Within days of Taser International going on defensive due to one death, another 3 men die

Within days of Taser International going on defensive due to one death, another 3 men die

Summary: In case you missed my coverage of the consumer-oriented Tasers that were on display at CES earlier this year, you can see our video showing how a hot pink-colored consumer-oriented taser (pictured left) was used to immobilize a CES-showgoer. The consumer-oriented model isn't as robust as the model used by law enforcement agencies (for example, the consumer version can't work at the same distances).


In case you missed my coverage of the consumer-oriented Tasers that were on display at CES earlier this year, you can see our video showing how a hot pink-colored consumer-oriented taser (pictured left) was used to immobilize a CES-showgoer. The consumer-oriented model isn't as robust as the model used by law enforcement agencies (for example, the consumer version can't work at the same distances). Now that two men have died in unrelated incidents where a taser was used comes the question as to whether the devices merit another look in terms of their availability to ordinary consumers (let alone law enforcement officials).

It probably couldn't have come at a worse time for Taser International. Hardly two days had passed since the company went on the defensive to say that the mid-October death of 40 year-old Pole Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport was unrelated to his being tasered (it was caught on video) by authorities when, yesterday, a Maryland man died shortly after being tasered as well. According to one story I found, more than 200 people have died in the last five years after having been Tasered.

According to a press release issued by Taser International on November 16th:

This tragic incident appears to follow the pattern of many in-custody deaths or deaths following a confrontation with police. Historically, medical science and forensic analysis has shown that these deaths are attributable to other factors and not the low-energy electrical discharge of the TASER(r). Specifically in Canada, while previous incidents were widely reported in the media as 'TASER deaths,' the role of the TASER device has been cleared in every case to date -- including the widely publicized Bagnell in-custody death in Vancouver where the TASER device was cleared by an inquest jury.

Cardiac arrest caused by electrical current is immediate. The video of the incident at the Vancouver airport indicates that the subject was continuing to fight well after the TASER application. This continuing struggle could not be possible if the subject died as a result of the TASER device electrical current causing cardiac arrest. His continuing struggle is proof that the TASER device was not the cause of his death. Further, the video clearly shows symptoms of excited delirium, a potentially fatal condition marked by symptoms of exhaustion and mania such as heavy breathing, profuse sweating, confusion, disorientation and violence toward inanimate objects.

Despite Taser International's insistence on the safety and efficacy of its devices versus lethal alternatives, the Department of Justice launched an inquiry in 2006 as the number of post-Tasering deaths reached statistical significance. So far, one DOJ-commissioned study has concluded that, of the 962 taser incidents it tracked, only two involved deaths, neither of which could be directly attributed to Taser deployment. Why that study didn't focus specifically on the mounting number of incidents where death was involved, I have no idea (that's what I would have focused on). However, now, with two deaths within a month's time, Tasers will no doubt get even more scrutiny.

Within 48 hours of issuing its defensive press release this past Friday, Taser International will once again find itself in the spolight. According to The Register:

A 20-year-old man died yesterday in Frederick City, Maryland, after being tasered by a police deputy....The unnamed deputy responded to reports of the altercation shortly before 5am, "found four people fighting outside and deployed a Taser"...the man "fell on the ground unconscious and was given first aid on the scene, then taken to Frederick Memorial Hospital where he was later pronounced dead"....the friend said the deputy "struck Gray with a Taser and administered multiple shocks for several seconds, even though Gray had said, 'I'm on the ground'."

(see the update below... in unrelated incidents, two other men died over the weekend after being tasered as well) While no video is available for this particular incident, at the very least both incidents seem to raise questions about the number of shocks required to subdue suspects. In the video incident from Canada, one officer can be heard telling another to "hit" DziekanskiDziekanski was already down on the ground. While that doesn't appear to be the case with the 20 year-old Maryland man, the witness' report that he received additional shocks after having already fallen to the ground is also consistent with the way the Taser is designed to work. According to Taser's Web site, the company's Digital Pulse Control technology found in its law enforcement units "automatically delivers a 5-second burst for each pull of the trigger."

I clearly have no idea what I'm talking about when it comes to this sort of technology. But just like with guns and other lethal weapons, I can't help but wonder if "operator error" can make the difference between life and death. The one question I'm left asking after hearing about these latest two incidents was whether or not the additional shocks could have been the difference between life and death. I'm sure Taser International will say no. But, after filming the way the consumer unit incapacitated a volunteer show goer at CES (and that was in a highly controlled situation), it's not hard to imagine a tense situation where a Taser operator's adrenalin is pumping and whoever s/he is trying to subdue ends up getting more shocks than is necessary.

Update: Since first publishing this post, it has come to my attention that two other men have died over the last couple of days after being Tasered. One of these was a 20 year-old in Raton, New Mexico, the other in Jacksonville, Florida.

