Bob Walker, one of the lead researchers on the Chicago study, said the fact that one of the pigs died three minutes after being stunned is significant.

"It says that the effect of the Taser shot can last beyond the time when it's being delivered," he said. "So, after the Taser shock ends, there can still be effects that can be evoked and you can still see cardiac effects."

Officers need to ask questions: researcher

Dr. Andrew Dennis, a trauma surgeon and ex-police officer who worked on the study, said if Tasers can affect pigs, more research needs to be done to study how safe the stun guns are. In the meantime, police should question when, and on whom, they use the devices, he said.

"The officers need to question themselves and ask themselves, 'Is this the appropriate situation for this device?'" Dennis said. "They need to have the understanding that this is not a truly benign device.

"What I would not want to see is an individual police officer thinking that this device can used with impunity, because I think there are certain risks to this device."

Stun gun safety was called into question after Robert Dziekanski, a 40-year-old Polish man, died at Vancouver International Airport after being shocked with a Taser by police on Oct. 14, 2007. Dziekanski's death renewed calls for a moratorium on Taser use.

'The human studies are clearly much more relevant'

Other Taser studies have been done on pigs and humans in the past — some finding medical problems with the stun guns, and others not — but the Chicago researchers said they wanted to do a study where subjects were exposed to longer bouts of the guns' electrical currents.

Because the researchers opted for 40-second jolts, their ethics board wouldn't allow them to use human subjects.

Rick Smith, the CEO of Taser International, doesn't think much can be concluded from the Chicago study because it focused on pigs that weigh less than 100 pounds and have a very different physiology from humans. Smith said studies done on humans have shown Tasers don't pose a serious health threat. "The human studies are clearly much more relevant to policy-makers, and to people that are interested in the science of how Tasers affect people," he said.

Dr. Jeffrey Ho, a researcher who has studied stun guns in the past, but was not involved in the Chicago study, stressed that the guns may not have the same effect on people as they did on the pigs in Chicago. "I think animals are good surrogates for research models in some situations," said Ho, an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Minnesota. "In my modelling, I prefer to use humans."

However, pig studies have been used as evidence in arguments for and against stun guns in the past. Even the Taser International website points to studies on pigs in which the outcomes suggest the stun guns aren't a serious safety risk.

Halifax cops had no right to arrest girl they tasered - judge; 'Set up circumstances for intense confrontation'

A 17-year-old girl who was Tasered by police in her bedroom was acquitted Tuesday of assault by a judge who said the officers had no legal grounds to arrest her. Judge Anne Derrick found the girl not guilty of resisting arrest and assaulting two officers by kicking them in the face during a struggle on her bed.

After her acquittal, the girl said outside court she intends to file a complaint with Halifax Regional Police and is contemplating a lawsuit. "I just don't understand why I was Tasered because I'm not a criminal," she said.

Three officers went to the girl's Dartmouth home last February after her mother asked her to leave following a dispute over the phone with her sister. Upset that the officers were standing in her room, the girl swore at them. When police tried to arrest her, she fought back, was wrestled to her bed and shocked.

Derrick suggested the officers could have done more to try to defuse the situation and wondered why they simply didn't leave the bedroom and speak with the girl's mother. By not doing so, police "set up the circumstances for an intense confrontation," Derrick said. And since the arrest wasn't lawful, the girl was entitled to resist, the judge ruled.

Tasers have been the subject of much discussion in Nova Scotia and elsewhere in Canada in recent months. In November, Howard Hyde died in a Dartmouth, N.S., jail, 30 hours after he was shocked by police during a violent struggle.

The province has since ordered a review of Taser use by police.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Are you ready for this?

No doubt we will soon start to see more of this in Canada. What is considered a "proper" use of the taser south of the border will eventually "usage creep" its way into standard operating procedure up here as well. It's the direction in which we are moving. Don't believe it? How naive.

Deputy uses taser on fleeing bicyclist

Today in California, a sheriff's deputy shot a man with a Taser gun for allegedly riding his bike at night without proper lighting. According to a sheriff's spokesman, the bicyclist ignored warnings from the deputy he would use the stun gun, then fled on foot. One probe struck the bicyclist, Omar Herrada Rivera, 39, but he did not receive a shock. After being checked out at a hospital, Rivera was held in the county jail on suspicion of resisting arrest, riding a bicycle without proper lighting, riding under the influence of alcohol and using false citizenship government documents.

The sheriff's spokesman said the deputy's decision to use the Taser was proper.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Ceremonial tasering caps an odd week

January 26, 2008
Les Leyne, Times Colonist

A stock market collapse, some curious musings by the premier from afar and a rock 'em-sock 'em vice-regal visit. It was a curious week for B.C. Do we know how to show visiting dignitaries a good time, or what? Gov. Gen. Michaƫlle Jean dropped by Vancouver with the express intention of experiencing the gritty underside.

The gritty underside rose to the occasion. People yelled at her, swore at her and conducted obscene tirades in the background during one of her appearances on the Downtown Eastside.

The grand finale couldn't have been more representative of B.C. It was the ceremonial Tasering of an agitated man in the middle of the street directly outside the window of the building where she was speaking.

B.C. has an international reputation for Tasering people, courtesy of the Robert Dziekanski debacle at Vancouver airport last year.

So the drama played out at curbside -- city cops piling on a profanity-spewing protester and subduing him with a Taser -- had the feel of one of those traditional ceremonies that the locals stage when visiting royalty arrives.

In the North, they stage a blanket toss when the guv comes calling. In the Maritimes, a fiddling contest. In B.C., we Taser someone.

Now she has a taste for what it's like out here on the wild frontier.

The rest of the story wasn't related to tasers so I have not included it here.

Is 'excited delirium' at the root of many Taser deaths?

January 26, 2008
Armina Ligaya, CBC News

When police arrived at the Right Spot bar in downtown Moncton on May 5, 2005, Kevin Geldart was acting strangely. The 34-year-old had a history of bipolar disorder and had somehow walked away from the psychiatric unit of a nearby hospital earlier that night. Police said Geldart was acting combative and violent, and seemed to possess superhuman strength. However, witnesses testified Geldart was talking to himself in a corner but wasn't aggressive to those around him, according to his sister, Karen.

Officers used pepper spray and a Taser, as many as four times, to try and subdue the six-foot-six, 300-pound man. Then four officers pinned Geldart down, tied his feet and cuffed his hands. It was then that the police noticed Geldart had stopped breathing. He was later pronounced dead at a Moncton Hospital.

Fast forward to Oct. 14, 2007. A similar scene, except this time the setting is at the other side of the country — Vancouver International Airport. Robert Dziekanski had just flown in from Poland and couldn’t speak a word of English. The 40-year-old came to start a new life in Canada with his mother and was waiting in the customs area for her to pick him up. By 1:00 a.m., he had been waiting more than eight hours. For reasons that are still unclear, he never saw her.

It was at that point that Dziekanski started acting confused and agitated and began throwing around computer equipment. RCMP were called to the scene. According to an eyewitness video, four officers approached Dziekanski, who stood calmly while talking to them. Dziekanski then walked away and stood by a wall. Seconds later, a loud crack is heard. Dziekanski is shocked by a Taser, wails and collapses to the ground. The officers kneel on top of him, pinning him down as he struggles. He died minutes later.

In both of these sudden deaths, what's the culprit?

