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

Thursday, October 18, 2012

TASER: The Whole Story

October, 15, 2012

Dear Zofia,

In memory of Robert and all those who have lost their lives proximal to a TASER.  A promise not forgotten.

Dr. Mike Webster’s Presentation to:
Special Committee to Inquire into the Use of Conducted Energy Weapons
and to Audit Selected Police Complaints
Monday, October 15, from 10:45 to 11:30 a.m.
Douglas Fir Committee Room, Room 226, Parliament Buildings.


I would like to thank the committee for inviting me here today. I am a Registered Psychologist (in private practice) that has worked in the area of police psychology for over 30 years. I completed basic police training at the RCMP Training Academy (Depot Division) in 1988. I specialize in the area of crisis management and have experience in the application of force across a broad array of police tasks including: hostage/barricade incidents; kidnappings; incidents of public disorder; and crisis intervention. I have been instrumental in the creation and delivery of crisis intervention, crisis negotiation, and incident command courses from the Canadian Police College (Ottawa, Ontario) to the B.C. Police Academy (New Westminster, B.C.). I have been an adjunct lecturer at the FBI Training Academy. I have consulted internationally and with several law enforcement agencies including: Colombia, Mexico, Singapore, Brazil, the United Arab Emirates, Hungary, Iceland, Sweden, Australia, and Europol. I have consulted operationally at a variety of incidents including: the old BC Penitentiary (hostage takings); Waco, Texas; Gustafsen Lake, B.C.; Jordan, Montana; Ft. Davis, Texas; the G8; the G20; Apex Alpine; and numerous kidnappings from Iraq to Indonesia, and Kashmir to Colombia. I am familiar with both Use of Force Models; the RCMP’s Integrated Model of Incident Management and the National Use of Force Framework. I provided testimony at both phases of the Braidwood Commission of Inquiries.

I assume that your committee invited me here today to comment on my experience in the implementation of Justice Braidwood’s recommendations in the areas of crisis intervention and training; as I have noted, areas of specialty and experience for me. As I was not invited to be a part of that implementation process, I can only make general comment on what has been done by others. I am more than willing to answer any questions you may have in those areas of police work following my presentation. However, as it appears that electro-shock weapons (ESWs) are here to stay, and in order to assist in an informed discussion, and the formulation of future public policy, I would like to address in the meantime a couple of critical concerns. I believe your committee, and the public should be advised of not only recent TASER-related science but also some of the more pertinent contemporary and historical concerns associated with the TASER’s place in Canadian law enforcement. In providing this information I hope to prevent the next generation technology from being so easily accepted and under such compromised circumstances.


The BC Government failed its citizens when TASER technology was introduced to the Province. As someone who is trained to construct, conduct, and be critical of research, I was taken aback last week to hear the Assistant Deputy Minister and Director of Police Services cavalierly gloss over the inadequate and flawed process used to approve the use of TASERs in this Province. Those who appreciate the scientific method prefer to regard that process as amateurish, at best, and replete with misrepresentations provided by what appears to have been a seriously compromised policeman/project manager. I would like to elaborate. There was not enough rigorous science applied by the manufacturer to guarantee the safety of the weapon. TASERs were anecdotally not scientifically developed. Universally, public officials failed to verify the safety claims being made by the company and its spokespersons. TASERs were rushed into service by decision makers and police in B.C. and throughout Canada in 1999. The weapon has caused problems for the public and the manufacturer. For example, TASER International is presently engaged in damage control by offering trade-ins to “recall” older, more powerful weapons. (Are you aware that the M-26 model is powered at 26-Watts, the next generation model the X-26 is lower powered, and the newest model the X2 will be even lower? This begs the question as to why the manufacturer would lower the power of the weapon without alerting law enforcement first and providing some explanation). It appears that with the lack of regular and rigorous peer reviewed independent measurement, no policeperson could be sure of the amount of current being emitted from the weapon at any given deployment; for unlike breathalysers, defibrillators, and radar guns, the police do not routinely measure the output of their TASERs.

The CBC had fifty randomly chosen police TASERs tested independently in a lab in Chicago in 2008. They discovered that not all TASERs perform in the same way, as reflected in their “output variance”. Electro-shock weapons manufacturers readily admit that the output of these devices can vary due to factors beyond their control.

According to the Canadian blog “Truth-Not-Tasers”, that has been tracking the death toll, approximately 750 people have died proximal to TASER use in North America since the higher-powered M-26 was introduced. The lower powered 5-Watt system was what was field tested in Canada, by the Victoria Police Department in 1999, in the “field study” mentioned by Mr. Pecknold. The policeman in charge initially said he had concerns about the new, soon-to-be-available higher powered 26-Watt weapons and that more research was needed before he could recommend them. Yet a few months later this was exactly the model of TASER that his police department purchased. In his final report (“An Independent Evaluation of Conducted Energy Weapons”) there was no evidence that the 26-Watt system had ever been subjected to any controlled research. Yet, the higher powered 26-Watt system is what our police services decided to buy and deploy. The medical safety studies promised by this policeman/project manager were never produced. Contrary to Mr. Pecknold’s statement of last week, the people of BC received no medical evidence assuring them of the safety of TASERs prior to them being brought into service.

Despite the glaring omissions of the 26-Watt system, and safety concerns about it in his final report, this same Victoria policeman wrote in both of his reports that TASERs had been “over-studied”. In fact, this was not true. It is widely known that TASER spent only $14,000 in research and development when it shocked a single pig in 1996 to develop the waveform and then 5 dogs in 1999 to further test the weapon. The results of these tests were not published, or reviewed, by third party peers. These results are not even included in TASER International’s own Medical Compendium.

The higher powered technology was never subjected to independent, impartial, rigorous research prior to being deployed throughout Canada. The policeman who claimed that TASERs were “medically safe”, not being scientifically or medically trained, was not qualified to make such a judgement.

This same policeman claimed that TASERs met electrical safety standards as set by the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) and the International Electro-technical Commission (IEC). (The Canadian Standards Association (CSA) was not mentioned). This policeman’s claim of electrical safety was untrue because the devices have never been tested by these safety standards bodies. You will note that TASERs do not bear certification marks from any of these organizations, as other electrical products sold, and used, in Canada must. The fact is, the Canadian public still has an untested, unregulated electrical device in the hands of police; this, in violation of the Electrical Safety Standards Act, that says no electrical devices are to be sold or used without a proper certification mark. The TASER carries no such mark, even though it emits electrical current into the body. Remarkably this policeman/project manager’s report, replete with what appear to be false claims, was vetted by TASER International and the CPRC; and neither saw fit to make any amendments. Today these claims are no longer made.

Although somewhat technical, it is well to recognize that the dangers lie in the peaks of the current, even though TASER International prefers to use “averages” in its description of the weapon’s electrical characteristics. It is medically uncontroversial that electrical currents between 70 – 100 milliamps can kill. Following TASER International’s original specification sheets, the peak currents of the M-26 and X-26 models are obscured in average calculations. These weapons, at peak current, that is 162 and 151 milliamps respectively, are powerful enough to kill as suggested by Commissioner Braidwood at the conclusion of his Commission of Inquiries. Moreover, according to the IEC-479 standard, shocks of 151 to 162 milliamps over five seconds can stimulate the heart adversely in 50% of the population that receives the shock. Today the electrical output of these weapons does not appear in the manufacturer’s product specification sheets.
This same Victoria Police Department member was then seconded to manage the joint (RCMP and CPRC) “Conducted Energy Weapons Evaluation Project”. It was not a study into health and safety effects, as one may have hoped, but simply a cataloging of the effects of the harsh Canadian winter on the functioning of the weapons.

It was later discovered and reported by the Vancouver Sun, that this policeman had an undisclosed financial relationship with TASER International. This was revealed when he testified at a wrongful death lawsuit in 2005. The family of Robert Bagnell was suing the Vancouver Police Department after Mr. Bagnell was shocked multiple times and died in the downtown east side.

The policeman in question was asked to testify as he had been brought over from Victoria by the Vancouver Police Department as an “independent” investigator into Mr. Bagnell’s death. When pressed by lawyer Cameron Ward, the policeman admitted he had done undisclosed freelance work for TASER International.

