Amnesty: Time for Taser controls

Seems like every day, there’s another inappropriate tasing! Notice how this recent Occupy D.C. protester was hit directly in the center of the back. Now, read this excerpt from a lawsuit settled against a California police department:

During March 2006, however, a TASER-funded study documented that current from a Model X26 to the chests of test animals “captured” the heart’s electrical system, leading the researchers to advise TASER that “avoidance” of darts near the heart “would greatly reduce any concern for induction of ventricular arrhythmias.”

Nevertheless, in May 2006 TASER issued “Training Version 13,” which continued the misrepresentations that TASER ECDs cannot affect cardiac rhythm. Training slides pictured officers shooting Model X26 darts directly into the chest, and instructed officers to aim for “center body mass,” where the heart is located. The WPD relied exclusively on these fraudulent TASER training materials, and believed that a shock to the chest could not affect the heart.

Taser International has done all kinds of interesting things to avoid dealing with these issues, including threatening coroners with lawsuits for citing Tasers as a cause of death. But the information is mounting anyway:

According to data collected by Amnesty International, at least 500 people in the USA have died since 2001 after being shocked with Tasers either during their arrest or while in jail.

On 13 February, Johnnie Kamahi Warren was the latest to die after a police officer in Dothan, Alabama deployed a Taser on him at least twice. The 43-year-old, who was unarmed and allegedly intoxicated, reportedly stopped breathing shortly after being shocked and was pronounced dead in hospital less than two hours later.

“Of the hundreds who have died following police use of Tasers in the USA, dozens and possibly scores of deaths can be traced to unnecessary force being used,” said Susan Lee, Americas Programme Director at Amnesty International.

“This is unacceptable, and stricter guidelines for their use are now imperative.”

Strict national guidelines on police use of Tasers and similar stun weapons – also known as Conducted Energy Devices (CEDs) – would effectively replace thousands of individual policies now followed by state and local agencies.

Police forces across the USA currently permit a wide use of the weapons, often in situations that do not warrant such a high level of force.

Law enforcement agencies defend the use of Tasers, saying they save lives and can be used to subdue dangerous or uncooperative suspects.

But Amnesty International believes the weapons should only be used as an alternative in situations where police would otherwise consider using firearms.

In a 2008 report, USA: Stun Weapons in law Enforcement, Amnesty International examined data on hundreds of deaths following Taser use, including autopsy reports in 98 cases and studies on the safety of such devices.

Among the cases reviewed, 90 per cent of those who died were unarmed. Many of the victims were subjected to multiple shocks.

Most of the deaths have been attributed to other causes. However, medical examiners have listed Tasers as a cause or contributing factor in more than 60 deaths, and in a number of other cases the exact cause of death is unknown.

Other factors include: Lack of regular calibration of the instruments (resulting in the delivery of a much more dangerous shock than intended), lack of a policy and procedures guide for officers, updated training on new models which deliver continuous voltage instead of the automatic cutoff off earlier models, and Taser International’s very cozy relationship with police departments across the nation.

This is what freedom looks like!