Topic: CES

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  • Tasers: don't use them anymore

    The police in Vancouver murdered the poor man.
    • Tasers: use them appropriately

      Tasers should be considered 'less lethal', not 'non-lethal'.

      They have a place in situations where escalated force is required, but a firearm is simply too much.

      Unfortunately, Police seem to be getting trained that they are appropriate for any situation where pushing and shoving are involved.
      • Agree, but...

        then we have to trust trigger happy police. As it stands now - they MURDER people. The people who are supposed to protect us commit murders.

        • Murder is intentional and malicious killing

          I know that the legal lines between murder and manslaughter have gotten murky in recent years, but the subject line has been the working definition for centuries.

          Thus, if inappropriate use of a taser results in death, it's not murder, unless the user of the weapon was intending to kill. Still reckless and still should be punished (possibly even with prison time), but it's not murder and should not be punished as murder.
          John L. Ries
          • Regardless of the legalese...

            these men were not supposed to die.
            Global Warming is not to blame.
            ZDNET is not to blame.
            My cat is not to blame.
            You are not to blame.

            Who is?

            What needs to be done to stop the killing of innocent people by tasers?

            Discuss legal terms?

          • Did you ever stoip to think...

            no probably not, but I digress. These people probably had health issues, maybe they were dehydrated which would actually increase their conductivity and render them MORE susceptible to electric shock of ANY kind.

            The police are damned if they do and damned if they don't. Sure there are 1 or 2 bad apples, but that is true of every aspect of society... otherwise we wouldn't need police because everyone would make nice!

            Tell you what, walk a week in a beat cops shoes then come back and tell us what animals they are! ]:)
            Linux User 147560
          • Sleep well Linux user.

          • I do sleep well.

            With a couple of Rhodesian ridgebacks inside the house and a 10mm next to my bed. The dogs are there to let me know when it's time to dial 911 and load the gun. I sleep very well.

            I am more afraid of my government that some local cop. ]:)
            Linux User 147560
          • Thank You!

            Finally someone I can agree with! We do not know what (if any) pre existing medical conditions they did have. Granted there can be one or two (in some cases more) bad apples in the bunch but that doesn't mean every single one is bad.
            And the constant bashing of the Police ticks me off. People don't like police officers because to them a Police Officer represents getting in trouble. I've taught my kids to respect the police, not fear them. My children can understand that if you do something illegal you're going to get in trouble for it. How is it that adults can't seem to comprehend that?

            As far as Tasers are cincerned I think there needs to be a little more regulation on that and maybe a little more research. Make sure that peple have the proper training to use them.
          • Who is to blame?

            How about the person throwing chairs around and ranting and screaming in an airport? I've been in airports many times and I've never thrown a chair. Hmm, I've never been tasered either! Coincidence?
          • So you say that throwing a chair warrants someone to die.

            You just disqualified yourself.

            Sleep well.
          • Where did I say he deserved to die?

            I didn't. While I'm sleeping well, you might want to start reading well. While he didn't deserve to die, he [b]did[/b] deserve a response from the police and he is 100% to blame for that. He didn't deserve what he got but he is to blame for it. See the difference?
          • No, niuze can't see the difference

            he it just like the people sitting in trees here on campus protesting the LDRP. They can't see the difference in their behavior either.

            This is why we have so many problems in this country, people can't see the difference and get on these ridiculous tirades not realizing the consequences of what they demand. Like I said before... damned if they do and damned if they don't. You can't win with these people. They don't [B]THINK[/B] everything through completely and [B]LOOK[/B] at [B]BOTH[/B] sides of an issue.

            You can't reason with them, talk to them let alone get them to understand that while on the outside they have a valid point, as a whole they are out of line / context. ]:)

            Good luck NZ... good luck...
            Linux User 147560
          • For nizuse, and those like him...

            When I got out of the military, considering a career in law enforcement, I went on a couple of ride alongs with local officers. After two nights with these officers, I thanked them for their time, congratulated them on their patience and professionalism, and walked away, knowing full well that if I continued down that career path, there would eventually be several fewer a$$hole$ in the world. The abuse these men put up with was phenomenal.

            Moving forward to the incident noted...