A rare condition

Some psychologists say the cause is a rare condition called "excited delirium" and not the obvious common element — the use of a Taser. According to some psychologists, a person with excited delirium acts agitated, violent, sweats profusely and is unusually strong and insensitive to pain. Then, the victim's heart races and eventually stops beating.

A coroner’s inquest into Geldart’s death concluded he was suffering from excited delirium on the night he died. And while the B.C. coroner’s service has not yet determined what killed Dziekanski — an autopsy failed to reveal a clear cause — RCMP have speculated the 40-year-old was also suffering from excited delirium.

"This is not due to a Taser," says Deborah Mash, a neurology professor at the University of Miami who has been studying excited delirium for 20 years. "This is in the brain and they die because the mechanisms that control the heart and the lungs fail."

In recent years, the condition has been showing up in coroner’s reports around the world as a cause of death. Yet, this condition is the subject of fierce debate in psychiatric circles.

Dr. Ian Dawe, the director of psychiatric emergency services at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, says excited delirium is not a recognized mental disorder. In fact, the term is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association, a handbook for professional psychologists and psychiatrists. "The term 'excited delirium' has been co-opted over the course of popular culture, perhaps over the past 15 to 20 years, to refer to this group of people who experience agitation and violence," Dawe told CBC News.

Delirium on its own, however, is a well known disorder, which is marked by confusion and agitation and can be associated with violence. It's usually triggered by another factor such as drugs or a predisposed medical illness, says Dawe.

He's not sure where the prefix "excited" comes from. And in his experience, he says it is uncommon to see patients with delirium suddenly die. "It is rare. Certainly we don’t see it happen in hospitals per se because of the way that we are approaching things."

First reported in the 1800s

According to Dr. Mash, however, individuals with excited delirium symptoms were first reported in the 1800s by Dr. Luther Bell. Bell and his team described it as "exhaustive mania" or "agitated delirium," Mash says. "People would present with this bizarre behaviour — extremely agitated, incoherent speech — really like a manic phase. Then, all of a sudden they become hot and they would have an autonomic system failure. Their cardio-respiratory system would fail and they would collapse."

But the key study that described the phenomenon was released in 1985 by Dr. Charles Wetli, Mash said. It looked into excited delirium and cocaine abuse in Miami, which was experiencing the first wave of the crack-cocaine epidemic that swept through North America. Mash said Wetli outlined the same set of behaviours — agitation, superhuman strength, high pain tolerance — and determined that the condition could be triggered by drugs, alcohol or other stimulants.

"These can sort of trip the switch in vulnerable individuals," she said. "You can also see this with alcohol withdrawal, you can see it in psychiatric patients. It's always the same pattern."

However, these substances don't need to be present to trigger the condition. Excited delirium can also manifest itself in vulnerable patients who are under unusual stress or are sleep-deprived, she says.

Sudden death

While the underlying mechanism of this disease is still unclear, this brain-based illness can lead to sudden death, Mash notes. "The reason people question it is because law enforcement is involved," she argues. "When Dr. Bell described these conditions in the mid-1800s, law enforcement was not involved. These people died in the institutions where they were being housed."

At the time, because these patients were difficult to reason with, they were restrained. The difference today, she says, is the method. "Over the years, they've used various forms of restraints. Some have been hog-tied, some have been in hobble restraints, some have had baton strikes, some have had pepper spray, and more recently now the Taser," Mash says. "What I've seen is that there's no difference from pre-Taser times to the present when Tasers are used."

For his part, however, Dawe says it's uncommon to have patients with delirium suddenly die at facilities such as St. Michael's Hospital. All medical staff are trained how to handle patients who are acting agitated and they can usually be talked down from their state, he says. Medical staff use a technique that includes speaking in calm tones, no matter the reaction of the patient, and neutral body language such as uncrossed arms. They try to figure out why the person is acting agitated and treat it.

Restraint is a last resort, he says. "We believe that we are very successful in helping someone come down from an agitated place in a safe and controlled manner," Dawe says.

Dr. Peter Bieling, manager of the mood disorders program at St. Joseph's Health Care in Hamilton, Ont., said some of the responsibility rests with the police force or those who are called to deal with people with this condition. "If you do know that somebody is in a vulnerable state, maybe you shouldn't use that level of force. Maybe there's something else that could be done. You have to conclude, and this is true for all mental illness, a person can have the disorder, but usually it doesn't fully manifest, it doesn't hit its full impact without a stressor being in place," he says.

The real challenge

Excited delirium hasn't officially made its way into the medical books yet, but Mash believes it's only a matter of time. "It will be recognized," she says. "But these cases are rare. We're seeing more of them now for various reasons, including because people are recognizing the condition."

However, Bieling is skeptical. "When you look at the other things that can resemble excited delirium, such as panic, hypomania, I would say that probably in most cases, those other things are likely going to be the explanation. If I were a betting person, I would think it's not going to make it into the next diagnostic manual," he says.

Bieling also argues that there hasn't been enough research on excited delirium to warrant classification. "I just don't think we know," he says. "And the usual way that we figure these things out is we do studies. We do careful studies to look at prevalence."

But that's where the problem lies. Because deaths of people with these specific symptoms are rare, research in this area is automatically limited. What's more, "what's going to make this one tough is it's so tied to a specific set of circumstances," Bieling says. "We're not talking about something that's going to affect a huge amount of people in the general population, like depression or anxiety. What we're talking about is a specific set of circumstances when people are in police custody. That's going to make it really, really challenging."

Alberta taser death report calls for more research into "excited delirium"

January 25, 2008
CBC News

A fatality report released Friday into the death of a man who police shot with a stun gun in March 2004 has recommended more research into the treatment and causes of excited delirium.

Ronald Perry died of cardiac arrest due to excited delirium after police used a Taser gun on him twice. He had been exhibiting violent and irrational behaviour, including screaming obscenities, punching people and jumping up and down on the hood of a car, the inquiry heard in December.

After being taken to hospital to be treated for a head injury, Perry still couldn't be controlled and he was shot with a Taser five more times. He later stopped breathing, suffered brain damage, and died four days later.

The report, by provincial court Judge Fern LeReverend, found that people with excited delirium need help, and need to be restrained to get that help, but that death frequently ensues after they are restrained. The condition needs more study, and there should be a central reporting system for this kind of incident, the judge said.

Taser use scrutinized

January 26, 2008

A provincial court judge wants to see more study of the condition "excited delirium" to improve the use of police Tasers and prevent the deaths of people who are zapped. "People suffering from this condition need medical help; they need to be restrained to get that help," wrote Judge Fern LeReverend in a report on the 2004 death of Ronald Perry. "Death frequently ensues once they are restrained. This condition, although rare, arises from several different causes, including illicit drug use."


Perry, a 25-year-old Edmonton man with a history of illicit drug use, was said to have possessed superhuman strength as he struggled against as many as seven city cops trying to subdue him in March 2004, before he was hit multiple times with a stun gun, quit breathing, suffered brain damage and was taken off life support several days later.

LeReverend's report gives details of the erratic, psychotic and violent behaviour that led to Perry's arrest - including jumping off a balcony and physically attacking friends as well as cars at the intersection of 129 Avenue and 64 Street. LeReverend writes that excited delirium is a medical condition involving such "an altered level of consciousness affecting thinking and perception." And to prevent similar deaths in the future, the judge is recommending more information on the causes and treatment of excited delirium be obtained and shared - and that medical staff be funded to learn more about it.