On the surface it appears that this policeman, at some point in 2000, tasked with evaluating the technology for BC (and ultimately the rest of Canada), was quietly being given stock in TASER International while he lead Master Taser Trainer Courses for the manufacturer with other police services. TASER International Chairman Tom Smith told a federal all-party subcommittee, looking into TASER stock options, and televised nation-wide on the Parliamentary channel, that stock options were given to this officer for designing a holster. (Ironically, the holster in question was for the M-26 model, the very weapon this officer claimed to be uncertain of). There are those, who understand the objectivity of the scientific method, who would describe the receipt of payment, in whole or in kind, from TASER International, while evaluating the safety of its products for the BC Government as a hopeless conflict of interest. Ujjal Dosanjh, who had given the Victoria Police Department permission to field test the 5-Watt system in 1999, told CTV News that he felt he had been deceived. He was concerned that the policeman, in question, had failed to disclose his relationship with TASER International and, worse still, that false claims were made in the various versions of his so-called “independent evaluation”. This policeman remains on the job today with the Victoria Police Department and has never been held accountable by decision makers for making these misrepresentations. Mr. Dosanjh has said that if he knew then what he knows now, he would never have given TASERs the go-ahead.

Also related to the absence of independent, scientific evidence, American authorities allowed TASERs to be deployed despite significant “data gaps”, and other concerns raised in three key US government reports. Canadian law enforcement was unaware of, or worse ignored, these over sights. One of these critical oversights involved not questioning, TASER International for placing a conformity mark on their M-26 brochure. This mark (i.e. CE) is used to indicate conformity with standards necessary for a product to enter the European Economic Area. The European Community did not have, nor even have today, any standard for electrical safety that would apply to the M26 ADVANCED TASER. In sum, there was a glaring lack of due diligence undertaken by authorities when these weapons were first introduced. As a result, approximately eight people have died in British Columbia proximal to their use.

Times Colonist reporter Rob Shaw has said that your Special Committee will be considering “the scientific research into the medical risks to persons against whom conducted energy weapons are deployed”. This is encouraging as there is much that even Commissioner Braidwood did not uncover. Not one Canadian government agency or department including Health Canada, Public Safety Canada or the RCMP bothered to verify TASER International’s medical and safety claims. The RCMP even used photo-copied TASER promotional information in its first TASER report in 2000.Remarkably, law enforcement in Canada is still able to use TASERs in “probe mode”, when there is no electrical safety standard for invasive shocks; that is, electrical current introduced below the skin.

One Vancouver journalist approached the IEC, the UL, and the CSA and learned that the standard they use to measure safety thresholds is for shocks on the skin, not subcutaneous shocks. All these laboratories assert that we know so little about the effects of electricity below the skin they could not, in good faith, certify these weapons with one of their safety marks; like you find on your electric shaver, toaster, or hair dryer.

Contrary to Dr. Lu’s assertion, last week before this committee, there has been important TASER related research since 2008. Regarding cardiac risks, a study published this year, in the Journal of Circulation, by Dr. Douglas P. Zipes, cardiologist and professor emeritus at Indiana University, clearly demonstrates that the electric shock delivered to the chest by a Taser can lead to cardiac arrest and sudden death. “This is no longer arguable”, said Dr. Byron Lee, a cardiologist and director of the electrophysiology laboratory at the University of California, San Francisco. “This is a scientific fact”. With respect, the question before your committee should now focus on whether the risk of sudden death from a TASER shock is low enough to warrant wide spread use of the weapon by police in British Columbia.

It seems at this point governments and/or police decision makers don’t really want to know, or admit, they made grave errors by not adequately verifying TASER International’s safety claims. Presently in the U.S., courts are being asked to consider for the first time, police use of TASERs. No longer are TASER cases based strictly upon product liability; the cases now before the courts are different. These cases challenge the police persons who deployed the weapon. The question, in light of current evidence, is now “when is electrical force excessive force?” Appellate Judge Mary Schroeder has noted, “One could argue that the use of painful, permanently scarring weaponry on non-threatening individuals, who were not trying to escape, should have been known to be excessive by an informed police officer”. This may give you some insight into the “major and consistent decrease” in TASER use mentioned by the Deputy Minister last week before this committee. It is only a matter of time before cases of this nature work their way into the Canadian legal experience.

In contrast to Dr. Lu’s statement that “. . . TASERs are generally shown to be relatively safe”, TASER International’s own Voluntary Exposure and Liability Release Form includes a long list of alarming known and possible side effects that contradict its original safety claims and confirms what critics have been saying for over a decade. Here are only a few of those known and possible side effects. The company cautions that the weapons ”. . . have not been scientifically tested on pregnant women, the infirm, the elderly, small children, and low body mass persons…the use on these individuals could increase the risk of death or serious injury”. The company goes on to admit that the TASER “. . . can produce physiologic or metabolic effects, which include changes in: acidosis, adrenergic states, blood pressure . . . heart rate and rhythm …”. With this statement TASER International confirms experts’ beliefs that the TASER can capture the heart and alter its rhythms in healthy adults. TASER International then goes on to shift the responsibility for their weapons onto the user by recommending that “…all TASER … users conduct their own research, analysis, and evaluation”. Wouldn’t you think a manufacturer would want to be able to assure its customers of its product’s safety before it went to, or even after it was on the market?

A final concern that should be of interest to this committee involves the TASER tester, “Verus One”, being put forward by the B.C. Police Services. Police Services has accepted a test protocol developed by Andy Adler of Carlton University, Ottawa’s MPB Electronics, and Datrends Systems of Richmond, B.C., despite the authors themselves admitting this protocol is far from comprehensive or independent.

The Verus One actually tests to determine whether an ESW is operating within TASER International’s specifications. The Verus One does not determine the electrical energy delivered into a subject. The 600 Ohms resistance value being used in the formula by the B.C. Police Services actually comes from TASER International’s chief engineer Max Nerheim via Adler et.al. According to a study by the American Heart Association (AHA) the resistance for a trans-thoracic shock could be as low as 25 Ohms. So the suggested 600 Ohms indicates a base resistance that would appear to be an artificially high value that does not necessarily reflect the reality of all subjects. When CBC did it’s testing in 2008 and found a 12 percent failure rate, it used a previous test protocol employing 250 Ohms of resistance, which it got from TASER International. The company has since recommended raising the resistance level to 600 Ohms but, I have found no literature from the manufacturer that has offered the scientific references or rationale for doing so.

Several significant considerations should be pointed out concerning the Verus One:

1. It does not determine electrical safety of ESWs

2. It only tests to determine whether ESWs are “in tolerance” or “out of tolerance”.

3. A test result of “in tolerance” does not indicate or imply that injury or death will not result from use of the tested ESW, or that the tested ESW will incapacitate a person against whom the ESW may be deployed.

4. It does not measure the electrical energy delivered into a body (i.e. invasive shocks).

5. It also does not disclose scientific references or rationale as to why 600 Ohms is identified as the measurement base vs. a range of resistances.

In closing it is worth mentioning that the IEC and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the US are presently developing a standardized method of measurement for ESWs. This standard will result in the IEC 62792 ESW measurement method. Moreover, it is my understanding that no Canadian law enforcement agencies have even bothered to investigate, nor has Datrend disclosed the issue of Intellectual Property Rights regarding “Verus One”. This is significant as a lack of Intellectual Property Rights could cost Canadian law enforcement, and the Canadian taxpayer, a significant amount of money due to Intellectual Property and licensing issues. Based upon these concluding statements, I would strongly urge care and caution be exercised before purchasing any ESW analyzer.

Ontario Ombudsman - Ontario Ombudsman honoured for police oversight work

Ontario Ombudsman - Ontario Ombudsman honoured for police oversight work

Monday, October 15, 2012

Justice Pour les Victimes de Bavures Policières /// Justice for the Victims of Police Killings

Justice for Victims of Police Killings:
Third Annual Commemorative Vigil
MONDAY, OCTOBER 22, 6:30pm (2012)
rendez-vous: 480 Gilford, métro Laurier (St-Joseph exit)
Family-friendly; welcome to all! Rain or shine.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Vermont Taser Death Investigation Stalls

September 13, 2012
By William Boardman, IVN

Vermont Taser Death Investigation Stalls

None of the officials involved in Vermont’s first taser death can explain why it’s almost three months since a Vermont State trooper tasered Macadam Mason, a 39-year-old epileptic artist who died almost immediately, and there’s still no completed autopsy report.

The same officials in two states, Vermont and New Hampshire, also failed to reveal last June that Taser International, the taser manufacturer, almost immediately intervened in the investigation, submitting guidance and background information for the Vermont State Police and the NH medical examiner’s office that was in the midst of performing Mason’s autopsy. That was June 21 and Taser’s involvement remained unknown to the public until reported September 9 by the Burlington Free Press.

