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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dissecting the Evidence

Quite an interesting story from top to bottom about Dr. Nizam Peerwani, one of the highest-profile medical examiners in the United States. I recommend reading the entire report, however, I have only copied a portion of it here. Clicking on the title of this posting will take you there.

May 27, 2009
PETER GORMAN, Fort Worth Weekly


There's another area of human rights work where Peerwani is a player in a much different way. Amnesty International and other groups around the world for years have complained about the abuses of Taser electric-shock weapons by police agencies - especially in the United States and in Texas in particular.

Questions have been raised about several cases in which people died after having been tasered - in most cases, repeatedly - by Fort Worth police. Those deaths, in part, led the police department to change some of its policies on Taser use a few years ago.

In one 2005 case, Eric Hammock, a Midland architect and cocaine user, died after Fort Worth police tasered him 25 times during a nine-minute span. Peerwani's autopsy showed very little cocaine in Hammock's system for a regular user, yet he ruled the cause of death an accidental cocaine overdose.

Peerwani said there are reasons why even a small amount of cocaine can lead to death. As for the role of the shocks from the Taser, he said police told him that the computer chip in the weapon (which records how many times and for how long it is discharged) had malfunctioned, and they couldn't tell how many times it had been fired.

In fact, records eventually released to the Weekly by the police department, long after the death, showed the 25 firings just before Hammock died.

"If that case occurred today, I would look at it very differently," Peerwani said. "And if I had known he had been hit with that weapon 25 times, I would also have looked at it differently. But the whole issue with those weapons is a difficult one," he said.

It's still very difficult to determine the role a Taser charge may play in a death, but, Peerwani said, "What we can learn from history is that there are people in certain excited states who perhaps should not be shocked."

He has taken note, he said, of the actions of Taser International, the company that makes the weapons and that has a policy of suing medical examiners who find Tasers as having contributed to or caused a death.

"That can be very intimidating, of course," he said. But, he added, it doesn't affect his decisions. "We are working on a case right now where the Taser was used, and we are looking at it very closely. And if we determine that the Taser was a contributing factor, we will be clear on that."


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