"I recommend that when further information is obtained, it be provided to police, ambulance and emergency medical personnel so they can create suitable procedures to more successfully deal with people in this condition," he concludes.

While many experts, including Dr. Graeme Dowling from the medical examiner's office in Edmonton, have argued there's "no definitive case where Tasers have actually killed anybody," several highly publicized deaths following Taser use have had critics targeting the law-enforcement tool.

Vancouver taser probe awaiting funding

January 26, 2008
Petti Fong, Toronto Star

Vancouver–Four RCMP officers involved in an incident in which a Polish man died at Vancouver International Airport remain on the job as the investigation into their use of a Taser gun awaits funding for interviews overseas.

Three months after Robert Dziekanski, 40, died after police stunned him with a Taser gun while trying to subdue him, investigators are still waiting to conduct some interviews.

The four Mounties from the Richmond detachment remain on the job, said Cpl. Dale Carr with the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team. "We're still working at it and waiting for authorization to go to Poland and Germany to speak to potential witnesses and get a sense of Mr. Dziekanski's life in the hours before he arrived in Vancouver," said Carr. "We're still waiting for government approval for those funds."

Nine investigations were launched after a videotape of Dziekanski's last moments sparked public outrage. The video showed an upset man, who was clearly not violent, being Tasered by police at the airport and then pressed down on the floor after he staggered and collapsed.

Dziekanski had arrived at the airport after his first-ever flight. He'd left Poland, with a stopover in Frankfurt, to join his mother Zofia Cisowski in Canada. The pair did not find each other at the airport. After waiting at the airport for seven hours, she returned home to Kamloops, a four-hour drive away.

Polish authorities are also conducting their own investigation.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Taser shares up on report of Toronto police order

January 25, 2008
Toronto Star

But Toronto police say there are no plans to make such a purchase

NEW YORK – Shares of stun-gun maker Taser International Inc. climbed today after an analyst upgraded the stock and another said the Toronto Police Service could place a large order for Taser products next year.

Toronto police said this afternoon that there are no plans to make such a purchase.

Shares of the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company picked up 82 cents (dollar figures U.S.), or 8.5 per cent, to $10.52 in heavy midday trading. The stock has ranged from $7.44 to $19.36 over the past year.

Feltl & Co. analyst Richard Ryan upgraded the stock to "Buy" from "Hold," noting a recent pullback in share price. At Yesterday's close, the stock was down about half from its 52-week high of $19.36 set in October, and has lost almost a third of its value in 2008. "This period of weakness could be related to a series of (strange) news releases primarily relating to old patent infringement issues from a couple of Taser competitors, combined with a rather direct response from Taser management," Ryan wrote in a client note. "During this same time, Taser enjoyed a successful PR campaign with its new consumer Taser at the Consumer Electronics Show".

Earlier this month, Stinger Systems Inc. said it asked the U.S. Patent Office to review a patent related to Taser's M26 stun gun.

The analyst said Taser's new products have increased its revenue dramatically, and items like its C2 personal protection device should lead to more growth.

Jefferies & Co. analyst Matthew McKay said in a client note that the Toronto Police Service is asking for funding to provide Taser stun guns for 3,000 officers. McKay kept a "Buy" rating on the stock, with a price target of $20 per share.

Late today, Mark Pugash, a spokesperson for Toronto Police, said reports of a Taser purchase being imminent are wrong. "While Chief (Bill) Blair has said he would like to equip his front-line officers with Tasers, the law in Ontario would have to be changed before this could happen. "Then, of course, there would be the issue of money being made available for such a purpose."

And Roger Brown = 317

Today, I learned of the death of Roger Brown who died on November 7th after he was tasered in stun mode by police in Miami-Dade, Florida. I had somehow missed this man's death, and so he was not included in my total until today.

When I add Mr. Brown's name to the very long list - and growing - of taser victims, I arrive at a new total of 317.

Of course, according to the report, it was the cocaine - not the taser - that killed poor Mr. Brown.

Police in Ireland now using tasers

January 25, 2008
BBC News

Specialist units in the PSNI will be armed with Taser guns from this weekend. The so-called 'stun guns', which hit their target with 50,000 volts, are already used by police in other parts of the UK and the Republic.

Monica McWilliams of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission said she still had grave concerns. "Tasers should not been deployed until the equality and human rights impacts have been fully assessed." she said. "We are surprised that the police are deploying this weapon after only a two-day training programme. There remain genuine concerns about the safety of this particular technology. As such, concerns have yet to be addressed around the potential for violating articles 2 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights concerning the right to life and inhumane treatment."

A spokeswoman for the Policing Board said its human rights advisor had observed the PSNI's Taser training. "The advisor is currently seeking clarification on aspects of the training to allow a final opinion to be provided," she said.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Taser Inc.’s shocking spin

January 24, 2008
Mike Smith, NOW Magazine (Toronto)

PR session hosted by cop board pumps “life-giving” nature of volt gun

It would be fascinating to see a concise history of our “needs,” to trace inventions’ transition from novelty to necessity. I can’t pinpoint when, for instance, failure to own a cellphone became effrontery, but since we relegated our evolution to our tools, life’s been an arms race.

“Police have had no need for electric shocks for centuries,” said one of the 100-odd people gathered at police headquarters on College on January 17 to hear Taser International founder Thomas Smith. “Why do they now?”

In other words, why should we presuppose a need? First rule of advertising: establish assumptions, control the field of discussion.

One might have assumed, for instance, that taser deployment was up for debate when the Police Services Board hosted the forum. Not so – though by the end, those with concerns were given a generous chance to vent. They just had to sit through a sales pitch first.

First slide: a clean-cut officer subdues a “criminal,” denoted by the tattoos, sunglasses, goatee and all-black ensemble of tank top, jeans and knit cap. So the taser can help me subdue K-Fed. But what about agitated autistic men?

The subsequent reams of charts and sentences ending in percentage signs failed to make a persuasive case for tasers. But Smith was forthcoming on technical realities for which you, gentle reader, will of course never find an application: The X26 Taser used by tactical officers employs a single-use cartridge that fires two electrical wires up to 4.5 metres. The top cable is aimed using a laser sight; the lower is angled downward by 8 degrees. In order to be effective through heavy clothing, the hooks at the ends of the cables must come within 5 centimetres of the target’s skin.

“We were taught electricity is bad,” said Smith. “Don’t put your finger in the socket. But really, electricity is life.” Just to open your hand you use electrical signals. So, really, officers won’t be immobilizing you so much as stimulating you with a pleasant jog. At 50,000 volts per.

Earlier variants were ineffective because they worked only through pain; if targets wanted to fight through it, they could. Current models deliver enough juice to bypass intention, going right to the body; subjects seize up and collapse, regardless of willpower – a sharp reminder that we are, essentially, meat. Charming. It’s like bureaucracy in a holster.

The pitch breezed over two points of great interest. One: a 2006 study (in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology) suggests that people on cocaine are less likely to be affected by tasers. Two: tasers are not, Smith said, in any way a replacement for lethal force.

There goes a favourite rationale for taser use. Oh, did we mention that there have been fatalities? Of the 315 deaths following tasering in North America, 20 were officially linked by coroners to the weapon’s use. Perhaps the “excited delirium’’ diagnosis now a favourite of taser supporters, will come up more often.

Again, if they aren’t a substitute for lethal force, there goes another prime argument made for the initial adoption of tasers: there would be fewer shootings. So was that a lie? Or have police been shooting people they didn’t have to? Or did police really not know much about these things except that they were cool and they wanted them? Actually, you know what? Don’t answer.