Taser’s covert intervention into Mason’s taser-related death is part of apparently long-standing policy on the company’s part to intervene as early as possible to protect the Taser brand from bad publicity.

With some 500 taser-related American deaths since 2001, Taser has already changed its characterization of its 50,000 volt stun gun from “non-lethal” to “less lethal.”

Taser’s approach to taser deaths is to challenge anyone suggesting that taser was in any way to blame. Last July when OpEdNews.com ran a story headlined, “Taser Death In Vermont: Trooper Zaps Unarmed Epileptic Artist,” Stacey Todd of Taser International posted a comment asserting that: “It’s premature to describe Mr. Mason’s death as a ‘Taser death.’ To simply infer that the use of one police tool may be to be to blame for this man’s death is irresponsible as there are no facts to support that causal relationship.”

All reports of the event of June 20 are consistent, relating that when trooper David Schaeffer shot his taser at Macadam Mason, Mason dropped to the ground and never regained consciousness. He was taken to a hospital in NH where he was pronounced dead.

When asked, “do you think Mason would be dead even if no taser was used,” the Taser International spokesperson did not answer the question. Instead, Stacey Todd wrote that: “Until a medical expert, coroner or medical examiner, determines a cause of death it’s speculation to state that the Taser device caused Mr. Mason’s death.”

In fact, in three different cases in Ohio in 2005-06, when the Chief Medical examiner’s office in Summit County, Ohio, made exactly that determination, Taser International took the county to court. After a four-day trial in 2008, Ohio Judge Ted Schneiderman found for Taser on every item in the company’s complaint, as well as some items it had not requested, and ordered the medical examiner to re-write three separate death certificates.

The judge’s 13-page decision in May 2008 described three events that unambiguously included tasers and fatalities, as well other factors like extreme drug use, a badly slashed wrist, serious mental impairment, and obesity. These descriptions alone raise doubts about the taser use directly causing any of the three deaths, but tasers were indeed deployed just a matter of minutes before each of three men died, belying the judge’s conclusion that: “The Taser device had nothing to do with their deaths.” [emphasis added]

In Arizona, where Taser International is based in Scottsdale, the Arizona Republic newspaper of Phoenix covered the decision in a story that starts: “Taser International has fired a warning shot at medical examiners across the country. The Scottsdale-based stun gun manufacturer increasingly is targeting state and county medical examiners with lawsuits and lobbying efforts to reverse and prevent medical rulings that Tasers contributed to someone’s death.”

The medical examiner appealed the decision on seven separate issues, getting upheld on one and denied on the rest. In April 2009, the three-judge appeals court denied the medical examiner’s constitutional due process argument on the ground that it had not been raised in the original trial. The appeals court also reversed the trial judge for granting Taser items it had not requested.

In a pointed dissent, Judge Donna J. Carr argued that Taser International had no basis for bringing the suit in the first place “because it has not suffered an actual injury and because the interests it seeks to protect do not fall within the zone of interest to be protected by the statute.” The statute in question is concerned with preserving the integrity and finality of cause-of-death determinations.

Judge Carr went on to say that the cases the majority cited to support its position “involved persons with direct interests in the cause of death of the decedent, such as persons accused in the death, not corporations seeking to make a preemptive strike to preclude lawsuits from being filed against it.”

In Ohio, at least, “the controversy of medical examiners and Taser-related deaths” continued to make news in 2012 when WCPO-TV in Cincinnati looked into the taser-related death of a teenager that was ruled “unknown/undetermined” after he was tasered by a police officer. That ruling was challenged by the family’s attorney who said, “He’s a very clean and upstanding kid, very healthy kid…and the only thing that happened that night is he was tased and then he died and she’s saying this doesn’t matter, the Taser doesn’t matter…I don’t think so.”

WCPO also reported on a 2003 study by the Dept. of Defense that discussed the difficulty of assessing tasers as a cause-of-death, since electric shock leaves no tracks. Without direct evidence, medical examiners must rely on inference to assess the elements of a death, the same inferences that seemed so obvious to the Summit County medical examiner until Taser took her to court.

Asked if she had an opinion of the courts’ rulings, medical examiner Dr. Lisa J. Kohler said, “Yes.” She did not elaborate except to say, “I respectfully disagree with the original ruling. The death certificates reflect that disagreement in that they are unsigned.”

Whether any of these events have anything to do with the delay in Vermont getting Macadam Mason’s autopsy report from NH is anyone’s guess. Taser International has contacted at least some of the officials involved. The Vermont Attorney General’s office and the Vermont State Police won’t comment. The NH Medical Examiner’s office says that Taser hasn’t influenced them. The NH Attorney General’s office refers inquiries to the Vermont Attorney General and other NH officials refers autopsy questions to the Vermont State Police. The Vermont State Police won’t comment beyond saying that, when it gets the autopsy report, it will forward copies to the Attorney General and to the Orange County State’s Attorney Office, which has primary jurisdiction, since Mason died in Thetford in Orange County.

Monday, September 10, 2012

This message was received today via this site's guestbook and it raises an interesting issue:
The issue of how to correctly remove taser darts is an issue that has not been considered by most. The risk of improper removal are severe. According to Taser International, approximately 2 million people have been "tased" If any of these taser darts were removed with dirty instruments such as a contaminated Leatherman of pliers, the person having the taser dart removed may have contracted a blood borne disease such as HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, or MRSA. In my opinion, this is a civil rights issue. If I am a protester, and I get tased, I can live with that. But if the fireman or cop removes the darts and infects me with a disease, that may kill me, that is a serious issue. Correct taser dart removal is not complicated...but unclean instruments are used all the time.
Please see this recent article for more information.

This problem will only be solved by raising awareness.

Please feel free to post this on the blog if you would like, I don't know how...sorry I am not very savvy with this sort of thing. Thanks...great blog.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Taser lawsuit dismissal is upheld on appeal

9th Circuit Court says Taser International had no reason to advise in 2004 that repeated jolts from its stun guns could cause a condition that raises heart attack risk.

Maura Dolan, Los Angeles Times

July 11, 2012

A federal appeals court Tuesday upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit against the manufacturer of Tasers, ruling the company had no duty to warn that repeated jolts from the stun guns could trigger death.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed unanimously that Arizona-based Taser International had no reason to advise police agencies in 2004 that the stun guns could cause metabolic acidosis, a condition in which lactic acid, produced during physical exertion, accumulates more quickly than the body can expel it. The condition raises the risk of a heart attack.

The parents of Michael Rosa, 38, who died in 2004 after police repeatedly shocked him with electricity from Tasers, sued the manufacturer on the grounds the company should have warned of the risk. The company maintains there is no evidence that Tasers cause acidosis but began warning about it anyway in 2009.

The suit stemmed from an incident in the Monterey County city of Del Rey Oaks. Someone called police to report that a "pretty disturbed" man was walking around and yelling. The first officer on the scene believed the man, Rosa, was "either really high or crazy" and called for backup, the court said. More officers arrived, and officers repeatedly fired Tasers at Rosa before wrangling him into handcuffs.

"At this point, Michael slumped, his lips blue, his breathing erratic," Judge Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain wrote for the court. "He quickly stopped breathing entirely."

Efforts to resuscitate Rosa failed, and he died shortly thereafter. High levels of methamphetamines were discovered in his blood, and his death eventually was linked to acidosis, the court said. But studies previous to the Rosa incident failed to substantiate that Tasers cause acidosis, the court said.

John Maley, an attorney for the company, said it has been sued several times on the grounds the weapon caused the condition. One case led to a jury award of about $200,000 against the company. Maley said he hoped Tuesday's ruling would end the litigation.

"The science even today doesn't establish that dangerous acidosis results from Taser application," Maley said. He said the company decided to issue warnings only to avoid potential liability.

Peter Williamson, one of Rosa's lawyers, disagreed, citing a 2005 study that he said showed Tasers can trigger the deadly condition. The Rosa suit was dismissed only because the death occurred before that study was published, Williamson said.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) should explain use of force, Tasers

A family member’s description of the circumstances that led to a mentally ill man being Tasered last week and the OPP’s reluctance to explain what happened raise questions about how well the situation was handled.

Jake Lee Smith, a 44-year-old City of Kawartha Lakes resident, called 911 after suffering a breakdown and taking an overdose of pills. City of Kawartha Lakes officers went to Smith’s home and when he refused to come out an emergency response team was called in.

According to Smith’s brother, John Garton, Smith panicked when he saw officers in riot gear with semi-automatic rifles and barricaded himself in the house, along with his elderly mother. Some media reports indicated Smith might have had a gun. Garton says the only firearms in the house were a pellet gun and a flare gun used as safety equipment in a boat.

