Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Killer Cattle Prods

According to a new report published on Monday in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, the electrical shock delivered to the chest by a Taser can lead to cardiac arrest and sudden death.

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.

The New York Times reported the statements of two prominent doctors who concurred with the results of the study.
“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.”
Dr. Robert J. Myerburg, a professor of medicine in cardiology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said that the study "had persuaded him that in at least some of the eight cases, the Taser shock was responsible for the cardiac arrests."

Steve Tuttle, a spokesman for Taser International, discounted the study, pointing out that the author of the study has served as a witness for plaintiffs in lawsuits against Taser International, and 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.”" This Tireless Agorist finds the qualifier self-serving, to say the least, when one considers that Taser International is a primary manufacturer of the devices that are used by more than 16,700 law enforcement agencies in 107 countries.

Tasers also made headlines recently when Marland Anderson, also known as porn star Sledge Hammer, died after being Tasered by police. Anderson, a 6 foot 4 inch bodybuilder, was Tasered repeatedly after police were called following a severe anxiety attack. Apparently the repeated tasings triggered a heart attack, and by the time EMTs were able to restart his heart ten minutes later, the damage was already done. He never recovered from the resulting coma and was taken off of life support four days later.

These events follow a call from Amnesty International on February 15 urging stricter limits on police Taser use when their count of U.S. deaths caused by tasers reached 500. Amnesty International has long argued that the devices are potentially lethal and that stricter laws should govern their use.
According to data collected by Amnesty International, at least 500 people in the United States have died since 2001 after being shocked with Tasers either during their arrest or while in jail. Amnesty International recorded the largest number of deaths following the use of Tasers in California (92), followed by Florida (65), and Texas (37). The Oklahoma City Police Department led all law enforcement agencies in deaths (7) following by Las Vegas Metropolitan Police, Harris County Sheriff’s (Tx), Phoenix, Az and San Jose, Ca., all with six deaths.

Police forces across the United States 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 percent of those who died were unarmed. Many of the victims were subjected to multiple shocks.

"Of the hundreds who have died following police use of Tasers in the United States, dozens and possibly scores of deaths can be traced to unnecessary force being used," said Susan Lee, Americas program director at Amnesty International. "This is unacceptable, and stricter guidelines for their use are now imperative."

"What is most disturbing about the police use of Tasers is that the majority of those who later died were not a serious threat when they were shocked by police," said Lee.
The New York Civil Liberties Union notes the widespread misuse of Tasers.
In nearly 60 percent of incidents across the state, police officers misued stun guns, according to a report released by the New York Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday. And — with the exception of the NYPD’s Taser guidelines — many departments did not comply with the recommendations of national law enforcement agencies.

The report’s findings also noted that Taser use was justified in less than half of the incidents reported in Albany, Glens Falls, Greece, Guilderland, Nassau County, Rochester Saratoga Springs and Syracuse. And in 35 percent of the cases, the subjects were engaged in defensive or passive resistance.

The study also found that 40 percent of the stun gun incidents involved at-risk subjects, such as children, the elderly, the visibly infirm and those who were seriously intoxicated or mentally ill. Experts said Tasers should be used only where there is active aggression by a subject or a documented threat of physical harm to another person.

"Our analysis shows that police officers are using Tasers in inappropriate, irresponsible and downright deadly manner," NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. "This disturbing pattern of misuse and abuse endangers lives."
A reasonable person might suppose that given the knowledge about the widespread misuse and potential lethality of these devices, police departments would be scrambling to rethink their policies and the spread of the devices might be slowed. Such is not the case. To the contrary, proliferation seems to be the trend.

New York Senator Eric Adams wants to arm Amtrak and commuter railroad workers and subway train crews with Tasers.
The troubling statistics that led Senator Adams to renew his effort? 94 bus drivers and subway workers were physically assaulted in New York City last year, up from 72 in 2010.

But the Transit Workers Union – Local 100, which is backing Adams’ measure, counts 38,000 workers in New York City, hardly an assault epidemic. Additionally, bus drivers and other transit workers are already protected by the law; assault of a transit worker is a felony that can lead to a prison sentence of up to 7 years.
Rather than continuing the proliferation of these potentially deadly devices, this Tireless Agorist stands with Amnesty International and the NYCLU. Tasers are far too dangerous to be used as cattle prods on citizens. Every use of a taser should be examined as carefully as the use of an officer's service weapon. Officers found guilty of excessive force should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. There should be no excuse for the use of a Taser against passive resistance, for any reason, ever. The increasingly-common overuse of potentially lethal force against the unarmed must end.

...and that's all I have to say about that.


  1. "Officers found guilty of excessive force..."

    Which almost never happens since the cops "police" themselves. I just saw a report a week or so back noting that the Albuquerque police had been found to have not acted criminally in any of the huge number of police shootings over the past several years. Not in one case was the shooting "unjustified". Liars.

  2. Don, the problem isn't the device. If every single person in the country carried one, possession of it wouldn't be the deciding factor.

    Just as with a gun, the inanimate object is not the active component. Neither the gun nor the taser is the problem.

    Trying to prohibit tasers, regardless of the demographic group thus targeted, is not the answer any more than is the "reasonable" gun control of Feinstein and Bloomberg.

    The power of these people to abuse others with impunity - regardless of the weapon used - is what must end.

  3. The Infamous Oregon LawhobbitMay 3, 2012 at 2:51 PM

    Don, ML - the problem is that the things are not advertised to police as what they are: LESS lethal devices, not NON lethal devices. Given a choice of being shot or being tazed, the Taser is the way to go. However, they've grown into use for compliance, rather than what they were intended for (better than being shot) and so more and more people are dying when they shouldn't be.

    I'm with Don on how each episode of Taser use should be as examined and as paperworked as any use of an officer's firearm.

    1. Somehow, the paperwork doesn't seem to reduce the abuse...

      When some people have power over other people, tyranny is the inevitable result. Doesn't matter if they are armed with guns, tasers, pointed sticks - or their bare hands.

      Elimination of the special powers and perks of "cops" would seem to do far more to reduce the number of "compliance" issues, as well as violent torture and death at their hands.

      The tool is not the problem.