Smith didn’t touch on taser deaths but did refer to stats showing that injuries happen in only two out of every 1,000 uses, and those are indirect, like hitting your head on the way down. So, you’ll be fine. Or you’ll die. Either way.

When one deputant said the UN has expressed concern that taser use is tantamount to torture, Smith objected. “We don’t want to see torturous devices used,” he said. “But if the UN is going to define torture as causing pain, then a baton is torture, stepping on a nail is torture.”

But as we’re learning from the U.S. military, torture is more than excruciating pain. Use of packing tape and water over the face may not cause actual pain, but the sensation of drowning causes intolerable mental anguish. If torture renders subjects unable to exercise their own will, then Smith’s earlier description of the new taser fits the bill.

At the meeting, Stuart O’Connell, representing Osgoode Hall’s Law and Autism Group, raised the circumstances of Robert Dziekanski’s death at the hands of the Vancouver RCMP. Pointing to the acute anxiety Dziekanski showed on tape, O’Connell, said that the state of agitation that makes officers wary is also the one that makes victims susceptible to a negative response to tasers.

“It’s called sensory integration dysfunction. The subjects don’t process sensory information in the same way as a neurotypical person. When police arrive in a situation, what they witness is that high anxiety.”

I’m not inclined to trust the phrase “sensory integration dysfunction” any more than “excited delirium.’’ But O’Connell makes an important point: for a weapon so powerful, there’s almost no consideration of how it interacts with an individual’s mental space.

Chief Bill Blair assured reporters that officers are well trained. Maybe, maybe not. I just happen to have spoken recently to an officer I won’t name who felt otherwise. The training isn’t enough, he said, since it doesn’t encourage rookies to be conflict mediators and doesn’t equip them to understand when not to use a taser. If I had to paraphrase, I’d say this: their training pumps them up, but it doesn’t humble them.

For now, rookies don’t carry the weapon, but the force wants them to. To give all front-line officers a taser would require a change in provincial law and the board’s agreement. Sure, board members were kind enough to give opponents free rein this time around.

What’s not clear is if they’re listening.

Polish prosecutors may visit B.C. for taser probe

January 24, 2008
IAN BAILEY, Globe and Mail

VANCOUVER -- Polish prosecutors investigating the possibility Robert Dziekanski died due to an "abnormal intervention" by the RCMP may come to British Columbia as part of their probe, a Polish spokesman says.

Mr. Dziekanski, a 40-year-old immigrant from Poland, died last October after being tasered by Mounties during a confrontation at Vancouver airport - a situation that prompted an ongoing debate about the use of tasers by police forces across Canada.

Michal Szulczynski, press spokesman for the district public prosecutors' office in the city of Gliwice, Poland, raised the possibility of a B.C. visit for prosecutors in a statement sent to The Globe and Mail in response to a series of e-mailed questions.

Prosecutors began their work in late November, looking into the possibility that an "abnormal intervention" by Canadian police "unintentionally" caused the death of Mr. Dziekanski, he writes. Such an offence is a violation of the Polish penal code, he writes. However, he was not clear on whether Polish prosecutors are intent on actually laying charges against the Mounties involved in the case. He writes that the penal code says that Polish criminal law applies to foreigners acting abroad who have committed a prohibited act against the best interests of a Polish citizen.

Mr. Dziekanski, 40, was living in Gliwice before his ill-fated trip - his first-ever airplane flight - to Vancouver last October. He died on Oct. 14 after he began acting erratically following a long wait in the international arrivals area of the airport.

Mr. Szulczynski referred to a 1994 treaty between Canada and Poland on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters. "The agreement also provides the possibility of the Polish public prosecutors taking part in the proceedings occurring in Canada ... providing that it is not against the local legal system," he wrote in Polish, translated for The Globe. "Therefore a possibility of the Polish public prosecutor coming to Canada is not excluded."

The actual text of the treaty says the parties commit to "grant each other the widest measure of mutual legal assistance in criminal matters." Legal assistance is defined, among other things, as the location of relevant persons and objects, documents, records and the "voluntary appearance of persons" requested by a party to the deal.

The Polish investigation is taking place according to that country's regulations on penal proceedings and is independent from proceedings conducted in Canada, Mr. Szulczynski writes.

A spokeswoman for federal Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said the minister is aware of the Polish investigation, but that it would not be appropriate to comment on an ongoing investigation "either in Canada or abroad." A spokesman for Foreign Affairs said they have not been contacted by Polish officials seeking information in the case.

During a recent trip to Poland, Zofia Cisowski, the mother of Mr. Dziekanski - her only child - was twice interviewed by prosecutors. Her Vancouver-based lawyer, Walter Kosteckyj, said yesterday Ms. Cisowski told him the prosecutors also wanted to have a chat with him at some point.

The Integrated Homicide Investigation Team, which investigates cases outside Vancouver, is looking into the Dziekanski case, gathering evidence that will determine if charges will be laid and also provide material for a coroner's inquest. The Canadian officers are expected to travel to Poland as part of that investigation, seeking information on Mr. Dziekanski's past.

A provincial inquiry into the police use of tasers and the death of Mr. Dziekanski is also in the works, but the inquiry chair has not been named nor the terms of reference released.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

TPAC sponsoring a forum on tasers - February 6

From the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition
Bulletin No. 39, January 21, 2008

Forum on Tasers, February 6

Toronto Police Accountability Coalition is sponsoring a public meeting:

"The Shock of the Taser," A discussion of the police use of shock and stun guns Wednesday February 6, 2008 7.00 pm Town Hall, Innis College St. George and Sussex Streets, one block south of Bloor


* David Reville, advocate and builder of the psychiatric survivor movement.
* Naomi Klein, author of `The Shock Doctrine, The Rise of Disaster Capitalism'
* Andy Buxton, chair, Amnesty International Toronto organization

Moderator: Anna Willats, Toronto Police Accountability Coalition.

Please tell your colleagues and friends about this public meeting.

Taser International Comes to Toronto

The stakes for Taser International are huge. If the company can get the Toronto police force to agree to spend $8.6 million to equip every member of the force with a taser, it will be able to go around to every other police force in Canada and say: the largest force in the country thinks every officer should have a taser - why not your force too? Chief Bill Blair is on side, and has recommended the purchase, but the Toronto Police Services Board seems to have some reluctance to proceed.

So it was a real coup for Thomas Smith, chair of Taser International, to be invited by the Board to make a presentation at police headquarters on January 17 about how great his product is. What more could someone ask for when they are looking at a $8.6 million sale?

TPAC objected, writing Board members that, "Giving a possible supplier such a privileged vantage point . is improper. It is the continuation of the cosy relationship that Taser International seems to have with others who have spoken in favour of the use of its product, such as deputy coroner James Cairns (who has appeared at the Board supporting the purchase of Tasers.) As reported by the Globe and Mail on November 30, 2007, Taser International paid for Dr. Cairns' expenses to speak in favour of Tasers at one conference." TPAC suggested that Taser should rent its own space to make its pitch. No Board member responded to our objection.