That situation could easily have let to trouble. However, Garton’s version of what happened after he arrived suggests the incident could also have ended quietly. Garton said the officers refused to let him to speak to his brother. Only after a 3-1/2 hour standoff was he allowed to phone in to the home, and convinced Smith to come out and give himself up.

Garton says his brother walked out of the house with his dog and was almost immediately shot twice with a Taser, once in the leg and once in the neck. He described it as a “huge overreaction.”

The OPP refuses to release any details of what the officers reported following the incident. Last week a spokeswoman would say only that the officers were well trained and were protecting the safety of “community members.” On Tuesday she said police will not comment because Smith has been charged with weapons offences and breach of probation.

Police need to be more upfront when they use force during an arrest, particularly in light of the number of deaths following Taser incidents and concerns about the handling of mental health patients. It not clear that Smith was a danger to anyone or that he had threatened the officers in any way.

If not, a full team of specially trained officers should have been able to arrest him peacefully, and should at least have considered letting his brother try to calm him down.

If police saw evidence of a threat serious enough to require Taser use the OPP should say so. The facts will come out if charges against Smith go to court, but the public interest would be better served by not waiting for when, or if, that happens.

A Trial Lawyer’s Guide To Taser Lawsuits


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Taser recommendations to be examined by British Columbia

June 13, 2012
Rob Shaw, timescolonist.com

The use of Tasers by police officers will be put under the microscope by a special committee of provincial politicians.
Eight government and Opposition MLAs were quietly appointed to study the issue, amid a flurry of other business on the last day of the spring session of the legislature.

The MLAs will focus on recommendations made by Justice Thomas Braidwood on Tasers, as well as how those recommendations have been implemented throughout the province, said Murray Coell, the Liberal MLA for Saanich North and the Islands and the committee convener.

“The direction we were given [by the legislature] was basically to look at the recommendations of Justice Braidwood, that’s the starting point,” Coell said.

MLAs will also consider “the scientific research into the medical risks to persons against whom conducted-energy weapons are deployed,” according to the committee’s terms of reference.

The politicians have the power to call witnesses, gather evidence and travel throughout the province, though it’s not known to what extent they will exercise those abilities.

Coell said it is reasonable to assume that police officials would be called to give evidence.

The first meeting is scheduled for July 18, and the committee must produce a report within a year.
Braidwood released recommendations on the use of and training surrounding Tasers in 2009.

The provincial government accepted them all and, in late 2011, approved new mandatory policing standards for Taser use, as well as crisis intervention and de-escalation techniques.

The Braidwood commission then went on to examine the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, who died after police repeatedly Tasered him while restraining him face down on the floor at Vancouver International Airport on Oct. 14, 2007.

The video of the incident sparked international criticism, and Braidwood ultimately said the actions of the four RCMP officers involved were shameful and not justified.

The officers have since been charged with perjury, and B.C. has launched a civilian Independent Investigations Office to handle police-involved serious injury and death cases.

“Clearly, given the death of Robert Dziekanski, given the serious concerns raised about the Taser … the committee has the chance to bring forward some good recommendations,” said NDP justice critic Leonard Krog, who is also a committee member.

The MLAs will also conduct a random audit of the police misconduct cases handled by B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner.

Coell said the government is doing “due diligence” in examining the office’s performance.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Warren, MI Police Department drops Tasers after shocking letter from manufacturer

June 10, 2010
Norb Franz, Oakland Press

Macomb County’s second-largest police force has dropped Tasers from its daily weaponry.

The Warren Police Department recently discontinued use of the stun guns after Arizona-based Taser International notified the city that the “general useful life” of the 152 devices carried by officers has expired.

After receiving an email that X26 and M26 Tasers more than 5 years old with certain serial numbers are past the recommended “deployment lifecycle,” police administrators and training division staff weighed whether Warren — which is Michigan’s third-largest city and has the most criminal incidents in the county — should eliminate Tasers, after six years of use.

Police Commissioner Jere Green cited multiple reasons for his decision to order all patrol officers, shift commanders and others on the street to turn in their Tasers. Warren’s top-ranking police administrator emphasized he will not risk officers’ safety if there’s potential for a delay when a Taser trigger is pulled; that use of Tasers failed to produce the desired results nearly a quarter of the time they were deployed; and that he doesn’t have the money in his budget to replace the aged models with new ones.

“If it doesn’t work, it’s going to give the bad guy time to go to plan B,” Green said. “We don’t have much wiggle room on the road for mistakes.”

The Taser model used by Warren police fires two barbs with 25 feet of wire. If both probes penetrated the target’s skin or clothing, the device delivers 50,000 volts for five seconds. All were purchased using drug forfeiture funds.

Police officials said their review found that the Tasers were used unsuccessfully 23 percent of the time they were used by Warren officers. The failures ranged from batteries and cartridges that became disconnected, to both probes not striking the target, to suspects wearing several jackets preventing complete penetration.

“It wasn’t really a no-brainer,” Green said. “It was a tough decision to make.”

Use of Tasers, formally regarded as an electronic control device, is touted as a non-lethal use of force. But the devices and police have made headlines together when a person dies after being struck.

Two people have died after being shot by a Taser fired by Warren police.

Last September, Richard Kokenos, 27, of Warren, died after a city police officer stunned him with a Taser as he attempted to break out of a squad car after being handcuffed, according to media reports.

A neighbor of Kokenos on Kendall Street said Kokenos had appeared “freaked out” while knocking at his door, asking to use a telephone. When the neighbor returned with a phone, Kokenos knocked on a door next door, went to a third house before returning to the second house, then walked to nearby Eureka Street, where he reportedly was seen slamming his body against the home.

In the other incident, Robert Delrico Mitchell, 16, bolted from a car during an April 2009 traffic stop by Warren police on Eight Mile Road. Mitchell was cornered by officers inside a vacant house on Pelkey Street in Detroit. Officers ordered him to show his hands after he told police he was 15 years old, Warren police said. An officer tried to grab him, but the teenager pulled free, police said. Mitchell pushed away and turned like he was heading to the front door to run again, and one of the two additional officers who arrived at the house fired a Taser, detectives said.

Mitchell fell unconscious. Police said officers and paramedics performed CPR, but he died.

The incident triggered a public outcry from Mitchell’s family and members of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality. Ten days after her son’s death, Cora Mitchell filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the city of Warren and its police department, claiming police violated his constitutional rights and used a “code of silence” to cover up the incident.

An attorney for the family alleged the Taser was a factor in the teen’s death. Attorney William Goodman died of “cardiac arrhythmia induced by (a thin heart wall)” with the “use of an electrical delivery device a contributing factor.”

A toxicology test showed Robert Mitchell had marijuana in his system, but the illegal drug was not a contributing factor in his death, Warren police said.

In 2007, 47-year-old Steven Spears, a bodybuilder and hairdresser from Shelby Township, died after he was involved in a tussle with police that included the deployment of a Taser by township police. Autopsy reports attributed his death to cocaine use. Spears’ family filed an excessive force lawsuit against the township and settled the case for $1.95 million.

Green, the Warren police commissioner, stressed the Mitchell case was not a factor in his order to halt Taser use by the city’s officers.

Warren also is engaged in a lawsuit filed by the city against Taser International.

The decision leaves officers in Warren without the device intended to temporarily incapacitate suspects who resist arrest without making direct contact. Patrol officers and shift commanders still carry batons and chemical spray.

Cpl. Matt Nichols of the Warren police training division said nearly all officers eagerly turned in their Taser and only about three officers expressed concern about being ordered to turn in their Taser. “Once we explained it … they freely handed it over,” Nichols said.

Warren could have purchased Taser’s newest model designed for law enforcement use at a cost of approximately $800 including the holster, four cartridges and after a $250 trade-in allowance.

A Taser International spokesman did not return a phone call seeking comment for this report. In an email to Warren police, the company wrote: “We were contacted by several agencies seeking help in determining how many of their Taser ECDs are approaching or have passed the recommended five-year lifecycle. We learned that we could better serve our customers if we took the time to run a proactive analysis of agencies’ ECDs so they could better plan for the future.”

Last month, Michigan became the 45th state to allow residents to arm themselves with Tasers. Under the new law, anyone trained in the use of a stun gun and with a license to carry a concealed pistol can carry a Taser for personal protection.

The consumer model reportedly can incapacitate a person reportedly with 1,200 volts for 30 seconds — far less electricity than the police model.

