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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tasers: Death of 15-year-old in USA reinforces need for caution in wider rollout of weapon

March 24, 2009
Amnesty International UK

The death of a 15-year-old boy in Michigan, USA after he was shocked with a Taser gun reinforces the need for greater caution to be applied in the roll out of Tasers to frontline police officers in the UK, said Amnesty International.

The organisation also called for further tests into the safety of the electro-shock weapon.

While few details are available, a police news release stated that the 15-year-old boy - who has not been named - was shocked when he 'attempted to fight' Bay City officers responding to reports of an argument between two males in an apartment. The boy is reported to have been unarmed.

The boy reportedly went into medical distress immediately after being shocked and was pronounced dead in hospital.

Amnesty International UK's Arms Programme Director, Oliver Sprague said:

'Tasers should only be used in life-threatening situations and this doesn't appear to be such an instance. Surely another form of restraint could have been applied in this case.

'The tragic death of this teenager is a grave reminder that extreme caution has to be applied when Tasers are being used. Only a limited number of officers who undergo intensive, ongoing and rigorous training should be given these weapons.'

According to information gathered by Amnesty International, this is the second minor to have died in the USA this year after being shocked with a Taser. In January, an unarmed 17-year-old boy in Virginia died after police, responding to a minor street incident, shocked him in his apartment.

Since June 2001, the total number of deaths after the use of Taser guns in the US has risen to 351.

Amnesty is urging the Home Office to limit the number of police officers who are armed with Tasers.

Oliver Sprague continued:

'Here in the UK, we cannot ignore the history of the Taser in other countries such as the USA and Canada. This is the second minor in the USA who has died after being shocked by a Taser. We do not want to see a repeat of that here in the UK.'

Notes to the Editor

1. Last December, Amnesty International issued a report about the problems attached to the use of stun weapons in law enforcement. The study cited medical data suggesting that their use may trigger a fatal reaction in individuals already compromised by drugs, exertion or ill-health. The report also cited cases in which apparently healthy individuals died after being shocked.

2. In March last year, 17-year-old Darryl Turner died when police used a Taser on him after an argument in the store where he worked in North Carolina. A video-tape showed an officer fire Taser darts into Turner's chest as the unarmed teenager stood with his arms by his side. The coroner ruled his cause of death to be a fatal disturbance of the heart rhythm due to stress and the Taser shocks. His death is one of at least 50 nationwide where coroners have ruled that Tasers were a cause or contributory factor.

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