Smith made his pitch with a slide show for about 45 minutes, at which point there were questions (or rather hostile speeches) from the audience. Two points stand out from his presentation. First, he continually talked about how the taser could stop someone from attacking an officer. But an incident where an officer is under attack from someone is very rare. Toronto data shows that about 98 per cent of all tasers are discharged in regard to someone who is in a state of mental crisis, only rarely being a threat to a police officer (see TPAC Bulletin No. 35, May 2007.) So the device is best used, according to Smith, for something that very rarely occurs.

Second, Smith made the point that the two day training done by Taser deals only with how to work the gun, not with situations in which it should be deployed. Thus training does not include such matters as assessing the nature of the problem, the different kinds of approaches that might be taken (such as talking to the person), or so forth: Smith said that was a matter for the local force to decide on. But Toronto's chief has not been willing to release the policy or protocol about taser use, so we don't know when it might be used. As one speaker noted, if police are trained properly, then they won't use the taser.

Questioners at the meeting raised several interesting points. While most police officials suggest that tasers are used instead of guns, it seems they are most often used instead of a lesser kind of intervention (such as talking) as was tragically demonstrated in the Vancouver airport incident last October. So it seems entirely likely that equipping all officers with tasers will result in an increase in the incidents of use of force by police. As well, more than 80 per cent of the people who are tasered are unarmed.

Alok Mukherjee, chair of the Police Services Board made it clear that the reporting recommending the purchase of tasers for all Toronto officers will be coming before a Board meeting in the near future.

An inconvenient death - the ethics of force

January 23, 2008
MICHAEL QUINN, Ethics Contributor

An unexpected death in a use of force encounter is always a bad deal, for the cops and the family of the victim. We just had another one of those deaths here in Minnesota. State Troopers tased an individual when he refused to comply at the scene of an accident and he died. Nationwide there have been somewhere between 70 to 290 deaths since 2001 attributed to the use of the Taser ®, depending on whose statistics you believe. Lots of people would have law enforcement get rid of the Taser ®. The law enforcement community is equally adamant about the need for the Taser® in our arsenal of weapons. Agencies often quote the reduced number of injuries to officers, and the associated monetary savings, when the Taser® is an option to engaging in hand to hand combat. They argue that by using the Taser® they reduce the risk of injuries to the officer, and statistically that seems to be true. Until 1985, law enforcement used a similar line of reasoning to justify shooting at fleeing felons. Then came the Supreme Court Case of TENNESSEE V. GARNER, 471 U. S. 1 (1985).

Memphis, Tennessee, 1974; burglar Edward Garner is shot and killed by Officer Elton Hymon who believes that there is a risk of Garner escaping if he does not shoot him. Officer Hymon is within department policy and Tennessee State Statute because at that time they both allow for the use of deadly force against fleeing felons.

In 1985 The Supreme Court rules that "The use of deadly force to prevent the escape of all felony suspects, whatever the circumstances, is constitutionally unreasonable. It is not better that all felony suspects die than that they escape. Where the suspect poses no immediate threat to the officer and no threat to others, the harm resulting from failing to apprehend him does not justify the use of deadly force to do so. It is no doubt unfortunate when a suspect who is in sight escapes, but the fact that the police arrive a little late or are a little slower afoot does not always justify killing the suspect."

That ended legally shooting at fleeing felons who did not present a threat to officers or others. I remember thinking "Now what? What are we supposed to do? Ask them real nice to stop?" The answer was that we were expected to take the risks we signed on for and catch them any way we could.

If the threat of death or great bodily harm became immediate we could always resort to deadly force. I, and many others, saw the immediate problem, "I'm in shape and could, in most cases, chase and apprehend most suspects. On the other hand, I've got a partner that won't be able to keep up; and even if they did I'd probably be calling the ambulance for them before it was over." In even worse scenarios you could be assigned to someone who was not only in poor physical condition but who also had lousy arrest and control skills, so you were screwed when it came time to make that decision to chase on foot or not.

Things haven't changed much since then. Most departments still don't require officers to maintain the skills they had when they started the job and many officers don't do a sufficient job of staying in good physical condition. So, it's easier and safer to tase than to fight. Can't argue with that! But we better start thinking about when and why we are tasing instead of fighting.

The FBI UCR reports indicate that between 2002 and 2006 law enforcement personnel intentionally killed 1,804 people. There is no way to know how many times deadly force was used that it did not result in a death and I don't believe the accidental deaths from Tasers are included in that total. I do believe that a certain percentage of people are going to die when they are "tased." Whether the number is 70 or 700 doesn't matter. Nobody seems to know for sure why, but the fact of the matter is: people are dying following the use of the Taser ® and at some point I have to believe the Supreme Court is going to get involved again.

The question left for law enforcement is this: How are going to keep our right to use the Taser ®? Because if people are going to continue to die from being tased, and there is no reason to believe they won't, the courts are eventually going to put some limitations on us. This is not a question of technology. New technology may make the issue moot; then again it might not. We still don’t have a better weapon than the bullet, and people have been working a long time to find one.

This is also not a question of "If." It is just a question of "When?" I like the idea of being able to control people without getting hurt. I like the fact that the Taser® is available as a weapon. But I think we are making a huge mistake when we use that weapon as a replacement for a decent level of fitness and maintaining our arrest and control skills. I don't want cops to lose the Taser® as an option, but we have to face the fact that use of the Taser® can and will mean death in some cases. It doesn't matter how. The placement of the Taser® on the force continuum needs to be in line with the fact that occasionally it can and will kill.

Bottom line: If we don't control the use of the Taser® ourselves, the courts will. You made a choice to take this job, risks and all. You can't abdicate that responsibility to an inanimate weapon.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

RCMP buying more tasers for West

January 22, 2008
Glen McGregor, Canwest News Service

After pledging to restrict its use of Tasers, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is stocking up on the electronic stun guns for distribution to its members in Western Canada. The force is seeking suppliers to provide 160 new Tasers and holders for replacement cartridges, even amid ongoing public concern about the use of the device following several in-custody deaths.

The Taser X26E unit specified by the RCMP in tender documents is available only to law enforcement agencies and replaces an older model that gradually is being phased out. It fires a probe that zaps a 50,000-volt charge, temporarily incapacitating the target.

The order for a new batch of "conducted energy weapons" comes after safety concerns were raised when a Polish man arriving in Vancouver in October died after he was Tasered and pinned to the floor by RCMP officers.

The Mounties contend Tasers remain a preferred alternative to other forms of force and say they almost always are safe. RCMP Commissioner William Elliott said a moratorium on the Taser would put the safety of RCMP members at risk.

But the force last month promised to curb the use of Tasers following an interim report by Paul Kennedy, the head of the watchdog Commission for Complaints Against the RCMP. The RCMP appeared to agree with Kennedy's recommendation that would restrict Tasers to situations where suspects are combative or risk seriously injuring themselves or others. The force policy now dictates Tasers may be used only on persons who show "active resistant behaviour and higher categories of behaviour, e.g. combative or death, grievous bodily harm."

Human rights monitor Amnesty International says it has recorded more than 290 deaths involving police electric shock weapons in the U.S. and Canada, from June 2001 to Sept. 2007. The organization calls on law enforcement agencies to stop using them until their safety can be assessed through independent study. While Amnesty recognizes Tasers can be a preferred alternative to more deadly force, it is concerned about the potential use as a "pain compliance" tool for individuals already in custody.

The RCMP contract offer specifies the new Tasers and cartridge holders will be distributed to its "D" Division, in Winnipeg and Regina.

It has a maximum range of about 10 metres and can penetrate clothing as thick as 5.1 centimetres, according to the product specification sheet. It also is available with a USB interface that allows the weapon's firing data to be downloaded to a computer.