Use varies around Macomb

A Macomb Daily survey of police departments in Macomb County showed all make Tasers available to patrol officers and commanders, but in a few departments carrying the stun guns is optional. Several communities keep only enough for each shift.

The Fraser Public Safety Department has had Tasers since about 2005, Lt. Dan Kolke said.

“When a Taser is over five years old, we’re just getting rid of it and buying a new one,” he said.

Utica Police Chief Dave Faber said the city’s officers have been equipped with Tasers since 2004. He said the devices are tested daily to show they are charged.

“I don’t see a need to take them out of service,” Faber said. “We’ve had no problems with anyone not wanting to use them.”

The Utica Police Department has seven Tasers, which are signed out by officers at the start of their shift.

New Baltimore Police Chief Timothy Wiley said the Tasers purchased by the city in 2004 were replaced in 2009. The seven units are assigned to the department’s road patrol officers and commanders, and the city’s school resource officer.

In the St. Clair Shores and Richmond police departments, carrying the stun guns is optional.

New Haven Police Chief Michael Henry and his Romeo counterpart, Chief Grag Paduch, both carry a Taser.

Henry said his village’s police department traded in Tasers for new models four years ago.

“The ones we turned in were operating well. We didn’t have any problems,” he said. “My concern was the warranty had expired on them.

“That means more liability for the (village) government.”

Taser International’s recommendation that older models be replaced has been a controversial topic in Michigan police administrative circles.

“Some say it might be a sales pitch by the company. Others say there’s nothing wrong,” Richmond Police Chief Dave Teske said.

At the annual Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police convention in February, Taser touted its latest models designed for law enforcement agencies.

Center Line Public Safety Director Paul Myszenski said his department’s Tasers are more than four years old.

“We have no reason to get rid of them, but we will address that when we get to that five-year mark,” said Myszenski. He noted that officers still have a baton and pepper spray on their belts.

“The biggest tool an officer has is his mouth and his brain,” said Myszenski, explaining that officers can often talk an uncooperative suspect into complying with police orders. “Nothing’s going to be 100 percent. There’s always risk involved.”

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

OPINION: Whatever Happened to Justice? Supreme Court OKs Police Tasering Pregnant Women

by John W. Whitehead

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”—Martin Luther King Jr.

Once again, the United States Supreme Court has proven Clarence Darrow, a civil liberties attorney and long-time advocate for the Constitution, correct in his assertion that “there is no such thing as justice—in or out of court.” In meting out this particular miscarriage of justice, the Supreme Court recently refused to hear the case of a pregnant woman who was repeatedly tasered by Seattle police during a routine traffic stop simply because she refused to sign a speeding ticket.

Malaika Brooks, 33 years old and seven months pregnant, was driving her 11-year-old son to school on a November morning in 2004, when she was pulled over for driving 32 mph in a 20 mph school zone. Instructing her son to walk the rest of the way to school, Malaika handed over her driver’s license to Officer Juan Ornelas for processing. However, when instructed to sign the speeding ticket—which the state inexplicably requires, Malaika declared that she wished to contest the charge, insisting that she had not done anything wrong and fearing that signing the ticket would signify an admission of guilt.

What happened next is a cautionary tale for anyone who still thinks that they can defy a police officer, even if it’s simply to disagree about a speeding ticket. Rather than issuing a verbal warning to the clearly pregnant (and understandably emotional) woman, Officer Ornelas called for backup. Officer Donald Jones subsequently arrived and told Brooks to sign the ticket. Again she refused. The conversation became heated. The cops called in more backup. The next to arrive was Sergeant Steven Daman, who directed Brooks to sign the ticket, pointing out that if she failed to do so, she would be arrested and taken to jail. Again, Malaika refused.

On orders from Sgt. Daman, Ornelas ordered a distraught Brooks to get out of the car, telling her she was “going to jail.” Malaika refused, and the second cop, Jones, responded by pulling out his taser electro-shock weapon, asking her if she knew what it was and warning her it would be used on her if she continued to resist. Brooks told him “No,” and then said, “I have to go to the bathroom, I am pregnant, I’m less than 60 days from having my baby.”

Jones and Ornelas then proceeded to discuss how best to taser the pregnant woman and forcibly remove her from the car. One officer said, “Well, don’t do it in her stomach; do it in her thigh.” Opening the car door, Ornelas twisted Malaika’s arm behind her back. Desperate, Brooks held on tightly to the steering wheel, while Jones cycled the taser as a demonstration of its capacity to cause pain.

With the taser in a “drive-stun” mode, Officer Jones then pressed the taser against Brooks’ thigh while Ornelas held her hand behind her back. Brooks, in obvious pain, began to cry and honk her car horn—hoping someone would help. Thirty-six seconds later, Ornelas pressed it into her left arm. Six seconds later, he again stunned her, this time on the neck. After being tasered numerous times, Brooks’ pregnant body eventually gave way. As Malaika fell over and out of the car, the officers dragged her onto the street, placing the pregnant woman face down on the pavement, handcuffing her and transporting her to jail.

While Malaika Brooks’ ordeal with the police did not seem to negatively impact her unborn child—she gave birth to a healthy baby girl two months after the altercation—Malaika bears permanent burn scars on her body where she was tasered by police. Thus, looking to the courts to hopefully right the wrong against her, Malaika sued the arresting officers, charging them with use of excessive force and violating her constitutional rights.

Unfortunately, this is where what happened to Malaika Brooks at the hands of the police—behavior that should be roundly condemned and prohibited—becomes yet another example of the cowardice of our justice system and the corrupt nature of life in a police state. Even though the Ninth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals recognized that Malaika posed no threat to anyone, nor did she pose a physical threat to the officers, that none of her offenses were serious, and that officers clearly used “excessive force” against her, the justices granted qualified immunity to the officers—a ruling that the U.S. Supreme Court ostensibly upheld when it refused to hear the case. In doing so, the courts have essentially given police carte blanche authority when it comes to using tasers against American citizens.

Indeed, this case highlights a growing trend in which police officers use tasers to force individuals into compliance in relatively non-threatening situations. Originally designed to restrain violent criminals, tasers are now used with impunity against individuals who pose no bodily harm to the police. Rowdy schoolchildren, the elderly, and mentally ill individuals are increasingly finding themselves on the receiving end of these sometimes lethal electroshock devices. Cops who have been shocked in the course of their training have described being tased as “the most profound pain,” and “like getting punched 100 times in a row.”

Police looking for absolute deference to their authority are quick to utilize tasers. For example, there have been a number of incidents where suspects of minor crimes and even completely innocent people were electroshocked into compliance by cops. In Florida, a 15-year-old girl was tased and pepper sprayed after being taken off of a bus following a disturbance. In Arizona, a run-away 9-year-old girl was tased as she sat in the back seat of a police car with her hands cuffed behind her back. In Oregon, police tased a blind and partially deaf 71-year-old multiple times in her own front yard. In another instance, a Florida woman, 12-weeks pregnant, was tased after refusing to submit to a strip search at a jail. She spontaneously miscarried seven days later. In Texas, a 72-year-old great-grandmother was tased after refusing to sign a speeding ticket.

While law enforcement advocates may suggest otherwise, these incongruous and excessive uses of force by the police are quickly becoming the rule, not the exception. A 2011 New York Civil Liberties Union report showed that of the eight police departments surveyed across the state, over 85 percent of taser uses occurred in cases where suspects were not armed. Incredibly, 40 percent of taser uses were aimed at the elderly, children, the mentally ill, or the severely intoxicated. And despite claims that tasers de-escalate tense situations, a Michigan State University study shows that suspects are more likely to be injured in incidences where police use stun guns (41% of the time), rather than when no stun gun is used (29% of the time).

Moreover, although tasers are touted as being non-lethal, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests otherwise. A study recently published by the American Heart Association has determined that taser shocks applied to the chest can lead to cardiac arrest. According to cardiologist Byron Lee, “This is no longer arguable. This is a scientific fact.”

Since 2001, over 500 people have died after being stunned with tasers. In a 2008 report, Amnesty International reviewed hundreds of deaths following taser use and found that 90 percent of those who died after being struck with a taser were unarmed. In late 2007, the United Nations Committee Against Torture declared that the use of tasers constituted a form of torture. Yet despite all of the evidence that tasers are dangerous, taser technology continues to rapidly advance. One of the most recent advances in taser technology is the X12 Taser shotgun, which fires taser rounds at a distance of up to 100 feet, adding nearly 80 feet in range compared to a regular handheld taser. It would not be a stretch to envision police using the X12 against protesters simply exercising their right to free speech and assembly under the First Amendment.

While it is tempting to paint all law enforcement officials as brutish thugs, I truly do not believe that is the case. I have known many honorable law enforcement officials who sincerely struggle with how best to balance the demands placed on them by higher ups in government with the need to treat those around them with respect and dignity.

As John Lennon once remarked, “The trouble with government as it is, is that it doesn’t represent the people. It controls them.” Indeed, the varied expressions of the government’s growing power—the excessive use of tasers by police on non-threatening individuals, allowing drones to take to the skies domestically for purposes of surveillance, the government’s monitoring of our emails and phone calls, and on and on—which get more troubling by the day, are merely the outward manifestations of an inner, philosophical shift underway in how the government views not only the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but “we the people,” as well.

What this reflects is a move away from a government bound by the rule of law to one that seeks total control over the populace through the imposition of its own self-serving laws on the populace—laws carried out by a police force hired to do the government’s bidding.

Taser use not "relevant factor" in tattoo artist's death

June 5, 2012


The use of a Taser stun gun on Edmonton tattoo artist Trevor Grimolfson was "not a relevant factor" in his death, according to a fatality inquiry report obtained by CBC News prior to its release later this month.

The two-page report into Grimolfsen's death on Oct. 29th, 2008 also contains no recommendations, which concerns his mother Beverly."All you can get are recommendations and you don't even get one to prevent a similar death? Not even one?" she asked. "That's what my son would want. He would not want anyone else to die like that."

Trevor Grimolfson, 38, died after police tried to subdue him outside his tattoo parlour at 153rd Street and Stony Plain Road. Officers were called after Grimolfson rampaged through a nearby pawnshop and assaulted the store owner.

Police used the Taser on him three times. Grimolfson lost consciousness after he was put in handcuffs and was pronounced dead by the time he arrived at the Royal Alexandra Hospital.

In his report, fatality inquiry judge Frederick Day wrote that the last use of a Taser needs to be within 15 seconds of a loss of consciousness for it to be considered a factor in someone's death.

In Grimolfson's case, "a few minutes passed, not seconds, from the time of last Taser use to time of unconsciousness; therefore, the Taser use is not a relevant factor," the judge wrote.

The medical examiner found that Grimolfson died of "excited delirium" triggered by "multiple drug toxicity." He was found to have high levels of the street drugs ecstasy and ketamine in his blood.

Beverly Grimolfson plans to protest outside of future fatality inquiries with relatives of others who have died after Taser use.

During the inquiry, she recommended that researchers at the University of Alberta conduct studies on the effects of the device.

"Something has to be done to get proper testing going here and that's what I'm going to focus on," she said.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Opera focuses on Dziekanski before being Tasered by RCMP

May 31, 2012
Aly Thomson, Canadian Press

HALIFAX -- Repeatedly seeing video of Robert Dziekanski being stunned with a Taser by RCMP officers on national television inspired J.A. Wainwright to write an opera about the tragedy.

"Quite frankly, I got tired of seeing Robert Dziekanski die," said Wainwright, a poet and author.
"I wanted to see him live."

The opera, set to première at the Scotia Festival of Music on Thursday in Halifax, tells the story of Dziekanski, an immigrant from Poland who died in 2007 after being repeatedly stunned by Mounties at the Vancouver airport.

His death attracted international attention when it was captured on video by a traveller.

Wainwright, who wrote the opera's libretto, said he felt Dziekanski became part of a "media circus where we saw him die over and over again."

"I wanted to deal with him as a human being rather than an image on the screen," Wainwright said in a telephone interview from his home in Halifax.

The story is told through the imagined voices of Dziekanski and his mother, Zofia Cisowski.

The opera, titled I Will Fly Like a Bird, begins in Poland on the eve of Dziekanski's departure, where he is celebrating with friends and discussing his aspirations after arriving in Canada, said John Plant, the opera's composer.

The opera then moves into the flight itself, followed by the incident at the airport and finishes with a elegy of sorts from Dziekanski's mother, said Plant.

But the piece does not directly portray when he was shot with the Taser, nor does it evoke any of the political backlash felt by the RCMP after the incident, said Wainwright.

"It doesn't focus in any direct way on the Taser, although it's alluded to metaphorically and very powerfully in the music."

Plant said the human emotion involved in Dziekanski's story was easily translated into a musical piece.

"This was such a trauma... not just for the people involved, but for Canadians as well, to know that this sort of thing could happen," said Plant, who has been writing the music for the opera for more than two years.

"To give Robert a voice and to give his mother a voice, opera can do that very powerfully."

"He was a man filled with hopes and aspirations, coming to a new country to live with his mother, and they were destroyed," he said.

Plant said Cisowski is planning on attending the première of the opera.

"She's very pleased that her son is being honoured in this way and, of course, we're very honoured that she's coming to hear it," said Plant, who will also be playing the piano on Thursday.

The performance will be a concert opera, meaning the vocalists will not be in costume or acting.
It's currently the only planned performance, but Plant said he's hoping to take the show across the country.

The 33rd annual Scotia Festival of Music runs from May 27 to June 8.

Sister of dead Vancouver man targets police Taser accountability

May 30, 2012
Mike Howell, The Vancouver Courier

Next month marks an anniversary Patti Gillman wishes could be for a happier reason than learning about her older brother's death in a downtown hotel.

Eight years ago, 44-year-old Robert Wayne Bagnell died in the Old Continental Hotel at 1390 Granville St. after police attempted to arrest him in a washroom.

"It just brings a deep sense of loss and sadness," said Gillman, by telephone from her home in Belleville, Ont., who lost her brother June 23, 2004.

Vancouver police officers twice fired a Taser at Bagnell, handcuffed him and unsuccessfully used "zap straps" to tie his feet together before using a "triangular bandage" to restrain his legs.

He became unresponsive and died at the scene. To this day, Gillman doesn't believe a Taser was necessary in the arrest of her brother, noting he was 136 pounds and in medical distress when officers arrived at the hotel. "I don't think it helped," she said of the stun gun.

Gillman's belief and her crusade to make police officers more accountable for use of the Taser is detailed in a blog she started after her brother's death. The purpose of Truthnottasers is to track Taser-related deaths in North America and create public awareness about the weapon, said Gillman, who works for a non-profit association that supports people with intellectual disabilities.

Gillman contacted the Courier after reading a recent story posted on the paper's website that revealed the VPD had dramatically curtailed the use of the Taser since her brother's death.

Police have used the Taser only twice this year compared to a recorded high of 93 times in 2006. The year of Bagnell's death, police fired the Taser more than 20 times, according to incident reports posted on the VPD's website.

"Any time it's used by a police officer, it's a case of Russian roulette," she said. "With a gun you know what you're going to get, with a Taser you just don't."

In the lead-up to her brother's arrest, tenants heard incoherent yelling and the sound of porcelain smashing in the washroom. One tenant suspected Bagnell, who had a history of prescription and illicit drug use, of experiencing an overdose.

Dr. Laurel Gray, who conducted the autopsy on Bagnell, considered the role of the Taser, a stun gun that delivers a high-voltage electrical charge. But she concluded the cause of death was consistent with "restraint-associated cardiac arrest due to or as a consequence of acute cocaine intoxication and psychosis."

The details were revealed at a coroner's inquest in 2006 and 2007, which coincidentally was the same year Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski died at the Vancouver International Airport after RCMP officers fired a Taser at him several times.

Gillman has kept in contact with Dziekanski's mother, who bought Gillman a laptop so she could continue to write on her blog about police departments' use of the Taser.

Though stun guns are still used by officers, Gillman believes if her brother experienced the same breakdown today as he did in 2004, he might still be alive.

"I think at the time [the VPD] were so unclear about what the Taser could do or how it worked or what the outcomes could be," she said, noting the family dropped a lawsuit against the VPD because it cost too much. "He wasn't an angel, not at all, but he didn't deserve to die."

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Did Taser maker do proper study?

May 17, 2012
Julie O'Neill, joneil@wcpo.com

CINCINNATI - The 9 News I-Team continues to investigate the potential lethality of the weapon sold to law enforcement agencies across the Tri-State and around the globe as a non-lethal force option.

The original Taser was invented in 1969, but it was 30 years later Taser International introduced new Taser technology to provide "a quantum leap" in stopping power.

Since the widespread use of that Taser in 2001, at least 500 people have died following Taser stuns according to Amnesty International.

Only around 60 of those cases were definitively linked to the Taser by medical examiners.

In July 2011, a jury awarded the family of a 17-year-old $10 million, saying a Taser stun killed him, however the manufacturer failed to properly warn police the Taser could affect the heart.

In March 2012, a judge lowered the award to $5 million, but upheld the verdict.

Attorney John Burton tried the case.

"This is a device that...the power of which was boosted by four times when the Smith brothers acquired it and then sold directly by Taser International to police departments with no intervening government vetting and no peer reviewed medical testing or studies published, simply a product to make money for this company," said Burton.

Electrophysiologist Dr. Douglas Zipes testified in the trial on behalf of the victim's family, and this month his research that Tasers can cause cardiac arrest and death was published in the American Heart Association's premier journal.

"I think Taser's testing of the safety of their devices is woefully inadequate, both in animals and in humans," said Dr. Zipes.

A review of the Taser by the Department of Defense in 2002 said "Development of the Taser appears to be based on serendipitous findings and trial and error, as opposed to well-defined scientific investigation."

The reviewers gave "a limited but favorable endorsement" for military use.

Three years later in 2005, a suit filed by Taser International's own shareholders, accused the company of spending only $14,000 on safety research in 1999 and 2000 prior to putting the higher powered Taser on the market.

Taser settled the shareholder suit for $21 million.

Taser CEO Rick Smith says it's not true that the company spent only $14,000 in initial safety research, because he says Taser's original medical researcher, Dr. Robert Stratbucker, worked for the company for years.

However when asked by the I-Team whether he compensated Dr. Stratbucker with stock instead of pay, Smith said that was true.

"You know when you're a small company and you don't have cash you gotta pay people with whatever you got," said Smith.

Now a multi-million dollar company, Smith says the Taser over the years has been more studied than any other non-lethal weapon, many of the studies funded by his company.

But a September article in the American Heart Journal reported that "studies funded by Taser and/or written by an author affiliated with the company are substantially more likely to conclude that Tasers are safe...18 times higher odds."

9 News contacted Taser International earlier this week asking for any peer-reviewed and published safety research done on the higher powered Taser prior to its market launch, and the company has not responded.

Taser has pointed to a study released in May 2011 by the Department of Justice on deaths following Taser stuns. That report states "there is currently no medical evidence that CED's (Tasers) pose a significant risk for induced cardiac dysrhythmia in humans when deployed reasonably."

Nowhere in the report is the word "reasonably" defined.

The Cincinnati Police Department announced last week it is now revising its policy on the deployment of Tasers, specifically looking at the placement of the darts, following the published research of Dr. Zipes.

Research shows the Taser has saved lives and reduced injuries to officers and subjects, but the death of 18-year-old Everette Howard of North College Hill after a Taser was used on him in August 2011 on the University of Cincinnati campus has raised concerns of public safety, as well as liability for officers and taxpayers.

The Hamilton County Coroner's office still hasn't ruled on Howard's cause of death.

Vancouver cops credit 'clear guidelines' with Taser use drop

The Vancouver Police Department has dramatically curtailed the use of its Tasers with officers having only fired the stun gun twice this year compared to 93 times in 2006.
Statistics show the VPD recorded seven incidents—three in one day in February—where the Taser was involved, with two cases where it was fired.

In the other five incidents, officers unholstered the Taser but did not have to fire the 50,000-volt gun to arrest a suspect, according to incident reports posted on the VPD’s website.

The dramatic decrease in Taser use began after the recorded high of 93 times it was deployed in 2006 dropped to 74 in 2007. Usage dropped further in 2008 to 27 times.

Const. Jana McGuinness, a VPD media relations officer, said the department has 101 officers trained and carrying the Taser, which is far fewer than in previous years.

“And those who do carry it are under tighter scrutiny,” McGuinness said in an email to the Courier. “The new Police Act sets outs very clear guidelines on when the [Taser] may be used, and the legislated usage is much narrower in scope than in 2007. Simply put, the [Taser] is not used in as wide a variety of circumstances as it once was. This alone will account for a decline in usage.”

David Eby, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said the decline is “good news” considering the battle his organization waged several years ago to get a moratorium on the use of Tasers in the province.

The civil liberties association requested the moratorium the same month Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski died in October 2007 at the Vancouver International Airport after RCMP officers fired a Taser at him several times.

“The only bad news about this is that Robert Dziekanski and others have had to die in order for us to get to this number,” said Eby, noting the high profile of the Dziekanski case and the subsequent inquiry into his death. “This is great news. I think that the police are now using the device much more carefully, as they should have been during the beginning.”

The first VPD incident this year requiring a Taser to be fired occurred Feb. 1 in the north lane of 13th Avenue and Ontario Street. Officers boxed in a car, whose occupants were suspected of robbery, kidnapping and a carjacking involving a knife.

Police said the driver attempted to escape.

“The Taser was deployed and the driver was pulled from the driver’s seat and arrested,” said the incident report. “He was assessed at Vancouver General Hospital and then taken to jail.”

In a March 9 incident, officers were called to check on the welfare of an “emotionally disturbed woman” inside a suite in the 1400-block of West 14th Avenue.

The woman made verbal threats, was armed with knives and indicated she had a gun. A VPD emergency response team stormed the suite after a six-hour standoff.

Police fired a Taser and Arwen gun when the woman confronted officers with knives in hand, said the incident report. The woman was taken to hospital for a mental health assessment and is facing weapons charges.

McGuinness noted that in about 75 per cent of incidents involving a Taser, the suspect surrenders after police unholster the stun gun so it is in plain view.

In June 2004, Robert Wayne Bagnell died at the scene after police fired a Taser twice at him during an arrest at the Old Continental Hotel at 1390 Granville St.

Dr. Laurel Gray, who conducted the autopsy, testified at a coroner’s inquest she considered the Taser’s role in Bagnell’s arrest but determined the medical cause of death “was consistent with restraint-associated cardiac arrest due to or as a consequence of acute cocaine intoxication and psychosis.”

The five-man jury agreed and gave no recommendations.

California man dies after police taser him


May 21, 2012: Alex Roman Quintanilla, 22, Barstow, California

Friday, May 11, 2012

Dr. Zipes responds to Taser International


...Zipes has earned more than $500,000 testifying against TASER International, according to the Scottsdale, AZ company's Vice President of Communications Steve Tuttle. He said the doctor omitted key information in his findings, including the fact a video shows the stun probes in one of the cases never connected with the person and no charge was delivered.

"There have been 3 million uses of taser device uses worldwide, with this case series reporting eight of concern," Tuttle said. "This article does not support a cause-effect association and fails to accurately evaluate the risks versus the benefits of the thousands of lives saved by police with taser devices."

Zipes said TASER is incorrect when it says one of the subjects wasn't hit with the stun gun.

"The subject is tazed and immediately drops, spins several times, actually two 360 degree turns and then has immediate loss of consciousness," he said.

"TASER wants to say that probe missed, but the evidence would suggest otherwise."

The doctor said TASER was correct, he charges $1,200 an hour for lawsuit work, but he estimated he has earned $240,000 over the past four or five years.

Zipes said if anything, his paper could put him out of the testifying business, if police agencies heed his warnings. In the study, he wrote that he isn't on a crusade to ban stun guns.

"The main purpose of this paper is to make ECD users aware that cardiac arrest due to VF (ventricular fibrillation) can result from ECD shock," he wrote. "They should be judicious on how and when to use the ECD weapon, avoid chest shocks if possible, as TASER International recommended."

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Study suggests tasers pose substantia​l risk to the heart

April 30, 2012
Erica Goode, New York Times

The electrical shock delivered to the chest by a Taser can lead to cardiac arrest and sudden death, according to a new study, although it is unknown how frequently such deaths occur.

The study, which analyzed detailed records from the cases of eight people who went into cardiac arrest after receiving shocks from a Taser X26 fired at a distance, is likely to add to the debate about the safety of the weapons. Seven of the people in the study died; one survived.

Advocacy groups like Amnesty International have argued that Tasers, the most widely used of a class of weapons known as electrical control devices, are potentially lethal and that stricter rules should govern their use.

But proponents maintain that the devices — which are used by more than 16,700 law enforcement agencies in 107 countries, said Steve Tuttle, a spokesman for Taser — pose less risk to civilians than firearms and are safer for police officers than physically tackling a suspect. The results of studies of the devices’ safety in humans have been mixed.

Medical experts said on Monday that the new report, published online on Monday in the journal Circulation, makes clear that electrical shocks from Tasers, which shoot barbs into the clothes and skin, can in some cases set off irregular heart rhythms, leading to cardiac arrest.

“This is no longer arguable,” said Dr. Byron Lee, a cardiologist and director of the electrophysiology laboratory at the University of California, San Francisco. “This is a scientific fact. The national debate should now center on whether the risk of sudden death with Tasers is low enough to warrant widespread use by law enforcement.”

The author of the study, Dr. Douglas P. Zipes, a cardiologist and professor emeritus at Indiana University, has served as a witness for plaintiffs in lawsuits against Taser — a fact that Mr. Tuttle said tainted the findings. “Clearly, Dr. Zipes has a strong financial bias based on his career as an expert witness,” Mr. Tuttle said in an e-mail, adding that a 2011 National Institute of Justice report concluded there was no evidence that Tasers posed a significant risk of cardiac arrest “when deployed reasonably.”

However, Dr. Robert J. Myerburg, a professor of medicine in cardiology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said that Dr. Zipes’s role in litigation also gave him extensive access to data from medical records, police records and autopsy reports. The study, he said, had persuaded him that in at least some of the eight cases, the Taser shock was responsible for the cardiac arrests.

“I think when we put together the preponderance of what we know about electrical shocks with his observations, there’s enough to say that the phenomenon occurs,” he said. But he added, “I suspect the incidence of these fatal events is going to be low and can be minimized by the precautions.”
Police officers, he said, should take precautions when using the weapons and avoid multiple shocks, prolonged shocks and shocks to the chest.

“I’d rather see Tasers out there than bullets flying around,” Dr. Myerburg said. “But if you have a choice, if the circumstances allow you to avoid either, then physical restraint should be considered.”


April 26-May 1, 2012
Jesse McLean and David Bruser
The Star

A Toronto Star investigation that found more than 100 cases of police deception in Ontario and across the country.  "Their false testimony conceals illegal techniques, excessive force and racial profiling. But accused criminals are walking free as Canadian judges clamp down."

Part 1 - Police who lie: How officers thwart justice with false testimony

Part 2 - Police who lie: False testimony often goes unpunished

Part 3 - Police who lie: National police body says justice system needs to act over lies

Part 4 - Police who lie: For hollering at police, a man was beaten and Tasered

Part 5 - Police who lie: Judge said officer “intentionally misled the Justice of the Peace”

Part 6 - Police who lie: In Edmonton, a veteran detective’s testimony ‘excessively disturbing’

Part 7 - Police who lie: Affidavit by officer gave “misleading and false information”

Part 8 - Police who lie: Attorney general orders probe of police deception

Before the Star published the series of articles, Toronto police spokesperson Mark Pugash sent a combative statement in which he equated the language used by judges in the cases reviewed by the Star to “throwaway comments unsupported by evidence.”

The Star's letter to Mark Pugash.

Monday, April 30, 2012

American Heart Association publishes study claiming Tasers can be cause of death

April 30, 2012
Julie O'Neill, WCPO

CINCINNATI - An article just published by the American Heart Association's premier journal, "Circulation," presents the first ever scientific, peer-reviewed evidence that Tasers can cause cardiac arrest and death.

The article, written by Electrophysiologist Dr. Douglas Zipes of Indiana University, is already generating a buzz among cardiologists in the Cincinnati area, according to Dr. Terri Stewart-Dehner, a cardiologist at Christ Hospital.

"Anyone in cardiology has heard of Dr. Zipes. He is very well respected," said Dr. Stewart-Dehner.
Stewart-Dehner said any article published in "Circulation" has great significance and will be taken very seriously by cardiologists around the world.

"Peer reviewed is a big deal," said Stewart-Dehner. "It means the article goes through a committee just for consideration into the journal. Then cardiologists review the validity of the research; it means it's a reputable article."

The conclusions of Dr. Zipes' article, which looks at eight cases involving the TASER X26 ECD states: "ECD stimulation can cause cardiac electric capture and provoke cardiac arrest resulting from ventricular tachycardia/ventricular fibrillation. After prolonged ventricular tachycardia/ventricular fibrillation without resuscitation, asystole develops."

To view the abstract of the article, click here or go to http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/early/recent.

Speaking on behalf of the American Heart Association, Dr. Michael Sayre with Ohio State Emergency Medicine, said, "Dr. Zipes' work is very well respected. It's a credible report. It's a reminder to police officers and others who are using these tools that they need to know how to do CPR and know how to use an AED."

Dr. Zipes has been discounted by the manufacturer of the Taser, Taser International, because he has been paid to testify against the weapon, but Dr. Zipes says the fact that his research has withstood the rigorous process of review by other well-respected cardiologists and was published in this prestigious journal proves his case.

"It is absolutely unequivocal based on my understanding of how electricity works on the heart, based on good animal data and based on numerous clinical situations that the Taser unquestionably can produce sudden cardiac arrest and death," said Dr. Zipes.

Dr. Zipes says he wrote the article, not to condemn the weapon, but to properly warn police officers of its potential to kill so that they can make good policies and decisions as to the proper use of the weapon, and so that they will be attentive to the possible need for medical care following a Taser stun.

The Taser, used by law enforcement agencies across the Tri-State and by some 16,000 law enforcement agencies around the world, was marketed as non-lethal. Since 2001, more than 500 people have died following Taser stuns according to Amnesty International, which said in February that stricter guidelines for its use were "imperative."

In only a few dozen of those cases have medical examiners ruled the Taser contributed to the death.
It was nearly nine months ago 18-year-old Everette Howard of North College Hill died after police used a Taser on him on the University of Cincinnati's campus.

The Hamilton County Coroner's Office has still not released a "cause of death," but the preliminary autopsy results seemed to rule out everything but the Taser. The office is now waiting for results from a heart specialist brought in to review slides of Howard's heart.

The late Coroner Anant Bhati told 9 News in an exclusive interview before he died in February that he had "great respect" for Dr. Zipes and that he too believed the Taser could cause cardiac arrest. He said he just wasn't ready to say that it caused Everette Howard's death until a heart specialist weighed in on the investigation.

Dr. Bhati also agreed with Dr. Zipes that the weapon should come under government supervision and be tested for its electrical output regularly.

Taser International has said that because the Taser uses compressed Nitrogen instead of gun powder to fire its darts, it is not regulated and testing of the weapon is not legally required.

The company also says the Taser fires two darts, which enter a subject's skin and send electricity into the body in order to incapacitate the subject so that officers can get a subject into custody without a physical fight.

Research shows the Taser has saved lives and reduced injuries among officers.

Taser International has changed its safety warnings over the years.

An I-Team report in October showed that Taser International's website stated in its summary conclusion on cardiac safety, "There is no reliable published data that proves Taser ECDs (Tasers) negatively affect the heart."

With the publication of Dr. Zipes' article, Dr. Stewart-Dehner says it can be argued that statement is no longer the case.

The new statement on Taser International's website quotes a May Department of Justice study on deaths following Taser stuns. It states, "While exposure to Conducted Energy Devices (CEDs) is not risk free, there is no conclusive medical evidence that indicates a high risk of serious injury or death from the direct effects of CED's (Tasers)."
Here is Taser International's complete response to Dr. Zipes' article:

While our medical advisors haven’t had a chance to review the details, it is noteworthy that the sole author, Dr. Douglas Zipes, has earned more than $500,000 in fees at $1,200 per hour as a plaintiff’s expert witness against TASER and police. Clearly Dr. Zipes has a strong financial bias based on his career as an expert witness, which might help explain why he disagrees with the findings of independent medical examiners with no pecuniary interest in these cases as well as the U.S. Department of Justice’s independent study that concluded, "There is currently no medical evidence that CEDs pose a significant risk for induced cardiac dysrhythmia in humans when deployed reasonably" and "The risks of cardiac arrhythmias or death remain low and make CEDs more favorable than other weapons."

Steve Tuttle
Vice President of Communications

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

EIGHT (8!!) people have died since April 10th!

718. April 10, 2012: Bobby Louis Merrill III, 38, Saginaw, Michigan
719. April 13, 2012: Marland Anderson, 39, Los Angeles, California
720. April 13, 2012: Jeff Oatway, 34, Edmonton, Alberta
721. April 13, 2012: Joe Faltesek, 41, Houston, Texas
722. April 13, 2012: George Salgado, 21, Miami, Florida
723. April 21, 2012: Angel Hiraldo, 48, Meriden, Connecticut
724. April 23, 2012: Bruce Chrestensen, 52, Grass Valley, California
725. April 25, 2012: Kevin Benglan, 26, Pocatello, Idaho

California man dies

724. April 23, 2012: Bruce Chrestensen, 52, Grass Valley, California