            When confronted with a deranged man, the police - the people we call to protect us when danger imposes itself in our lives - have limited options. They can stand around and wait for him to wear himself out, and hope he doesn't endanger himself or others, or do too much property damage, all of which they'd be lambasted for in the press and by popular opinion. They can call in more officers, then pile on and beat the guy into submission, virtually assuring the deranged man will be seriously injured, and perhaps killed, which they will be lambasted for in the press and by popular opinion. They could pull out their firearms, give the obligatory warning, then give him a severe case of high-speed, high-impact copper and lead poisoning, for which they will be lambasted in the press and by popular opinion. They can pull out a can of Mace/pepper spray, piss the guy off even more (it's pretty close to useless against a deranged individual), put others in danger, and then wait for him to wind down, for which they'd be lambasted in the press and by popular opinion. Or, they can use the only tool available to them for this type of situation, the least lethal and most effective method available to them, the Taser, or some other similar item. And, if all goes as it should, they'll still be shunned and second guessed, but the situation will be controlled, and everything will return to normal. However, if something goes wrong, and the worst possible outcome occurs, they will be lambasted in the press and by popular opinion, and countless armchair quarterbacks will declare them the worst scum since Ghengis Khan, and their tactics similar.

            Put simply, there is no way to stop and subdue someone that doesn't involve some risk. The hope is to minimize the risk, and that's what the Taser is designed to do.
            Dr. John
          • For Dr. John, and those like him.

            "The hope is to minimize the risk, and that's what the Taser is designed to do."

            I read your lengthy narrative and agree. As with Linuxuser, I also have to say that you're missing the point. Sad though.

            Tasers cause to many 'unintended' deaths. So they're not doing what they're designed to do. Or put more specifically - they do what they're designed to do with too many 'unintended' unacceptable consequences. I assume you can read English so there you have it.

            Wonder how people were 'subdued' before tasers.... ('designed' to get you and your buddy thinking...). So there are alternatives which do not have too many 'unintended' unacceptable consequences.

            Sleep well. Keep on defending that people die. And - oh - I'm SO impressed with your patriotic past. Yawn.
  • using tasers=murder or execution less certain

    Permitting taser's use in policing is akin to saying human lives still don't matter, seeing use of tasers is only sometimes less lethal, certainly not safe (any use of electricity can be lethal in clearly not-so-isolated instances). The solution is to invent a truly non-lethal means of immobilizing people who are out-of-control due to any cause or reason. We owe it to ourselves, or we have to accept that we could be one of the next victims of an over-eager cop who wants to inflict pain and do it with society's 'permission'.
    • What do you suggest?

      Should we ban any and all potentially lethal weapons, to include knives, swords, and slingshots? What do you think the results would be? Or do you really have something else in mind?

      The problem is that the taser was billed as a non-lethal weapon, which it is not and never has been. It cannot be made completely safe, but there isn't any weapon that can be. It needs to be used responsibly and those who misuse it must be held responsible.
      John L. Ries
      • You are missing the point.

        "Use" in one case = push the button. Result: dead person.
        "Use" in other case = push the button. Result: live person.

        You see some inconsistency here?

        Also, if you've read the news on this, you would have found out that the police officer might not know of a medical condition that a 'receiving person' has which - together with the taser - produces death.

        Now what does that tell you? In your reasoning: nothing.
        • Am I?

          I'm completely in agreement that a Taser is a potentially lethal weapon and needs to be treated accordingly. I even agree that those who use such a thing when a less dangerous weapon (like a billy club) would do are fully responsible for the consequences. I do think, however, that the Taser does have a legitimate use in subduing the obviously violent and should not be outlawed.

          It the weapon is abused, then punish the abusers, rather than banning the weapon. I've long felt that police officers should be personally liable for any illegal acts performed in the line of duty (even if the king can do no wrong, his servants most certainly can).

          Understand, however, that there is a big difference between accidentally killing someone and doing it on purpose.
          John L. Ries
          • Is a club less dangerous than a taser?

            [i]I even agree that those who use such a thing when a less dangerous weapon (like a billy club) would do are fully responsible for the consequences.[/i]

            [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Club_(law_enforcement)] Club entry in Wiki [/url]

            [i]Unless otherwise justified (as in a deadly force scenario), the officer avoids directing baton strikes towards the head, neck, face, spine, organs, kneecaps, elbow joints, collarbone, or groin. Strikes that hit there cause serious or permanent injury or death. Directing baton strikes towards non-critical areas of the body, such as arms and legs, is less likely to produce serious or permanent injury or death.

            A baton strike to a non-critical area of the body can disable or kill. A strike to a leg to cause a blood clot that, if not detected and treated, can kill.[/i]

            It seems to me that a Taser will have only 1 of 2 long term effects: none or death, with death occurring in a tiny percentage of cases. In most cases, the "victim" is fully recovered with no medical aid within minutes. A club can inflict far more serious damage and it would be interesting if anyone can find statistics about death by clubs. I would still rank Tasers as being a less dangerous and more effective method of controlling someone who is flailing about because one wrong swing and the person could be severely injured... or dead. I would imagine that trying not to hit someone in [i]the head, neck, face, spine, organs, kneecaps, elbow joints, collarbone, or groin[/i] when that person isn't standing still could be a difficult task.