The weapons sell for about $800 US apiece, but likely could be acquired at a lower cost in bulk.

An RCMP spokeswoman said the purchase of new Tasers follows normal procedures. "There is no embargo or legislation that instructs us not to use it," said Sgt. Nathalie Deschenes. "Our members require this tool."

Weapon's use to be demonstrated tonight in Calgary

January 22, 2008
Suzanne Wilton, Calgary Herald

Driven by the national debate about the use of Tasers, the Calgary Police Commission decided to invite the public to learn about the weapon's use by city officers. The commission, at an open meeting tonight, will demonstrate the Taser's use in a simulation and publicly discuss the department's policy on its deployment.

"It's really an opportunity to provide information to the public . . . and address any concerns people might have," said Denis Painchaud, chairman of the public body that oversees departmental policies. Painchaud said the commission does not plan to rethink Calgary's use of the weapon. "The policy we put in place was put in place after a significant review of information and background materials," said Painchaud. "We really feel strongly we have a solid policy in terms of Taser usage." City police are required to report to the commission every time the weapon is deployed.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Taser to appear before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security (SECU)

In a posting at Excited Delirium entitled "Mr. Smith Goes to Ottawa", Mr. Smith of Taser International is scheduled to appear before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security (SECU)on January 30, at 3:30 p.m. in room 269 West Block, Parliament Hill, Ottawa. It will be a public meeting and you are welcome to attend if you wish.

The SECU website is drawing a blank on the subject.

Embassy, Canada's foreign policy newsweekly, says that RCMP Commissioner Bev Busson is scheduled to appear before the committee on Feb. 6.

Lawyer questions BC's commitment to examine death of Polish immigrant

January 21, 2008
The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER - The lawyer for the Kamloops woman whose son died following a confrontation with police at Vancouver International Airport in October says the B.C. government is dragging its feet on a probe of the incident. Walter Kosteckyj says provincial officials have not provided any details of a public inquiry in Robert Dziekanski's death. He also says he has not heard if the province will pay for legal representation for Dziekanski's mother at the inquest, slated for May. Kosteckyj says the original announcement of the inquiry indicated all details would be provided in early January. Kosteckyj suggests now that the media spotlight is no longer shining on the subject, the province appears less willing to move forward. Dziekanski became agitated after arriving at Vancouver airport Oct. 14, 2007, and was hit by two bursts from an RCMP Taser before being pinned to the ground by several officers. He died soon after.

Calgary police commission welcomes taser input

January 21, 2008

The public will get a chance to share their thoughts on Taser stun guns when the Calgary Police Commission meets Tuesday night. City residents will be encouraged to tell the oversight body how they feel about city police using Tasers, information the commission will use when considering the continued use of the tools, said commission member Ald. Ric McIver today.

Tasers have been under severe scrutiny since the death of a Polish immigrant at the hands of RCMP officers, who repeatedly used a stun gun on the agitated man after he arrived at the Vancouver airport late last year, an episode that was video taped in full detail by a passerby and broadcast world wide.

Although the use of Tasers has been suspended in some jurisdictions, pending an investigation into the Vancouver incident, Calgary Police Service members continue to employ the stun guns with positive results, said McIver. “Tasers have been a very good tool, in that they allow our police members to put persons under control without having to resort to deadly force,” he said.

“They increase safety for the public and for our uniformed members.”

Tasers have fallen out of favour with parts of the population but that may be more to do with people’s inability to differentiate between the capabilities of the units and how they’re used, said McIver.

“People confuse the safety of the Taser with the unsafe use of Tasers,” he said, adding he’s confident CPS members have the training and common sense to ensure the items are employed safely. “If you misuse anything ... it can be considered unsafe but when used properly, Tasers enhance safety. The use of Tasers by our members is tightly controlled and governed by strict guidelines.”

Sunday, January 20, 2008

New York man dies during struggle with police

January 20, 2008

Daniel Hanrahan, 44, unarmed - died on Friday

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Taser executive didn't face ENOUGH tough questions

I was astonished and more than a little disappointed at the relatively small number of people who showed up on Thursday evening in opposition to arming every Toronto police officer with a taser. Because, based on everything I've seen and read following the Dziekanski incident, I believe that the majority of Canadians feel the way I do. I don't even live in Toronto, but travelled several hours to be there anyway.

To their immense credit, those who did show up on Thursday had done their homework and were very well prepared to face off against Taser CEO Tom Smith.

Tragically, if Canadians are unwilling to put themselves out there and make themselves heard where it counts, then it won't be long before every police officer in Toronto - and indeed in the rest of Canada - is equipped with a taser. The only people who can prevent a massive rollout of tasers across the country is us. Make no mistake about it: Canada is hurtling in the direction of U.S. style cowboy policing ... taser first, ask questions later - that is, if the person lives to answer those questions.

I, for one, don't want to live in that version of Canada. But it will soon be too late to turn back the clock.

EDITORIAL: Rein in those tasers

January 19, 2008
The Globe and Mail

At a public forum organized by the Toronto Police Services Board on Thursday, Thomas Smith, co-founder of Arizona-based Taser International Inc., found himself placed on the defensive by members of the public opposed to the weapon. Patti Gillman, the sister of a man who died after being tasered by Vancouver police in 2004, told Mr. Smith that her brother, Robert Bagnell, was unarmed and was no threat to police or to the public when he was fatally shot with the stun gun. There was little Mr. Smith could really be expected to say in response to such information. His company merely manufactures the 50,000-volt weapon. Taser International doesn't decide how and when to use it. That's left to the discretion of individual police officers. And that's part of the problem.

Tasers are held up by police as a relatively safe alternative to handguns. Yet they are often used in cases where police would never have pulled handguns. It is inconceivable, for example, that police would have used handguns in the case of the 17-year-old Ottawa high-school student tasered last month because he was acting strangely near a busy road. The boy said he was distraught over a breakup with his girlfriend, but was out of the traffic and had his hands up when he was tasered by police.

The same surely can be said of 16-year-old Randy Fryingpan, who was tasered six times in just over a minute by Edmonton police in 2002. The boy was drunk, and sleeping in the back seat of a friend's car. He was tasered when he failed to respond to an officer's orders to get up. A judge later described the incident as cruel and unusual punishment. The same applies to the 2004 Edmonton police tasering of Hector Jara, who was given jolts even though he had surrendered to police and was lying face down on the ground after a car chase. The courts said that Mr. Jara was "completely at [the police's] mercy" when he was twice tasered and that police actions in that case were "irresponsible."

Deaths as a result of police taserings, such as those of Mr. Bagnell or Robert Dziekanski, the Polish newcomer tasered to death by the RCMP at Vancouver International Airport last Oct. 14, are still relatively unusual. But police taserings are not, and would become even more a matter of routine if police in Toronto and many other jurisdictions in Canada had their way.

That fact must weigh heavily in the assessment by the Toronto Police Services Board and the Ontario government of the request from Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair to spend $8.6-million to equip and train every front-line officer in Toronto with a taser. Mr. Blair believes that wide dissemination of the taser among officers is a way to "save lives." In some instances it might. But the tasers also cost lives, and risk imposing other costs, including jeopardizing public confidence in the police. Civilian authorities should be highly dubious about making Mr. Smith's frightening device ubiquitous.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Taser executive faces tough questions

January 18, 2008
UNNATI GANDHI, Globe and Mail

As Toronto police consider spending millions on stun guns, forum audience comes armed with critical research

The packed auditorium listened in silence as the co-founder of Arizona-based Taser International Inc. explained at a public forum in Toronto last night the science behind the stun guns, but it was during the 75-minute question period that Thomas Smith found he had to defend himself from stinging accusations.

