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Friday, May 01, 2009

Here's a Shock: Cop Sues Taser Over Stun-Gun Safety

May 1, 2009
By Peter Jamison, SF Weekly

There are times when real-world events conspire overwhelmingly to defeat arguments for a policy or theory. Think about the fate of Soviet-style collective farming, say, or -- to pull an example from the past year's headlines -- the idea that unregulated financial markets are inherently self-correcting. A similar cosmic alignment seems to be taking place in response to paid consultants' suggestion that the San Francisco Police Department begin using electroshock devices manufactured by Taser International, Inc.

An analysis of the SFPD performed by the Police Executive Research Forum suggests, among other things, that the department begin using Taser weapons, a putatively non-lethal alternative to firearms. Only problem is that a string of Taser-linked deaths and injuries cast doubt upon the claim that these devices are as safe as their manufacturer states. The latest such indication is a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the northern district of New York by a policeman who claims he suffered a debilitating injury while undergoing Taser shocks as part of his training.

In his complaint, dated yesterday, Oswego County Sheriff's Department employee Jeff Kandt alleges that he "sustained severe and permanent physical injuries" while being zapped, a standard part of training for Taser use among law-enforcement officials. (The nature of Kandt's injury is not specified.) The suit takes some heavy swings at Taser, stating that the company's executives and employees "conspired with each other to defraud police departments and the general public" to avoid a recall on their products and to "avoid liability to litigants and individuals killed, maimed or otherwise injured over a period of several years" by the devices.

File this one away with the unfortunate experience of Tasered SFPD Inspector Marvetia Lynn Richardson and the supposed role a stun-gun played in the death of unarmed 22-year-old Oscar Grant at the hands of BART Police. The outcome of Kandt's lawsuit is anyone's guess; In the past, Taser has proved remarkably adept at deflecting all manner of legal complaints. That doesn't mean San Francisco's police officers have to invite this troublesome piece of hardware onto their own turf.

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