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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Taser makers, users should reassess the device's safety

June 16, 2009
The Salt Lake Tribune

As a kid, Brian Cardall already had a bucket list -- dozens of "to dos." He wanted to be an Eagle Scout. Go on a mission. Get married in the temple. He planned to hike the Inca Trail and climb Mount McKinley.

It's safe to say: Cardall never got a chance to check all of them off. A week ago, he died after a Hurricane police officer jolted him with 50,000 volts of electricity.

Monday, family and friends, professors and students gathered at a Millcreek Stake Center to remember a young father and scientist cut down on a barren southern Utah highway.

He composed music, painted brilliant redrock hoodoos, wrote poetry. He balanced art with an agile, biologist's mind, collecting all manner of slimy specimens he crammed into his mom's fridge (with one nasty dinnertime surprise after she mistakenly cooked his research). His brother David envied his mountain man beard. He was always there to pull the fish off the line for his sister Jane.

"We will all feel that void. It will never be filled," said Carol Cardall Burgoyne, his older sister. "He had a profound impact on each of us."

Cardall's funeral was not about the way he died. But his muddled encounter with law enforcement in southern Utah -- the inexplicable waste and needless grief of it all -- hung over the mourners.

His father, KSL Editorial Director Duane Cardall, made allusions to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, another naked man "being treated ill by officers of the law."

The family and police dispute what happened when Brian Cardall's wife Anna called 911. Cardall, who was recently diagnosed as bipolar, became disoriented on the drive home to Flagstaff, Ariz. His wife said he had "full-blown lost it," stopped the car, took off his clothes and started walking on the road. Worried he would be hit by another car, she called police. Officers repeatedly told him to get on the ground. Then, one witness says, Cardall stepped toward them and an officer pulled his Taser. Cardall, 32, died almost instantly.

Hurricane's attorney, Peter Stirba, says the officer used his Taser appropriately. The family says the city has selectively edited the transcript; they plan to release recordings later.

"It is our hope as a family that we can follow the savior's example and hold no animosity, nor vindictiveness," Duane Cardall said Monday. "That doesn't suggest that there doesn't need to be accountability."

I feel for the officer. He has to live with the knowledge that his "non-lethal" weapon of convenience killed a brilliant young man with a young daughter, another on the way, and the prospect of a promising career as a teacher.

Ten years ago, police would have tackled Cardall and wrestled him to the ground. But now, Tasers are much more convenient, less messy. They've been used on grandmothers and autistic teenagers alike. UCLA police shocked a student who refused to leave the campus library. In Florida, officers zapped a student who wouldn't stop asking Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry questions. A Utah Highway Patrol trooper pulled his electrocution-in-a-can a few years ago when a motorist argued about a speeding ticket.

Manufacturers have convinced U.S. law enforcement that Tasers are a harmless gadget just short of a gun. And while that may be true for most people who get zapped, the exceptions are piling up. Amnesty International estimates at least 300 people have been killed by Tasers since 1999.

"Tasers are being used as tools of routine force rather than as weapons of last resort," the human rights group says.

Maybe it's time Utah law enforcement started questioning the Taser manufacturers' propaganda -- so another Brian Cardall doesn't have to die.

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