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Friday, June 19, 2009

Taser company says stun gun strikes won't kill

June 19, 2009
The World Today
Reporter: Annie Guest

PETER CAVE: The company that manufactures the stun gun at the centre of a furore in Queensland has hit back at its critics.

Taser International says regardless of whether its stun gun was used three times - as originally reported by police - or 28 times as later came to light, it would not have killed North Queenslander Antonio Galeano.

The company says that Amnesty International's claim that the Taser is linked to more than 300 deaths worldwide is wrong because no coroner has ever made such a finding.

It comes amid reports the officers involved in last Friday's incident need protection themselves.

Annie Guest reports from Brisbane.

ANNIE GUEST: By this time last week Antonio Galeano had been dead for several hours and the community was told he'd been hit with a stun gun three times.

But with the admission by Queensland's Police Service and its Minister that the Taser had actually been fired 28 times at the North Queensland home, there have been many questions about the weapon.

A request for an interview with US-based Taser International leads to a phone call from its Australian weapons distributor called Breon Enterprises.

Its director is George Hateley and he says he's also a spokesman for Taser International.

GEORGE HATELEY: In a very highly confrontational and life threatening situation, you won't always recall exactly what you did in real life and sometimes people talk about slow motion type things that happen in those high intense situations.

ANNIE GUEST: So if an officer won't perhaps necessarily recall how many times the Taser was discharged, does Taser International say there is a safe upper limit as to how many times it should be discharged?

GEORGE HATELEY: There is nothing set in concrete because you continue to use force proportionate to the threat.

ANNIE GUEST: And Queensland Police echoes this view. It surprised many yesterday when a superior officer said there was no prescribed limit for the amount of times a Taser could be used on somebody.

So there is no number of Taser strikes considered unsafe to the human body?

GEORGE HATELEY: No, no, no. It is a very safe piece of equipment to use in comparison to everything else that policemen have got on their belt at the moment.

ANNIE GUEST: But there are claims by groups such as Amnesty International that Tasers have been linked to hundreds of deaths. Do you then say that that has never happened, that a Taser has never caused harm to a human body that has led to a death?

GEORGE HATELEY: That's right, yes. There is no evidence by anyone in the world to directly attribute Taser to a death.

ANNIE GUEST: So no coroner has ever linked Taser to a death?

GEORGE HATELEY: A direct death, no.

ANNIE GUEST: So while there has been a lot of criticism that this Taser was apparently discharged 28 times and not the three originally reported, what you are saying is that in terms of the man's ultimate death, it's irrelevant.

GEORGE HATELEY: Well, his death is not irrelevant but the...

ANNIE GUEST: The Taser being fired.

GEORGE HATELEY: Yes, yes, good, yep.

ANNIE GUEST: Taser International's defence of its weapon through its Australian distributor comes as the stun gun wins qualified support from one independent Australian expert who did a safety analysis of the weapon back in 2003.

The retired biomedical engineer John Southwell says the Taser can be a good tool for law enforcers.

JOHN SOUTHWELL: I think they are in some cases. I think the operators though need to be trained specifically, specifically in the use of them.

ANNIE GUEST: And John Southwell says important information about Tasers includes the fact that they don't work on everyone.

JOHN SOUTHWELL: The Taser only works on around 95 per cent of people so that there will be some that it won't work on; and if it doesn't work the first time, I don't think you should keep on actually doing it repeatedly.

ANNIE GUEST: Meanwhile it has been revealed the officers called to Antonio Galeano's home a week ago reportedly now need police protection because they've received threats.

The Police Union says it knows nothing about it. However it has called for calm.

PETER CAVE: Annie Guest reporting.

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