Mr. Smith, who was in town as the Toronto Police Services Board weighs a request by Police Chief Bill Blair to spend $8.6-million to equip and train every front-line officer with a taser, was confronted by the sister of a man who died after being tasered by Vancouver police.

He was also presented with an offer to stun an elderly man right then and there, and was caught off guard by audience members armed with research.

"Are tasers risk free? No. ... The reality is that there [are] still studies to be done, we encourage them, we work with them, we want them to be done because it's going to continue to answer those questions," he told the standing-room-only crowd.

If Chief Blair's request is approved by the civilian oversight board, the move would see the number of tasers deployed by city police rise significantly from the current 500 or so, and make the Toronto force the first in the country to have the stun guns so widely available.

Speaking to reporters after the heated question period, Chief Blair defended his position on the use of tasers as an alternative for guns.

"In the hands of a properly trained officer, properly directed, supervised and accountable for its use, those things can save lives and I want them accessible to my front-line officers for those circumstances where they can reduce injury to my people and also reduce injury to the public."

During the forum, Patti Gillman, whose brother, Robert Bagnell, died after being tasered by Vancouver police in 2004, said she was speaking on behalf of the more than 300 North Americans who have died after being shot by the guns since 2003.

"[My brother] was unarmed, he was of no credible threat to police or to the public and there were 13 police officers there the night that he died," she said. "I know that most thinking Canadians would concur that the use of tasers was not only unjustified the night my brother died, but was also likely unjustified in the majority of cases."

Ms. Gillman - who lodged a formal complaint after learning that a veteran Victoria police officer who played a pivotal role in a 1998 pilot program that led to his force adopting the weapons permanently had received several payments from Taser International since 1999 - asked Mr. Smith how many other Canadian police officers had been paid by the company.

Mr. Smith responded: "We also compensate officers when they train, for their time to train. I don't know if any Canadians were among those."

Ken Wood volunteered to be stunned in front of the crowd.

"Everything that I see that you do in your studies is basically physically fit, gung-ho military types saying, 'Go ahead, taser me.' You don't know my health history, you don't know who I am, I'm Joe Average on the street."

Andy Buxton, chair of Amnesty International Toronto, asked Mr. Smith about research on tasers conducted by Amnesty and other independent organizations. Mr. Smith repeatedly responded that he had not seen the data and so he could not comment.

Then, Mr. Buxton asked: "Are you familiar with research that suggests that 20 per cent of all use of tasers are in what you refer to yourself as pain compliance mode [set to inflict pain to get a subject to co-operate]?"

"I'm not familiar with that specific study," Mr. Smith responded.

"Those were your own statistics, Mr. Smith, from your own website," Mr. Buxton said.

Taser chief faces criticism amidst push to equip police with devices

January 18, 2008
Natalie Alcoba, National Post

TORONTO - The chairman of Taser International faced a barrage of criticism last night at a public meeting in Toronto amidst a push by the police chief to equip all front line officers with the device.

“The problem that you got with your product, sir, is not the science,” said one man. “It’s the fact that it goes to human beings with human frailties who will make the mistake of over-using it and they’ll kill someone.”

Chairman of the board and co-founder Thomas Smith conceded that Tasers are not risk-free and have been listed as a “contributing factor” in about 20 to 30 in-custody deaths.

A 2005 review by the Canadian Police Research Centre on the safety of Tasers concluded that “definitive evidence does not exist” that there is a causal relationship between the use of a Taser and death, although Amnesty International has linked at least 17 deaths in Canada to its use.

“Any confrontation between people has inherrent risk,” Mr. Smith told the crowd. “This is in our minds the safest way to end that confrontation, but it’s not the magic bullet. There is nothing out there that is 100% ... this is just one more tool in the tool box.”

The meeting was organized by the Toronto Police Services Board to answer questions about Taser, formally known as a conductive energy device that fires two darts that shock and immobilize someone, as the police board contemplates expanding its use in Toronto. Chair Alok Mukhurjee pointed to the “intense public interest” around the safety of the device that followed after a Polish immigrant died last year after being Tasered in Vancouver International Airport.

Following recommendations from two coroner’s juries, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair plans to equip all front line officers with Tasers as a way to “save lives.” The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police last year passed a resolution asking for the same thing.

The provincial Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services “has adopted a very cautious approach to expanding the use of Tasers” and will wait on pending studies before making its decision, a spokesman said yesterday. Currently, only supervisors, perimeter and tactical officers can carry the device in Ontario.

After the presentation, Chief Blair maintained that Tasers “can save lives” when in the hands of a properly trained officers. “I want those accessible to my front line officers for those circumstances where that can reduce injury to my people, and also reduce injury to the public.”

He said Toronto officers are guided by a “strict policy” that tell officers “precisely when it’s appropriate to use [a Taser].”

Currently, the force equips about 500 supervisors and tactical officers with the device. Chief Blair said those officers are not always available in the “critical situations” where a Taser could, he said, change the outcome of a confrontation. He noted that there are many more steps before the devices land in officers’ hands, since laws must change and the city and province must commit to paying the $8.6-million it will cost to equip and train all officers with the Taser.

During his presentation, Mr. Smith likened the jolt of electricity to hitting your funny bone, times 20. “It’s certainly not a pleasent experience, but your’e very aware of what’s going on,” he told the crowd that appeared captivated at times, skeptical at others.

Patti Gillman, whose brother Robert Bagnell who died in Vancouver in 2004 after being Tasered twice, said she spoke for the 350 people in North America who have died after being shocked with the device. (I said 315 people, not 350!)

Andy Buxton, chair of the local branch of Amnesty International, voiced concern over the potential for abuse. He said that if officers had to be equipped with Tasers, it should be instead of, not in addition to, guns.

Taser exec takes shots from audience

January 18, 2008
Dale Brazao, Toronto Star

While he claims devices reduce serious injury, others fear their `excessive use'

Proponents of Taser guns praise them as non-lethal alternatives to deadly force and an invaluable tool for law enforcement.

Opponents cite the 20 people who have died across Canada since 2001 after being Tasered by police as proof their use should be quashed pending further study.

Last night some of those opponents took turns firing questions at Tom Smith after the chair of Taser International Inc. spent an hour praising his devices as life-savers now being used by more than 12,000 law enforcement agencies.

While the use of Tasers has dramatically reduced the use of lethal force in some jurisdictions, they are not a substitute for lethal force, Smith told a public forum held at Toronto police headquarters.

"You don't take a Taser to a gunfight."

Studies conducted on more than 1,200 people show the units are very effective in reducing serious injury among both police and subjects and are far less harmful than other methods, including batons and pepper spray, Smith claims.

The slide show accompanying his presentation claimed more than 10,000 lives were spared death or serious injury.

When fired, the battery-powered device launches two barbed darts with 50,000 volts of electricity. The projectiles, which are able to penetrate thick clothing, attack the nervous system and immobilize the target.

Andy Buxton, of Amnesty International Canada, said studies show the use of lethal force declines when police officers are equipped with Tasers but "excessive use" takes its place, and that's why the agency wants a moratorium on their use pending further study.Ken Wood, an activist who claimed he has had more than one run-in with police, offered to be Tasered to prove they do hurt people, but no one took him up on the offer.

