You may have arrived here via a direct link to a specific post. To see the most recent posts, click HERE.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Judge dismisses Taser's suit to stop release of safety report

August 13, 2010
John Yantis, Arizona Republic

A Canadian judge has ruled against Scottsdale-based Taser International Inc. in its attempts to quash a government report that said its stun guns can cause death.

A British Columbia Supreme Court judge this week dismissed Taser's arguments that the Canadian report was biased, based on speculation and ignored facts about the safety of its stun guns. The company also had argued that it should have been able to review the report's findings before they were released publicly.

"It is quite clear to me that there were presentations made to the (inquiry) commissioner by medical experts and others to the effect that such weapons can cause serious harm and even death in exceptional circumstances," Judge Robert Sewell wrote.

In August 2009, Taser filed suit in Canada blasting the Braidwood Inquiry, the name of the government's report. The report, which took 18 months to research and was released in July 2009, was headed by retired Judge Thomas Braidwood.

It was sparked by the 2007 death of a Polish immigrant at Vancouver International Airport. He stopped breathing after being shocked five times by Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers.

Braidwood was tasked by the provincial government with looking into Taser use in the province, where Tasers were introduced in Canada. Braidwood also was asked to provide a complete record of the circumstances surrounding the death.

Taser spokesman Steve Tuttle called the ruling disappointing but said it clarified that the findings of the commission have no precedential value because it was "purely advisory." The Braidwood Study Commission did not make any findings of fault or misconduct, he said.

"We found it unfortunate that the Braidwood Study Commission conducted hearings for more than a year during which it was in possession of autopsy reports that cleared the Taser device of responsibility as the cause of Robert Dziekanski's death," Tuttle said in a statement.

Pathologists in British Columbia concluded the stun gun did not directly cause but may have played a role in Dziekanski's death.

A report released in December 2008 said three pathologists concluded that Dziekanski, 41, succumbed to "sudden death following restraint" with no definite cause. The factors that might have contributed to his death were heart disease from alcohol abuse, agitated delirium, physical stress made worse by the Taser shocks, inability to breathe and alcohol withdrawal, the report said.

Tuttle said although many of the findings of the commission are consistent with the company's warnings and training materials, it is important that the safety of its devices was recognized.

"Indeed, the Study Commission Report recommended that Taser devices continue to be used in British Columbia and commented favorably on the advantages of using Taser devices in circumstances in which police would otherwise have been required to use other means of force," Tuttle said.

The ruling didn't faze the company's investors. From Tuesday, when the judgment became public, and Thursday, the stock price slipped 1.7 percent, to $3.99.

The 556-page report criticized law enforcement for putting the stun gun on the street with little or no independent testing and recommended restricting use of Tasers.

Within hours, the head of public safety in British Columbia adopted all 19 of Braidwood's recommendations, including a ban on Tasers in non-criminal situations or where there is not an imminent threat of bodily harm.

In its lawsuit, Taser said it provided more than 170 studies, periodicals and reports with respect to the safety of the device and use-of-force questions. It said all the information clearly indicates that, when the device is used properly, it does not cause heart attacks. Taser objected that the information never found its way into the report.

Braidwood gave Taser every opportunity to bring forward all information, scientific studies and other material that it considered relevant, Sewell said in his ruling.

He also said there is nothing in the report that "a fair-minded person would construe as an attack or criticism of Taser's reputation as a corporate citizen or its right to carry on business and market its products."

"It is important to remember that the Commissioner, despite many submissions made to him, recommended the continued use of conducted energy weapons and commented favourably on the advantages of using such weapons in circumstances in which the police would otherwise have been required to use other means of force," Sewell wrote.

Sewell said he did consider Taser Chairman Tom Smith's deposition that he has had to deal with the issues raised in the report in "virtually every meeting" he had with potential customers and customers since the report was released.

"However, I find this evidence to be of little assistance," the judge wrote. "It consists essentially of vague, self-serving statements totally lacking specificity."

No comments: