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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.