Social activist Don Weitz, 77, told the 80 people assembled that he's concerned the weapons will become the "toy of choice" for Toronto police.

The force's own studies show that people with mental health issues were the target in 30 per cent of Taser deployment incidents, he said.

Toronto police chief Bill Blair has asked the Toronto Police Services to consider equipping all front-line police officers with the devices. Blair's move comes after two jury inquests recommended increased use of Tasers.

Blair said he has passed on the information to the Ontario government and is waiting for an answer.

The debate on the use of Tasers, which has been raging for years, bolted to the forefront after the death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver airport last October.

The 40-year-old, who had never been out of Poland, was immigrating to Canada to join his 61-year-old mother in British Columbia when he was Tasered by RCMP officers after becoming confused and agitated during a 10-hour wait in the arrivals area of the airport.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Personal tasers in Canada?

January 17, 2008
24 Hours Toronto

The makers of the Taser want Canadians to be able to buy the personal defence version of the popular stun gun, including the new female-friendly pink, red and leopard-print models announced this week.

But even this media-savvy and marketing-focused corporation knows the public image of their zapper has been tainted in Canada, due to high-profile Taser-related deaths including that of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, who died Oct. 14 after RCMP officers stunned him with a Taser at Vancouver International Airport.

Right now, trying to sell the Canadian government on lifting personal ownership restrictions against Tasers would be folly, say company execs.

"We have a hurdle right now, and that's to re-educate the Canadian public on Tasers," said Stephen Tuttle, Taser International Inc.'s vice-president of communications. "I think it would be foolhardy for us to go in there right now and say, 'Hey! Citizens are up next!'

"There's too much controversy right now. There's a healthy debate that's got to take place," Tuttle said. "When that takes place, we'll look at that."

At this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the Arizona-based company held a press conference to announce a new version of their Taser C2, now available in pink, red and a leopard-print design under the slogan "fashion with a bite."

The devices can be legally owned and carried by citizens in 43 U.S. states and some European countries.

Taser will also begin selling a holster for the Taser C2 that includes a built-in MP3 player, so owners can rock out to AC/DC before zapping muggers with 50,000 volts of current.

The company says women make up the majority of Taser owners, whether they buy the device for their own protection or have one purchased for them by concerned loved ones.

While the device has several outspoken opponents, including Amnesty International, the company maintains Tasers don't kill.

"Not one medical examiner to date has ever listed the Taser as a contributing factor or cause of death in Canada, and all this controversy has been spawned because (in recent fatalities) medical examiners haven't ruled yet," said Tuttle.

Tuttle said Taser representatives will be in Toronto today (THU) to meet with police and address questions and concerns about Taser use by cops, who are rethinking their stance on the devices.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Oh good - another "independent" study

January 16, 2008

An "independent" study by the Police Executive Research Forum in the US, made up primarily of police chiefs, has concluded that more studies are necessary on the effect of Tasers on children and the elderly and that Tasers ultimately make it safer for police officers to do their jobs.

A study BY police, FOR police. Will it never end?

Minnesota man dies after being tased, troopers put on leave

January 16, 2008

Mark Backlund, 29, an "uncooperative motorist"

Troopers used a taser to control the man, who was then taken to an area hospital and pronounced dead. Five troopers have been placed on administrative leave.

Update - April 4, 2008

Drugs killed man who was Tasered
By JIM ADAMS, Minneapolis Star Tribune

April 4, 2008

An unarmed Fridley man Tasered after a freeway crash died of acute cocaine and other drug abuse, according to an autopsy report released Friday that said crash injuries, heart conditions, physical exertion and police restraint were contributing factors.

In a separate report, the State Patrol said Mark Backlund, 29, was stunned on Jan. 15 because he verbally and physically resisted troopers' requests and tried to drive away even though bystanders were in front of his car.

Backlund was en route to pick his parents up at the airport when he crashed into a central median barrier on Interstate 694 during the evening rush hour in New Brighton. He was unconscious after being Tasered and died that night at a Fridley hospital.

"My son didn't have a weapon and he is Tasered? It doesn't make sense," his father, Gordon Backlund, said Friday. "Why Taser an accident victim sitting in a car?"

Backlund said that the family's car was totaled and that he didn't know whether it could be driven after the crash. He said he has many questions and would like to see the full autopsy and investigation report before commenting further.

"It is hard enough as a father to deal with death," Backlund said. "It is a very difficult time for us."

After the incident, authorities said the driver's side of Backlund's car was wedged against the median. Five troopers and other motorists who had stopped were at the crash scene.

Responding to a Star Tribune open records request, the State Patrol provided part of a Use of Force report filed about the incident. The patrol declined to comment on the report or provide details about what happened.

In March, Tim O'Malley, head of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), which is investigating the case, said the Taser was used after Backlund refused customary, safety-related requests made by a trooper "responding to a single-car crash on a very busy interstate highway during rush hour. Those requests related to the well-being and safety of the driver and other people and motorists on the highway."

The BCA has forwarded its report along with the autopsy findings to the Ramsey County Attorney's office. It will take a few weeks to review it for possible charges against the troopers, said Phil Carruthers, director of the office's prosecution division. He said it is routine for county attorneys to review officer-involved shootings. But office attorneys could recall only one other Taser-related death a few years ago in St. Paul. In that case, police stunned a man on drugs who later died from cocaine delirium, Carruthers said.

Underlying health conditions

In the United States, more than 290 people have died since June 2001 after being struck by police Tasers, according to the human rights group Amnesty International. A 2004 study from the group shows many of those who died had underlying health problems such as heart conditions or mental illness or were under the influence of drugs. Many also were subjected to repeated or prolonged shocks.

Backlund's death certificate, filed Friday by the Anoka County Medical Examiner, cited the cause of death as mixed drug use, including acute cocaine abuse. Tests also detected marijuana, a painkiller and other drugs. Contributing factors included police restraint and heart conditions, including severe hardening of the arteries.

County Medical Examiner Janis Amatuzio said through an assistant that she would not elaborate on what police restraint was used.

The Use of Force report said troopers tried to control Backlund by using a "soft empty hand," then a "hard empty hand" before firing the Taser.

A soft hand usually means using grasping techniques, maybe a wrist lock or twisting an arm behind the back to control someone, said Paul Monteen, standards coordinator for the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training. A hard hand could be a blow with a fist, and an empty hand means without a baton or weapon.

Monteen said it seems that the troopers followed what is called a use of force continuum, beginning with verbal commands, then using open hand restraint, closed fist punches and greater force as needed to meet the force presented.

"If one thing does not work, you go a little higher instead of pulling out the weapon," he said. He said Tasers are generally considered a less lethal weapon, like a baton or night stick.

"It sounds like they tried to use the best practices of their policy," Monteen said. "That would fit the general policy and training that the Legislature has mandated for law enforcement in Minnesota."

The patrol's four-page policy on Tasers says they can be used to control a person who is, or is reasonably expected to become, violent, physically aggressive or who endangers himself, a trooper or others if the trooper didn't use the Taser.

The Backlund case was the State Patrol's only Taser-related death since troopers started carrying the weapons in August. Before that, during a one-year pilot test, troopers displayed Tasers 27 times and fired them 33 times, with no known health-related incidents, according to the Public Safety Department.