By Joe Wright
The proliferation of non-lethal weapons is predicated largely upon the advertising of weapons makers like Taser International (now Axon) that have repeatedly asserted their products are obviously much less dangerous than traditional weapons. However, the science behind the use of these weapons has been in conflict, and investigations into Taser-related deaths have been inconsistent. Now we might understand why.
I covered some of the science behind potential Taser deaths back in 2012. One peer-reviewed study at the time, for example, concluded that supposedly non-lethal Tasers do in fact put citizens at a greater risk than without their use. Electrophysiologist, Dr. Douglas Zipes, published an article for the The American Heart Association which covered 8 cases where a 50,000 volt Electronic Control Device (TASER X26) was used and victims lost consciousness. His conclusion was that this particular non-lethal weapon could induce cardiac arrest.
The idea that literally short-circuiting someone’s nervous system could potentially lead to death shouldn’t have been surprising, but other peer-reviewed evidence, as well as lengthy investigations into real-world situations, also began to support the many wrongful death claims that have been filed against police departments.
Conclusions seemed abundantly clear in a subsequent wider study that sought to document Taser use in large- and mid-size cities such as Columbus, Ohio; Portland, Oregon; and Knoxville, Tennessee. The research was divided into two studies; the first to examine the rate of injury to those apprehended vs. apprehension by standard police methods; and the second study examined the rate of injury to the officer apprehending the suspect.
The researchers found citizens were injured 41 percent of the time when officers used a stun gun only during apprehension. By contrast, citizens were injured only 29 percent of the time when no stun gun was used (when stun guns were used with another restraint method, such as pepper spray or wresting the suspect to the ground, citizens were injured 47 percent of the time). The study looked at 13,913 use-of-force cases in seven cities. The researchers took into account a host of factors, including the amount of citizen resistance, influence of alcohol or drugs, and officer experience. Injuries ranged from cuts to broken bones. (Source)
Although Taser International has in fact paid out multi-million dollar settlements, they have been defiant about addressing their product’s results as any type of crisis. Following an explosive documentary in 2015 called Killing Them Safely (trailer below) Taser International issued the following statement to Business Insider:
TASER® technology is the most extensively researched less-lethal weapon with more than 500 related reports and medical studies. These studies consistently have found that the TASER is generally safe and effective as a response to resistance option. In a 5-year TASER safety study by the US Department of Justice ‘an expert panel of medical professionals concludes that the use of conducted energy devices by police officers on healthy adults does not present a high risk of death or serious injury.’ A US DOJ funded study by the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center found that in 1201 randomly selected incidents, 99.75 percent of individuals subjected to a TASER device as part of an arrest procedure received no significant injury. The American Medical Association assessed that TASER devices are a ‘safe and effective tool’ and ‘can save lives during interventions’ when used appropriately. However, it is still a ‘weapon’ and it is not risk free and TASER provides in depth warnings to law enforcement to that effect; including that the weapon may cause death or serious injury.
Interesting to note is that Taser International has switched its terminology from “non-lethal” to “less lethal” … which, of course, could be logically rewritten as “sometimes lethal” or just “lethal” – the frequency or degree of lethality hardly matters to the ones who have been killed.
This background is necessary to provide the framework for understanding how Taser International views itself, as well as why these weapons have proliferated across the country.
A three-part series from Reuters has sought to get to the bottom of it all. In part 3, Reuters made a stunning discovery: Taser is supplying experts to police investigators who are assigned with documenting any deaths that have occurred from their very own devices.
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According to Reuters, Taser International has thus attempted to cover all bases, from the science about potential deaths to the investigations after deaths occur.
Taser International has defended the safety of its stun guns by spending millions on studies and forging close ties with police, medical examiners and consultants. When someone dies after an altercation involving a Taser, the manufacturer is quick to offer guidance to investigators, Reuters found.
One real-world example provided by Reuters occurred in Miami, FL after the death of 18-year-old Israel Hernandez-Llach (just one of over 1,000 documented incidents across the nation). The speed of Taser’s involvement and its overt directives are chilling (emphasis added):
It was 5:20 a.m. on Aug. 6, 2013. At 6:18 a.m., he was pronounced dead.
Four hours later, the Miami Beach Police Department received an email from stun-gun manufacturer Taser International Inc.
The message, marked “confidential” and not previously reported, provided guidance on how investigators should proceed, from collecting hair and nail samples to recording the teen’s body temperature and documenting his behavior before he was stunned. It included a sample press release and an “evidence collection checklist.”
In bold letters, marked “TIMELY AND URGENT,” the dispatch advised Miami’s medical examiner to send the teen’s brain tissue for testing to Deborah Mash, a University of Miami medical researcher. It did not mention Mash had been paid by Taser to testify on its behalf in lawsuits against the company.
I would encourage everyone to read Reuters‘ reporting on Taser International; what they have exposed ranks up there with the exact type of full-scale corruption, scientific malfeasance, intimidation and flat-out propaganda that we have come to expect from companies like Monsanto. Given the number of yearly deaths and injuries, it’s clear that these supposedly non-lethal weapons have not only been mislabeled as such, but they are becoming fully entrenched in every part of the U.S. legal system.
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