Tasers – Newest Health Danger
Tasers, meant to briefly stun a criminal suspect or subdue an unruly citizen so the police can apprehend him, has become a national concern — not so much for the police but for the person on the receiving end.
Recently, more and more accounts of the physical damage and sometimes even death, associated with people who have been tasered are on the increase, thus raising genuine concern about the proper use and justification for Tasers.
Taser International, one of the major manufacturers of Taser guns is currently defending itself in a lawsuit brought by Steven Butler and his family. Butler was drunk and disorderly in 2006 and refused to get off a city bus. A police officer tasered Butler three times in the chest. Butler immediately suffered cardiac arrest, was eventually revived by some EMTs who were close by, but still suffered extensive brain damage due to oxygen deprivation for approximately 18 minutes.
Butler’s lawyer, John Burton, says that he can prove if the Taser is fired directly at someone’s chest, it can cause and have caused cardiac arrest and he can prove that Taser International knew about that danger.
Burton points to a study that was conducted in 2005 by the American College of Cardiology Foundation and funded by Taser International. Although the study concluded that a Taser is unlikely to cause cardiac arrest, it was recommended that the Taser darts not be fired near the heart to "greatly reduce any concern for induction of ventricular arrhythmias."
Dr. Douglas Zipes, a cardiologist outside of Indianapolis, Ind., stated he plans to testify against Taser International in any lawsuit filed against it relating to the same allegations as Butler’s. He stated the study’s recommendation was a clear warning of what not to do when it came to firing Tasers.
Medical experts conclude that if a person is hit with a Taser dart near the heart, the voltage can cause one’s heart beat to jump from a normal resting heart rate of 72 beats per minute (bpm) to as many as 220 bpm. According to Taser International, the "peak-loaded" voltage from a Taser at impact ranges up to 40,000 volts, but it is a 600-volt average for the duration of the firing.
Even though Taser International insists there is no connection with Tasers causing cardiac arrest, it has significantly changed its policy of where to fire the Taser darts. They no longer recommend aiming at the chest, rather target the arms, legs and buttocks. Taser claims this change of policy is more for protection of the enforcement agencies against potential lawsuits. While maintaining the risk of cardiac arrest is "extremely rare and would be rounded to near zero," Taser states, "However, law enforcement is left defending a lawsuit and disproving a negative, which is difficult to do."
Nearly every big city police department utilizes some type of Taser device. According to Taser International, more than 14,000 law enforcement agencies worldwide use Tasers and more than 1.8 million people have had a Taser used on them. Amnesty International reports that more than 400 people have died from Taser inflicted strikes.
Tasers are regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and are not considered firearms. Rather, they are electronic control devices. Most, if not all, enforcement agencies agree the Taser is less likely to cause serious injury or death when compared to a firearm. Taser International insists that Butler’s case is rare and that his cardiac arrest was probably brought on more by the situation rather than the Taser.
Taser Pregnant Women and Old People?
According to the Seattle Post-Intelligence, police officers used a Taser on a pregnant woman when she was stopped for a traffic violation. She told the police officers she was pregnant and needed to use the bathroom. When the police officers ignored her request, she began walking towards the bathroom. When she refused to stop, they tasered her in the thigh with approximately 50,000 volts of electricity. Valinda Otis, 24, and three months pregnant at the time of incident, was very concerned that the voltage would have an adverse affect on her baby or pregnancy.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that the King County Sheriff’s deputies were Taser-happy. The report found that the deputies were routinely using Tasers against juveniles, pregnant women and people who had already been handcuffed. For example, deputies fired Tasers at a teenager who ran off after not paying a $1.25 bus fare; a 71 year old man who was arrested for drunk driving and refused to get into the patrol car; and, a partially deaf man who couldn’t hear deputies ordering him to stop.
Organizations like the NAACP and other civil rights advocates are concerned that the police department and other enforcement agencies are quick to tase and ask questions later. Reports show from January 2003 to June 2004, Seattle police used Tasers in 269 incidents, King County sheriff’s deputies used them in 267 incidents, 15 of which were used for "warnings." King County records also showed that the deputies had shocked at least 10 people in handcuffs and nearly a third had been jolted two or three times.
Closer to Home
In March of this year, a Manatee County Sheriff’s Office sergeant was suspended over using a Taser on an inmate for refusing to pick up her shoes. Sgt. Donald MGowan, who had been employed with the sheriff’s office since 2000, abused his authority when he tased the 32 year old Mia D. Barnes, when she showed no physical threat, only refusal to obey a command.
It’s a Thin Line – Taser v. Gun
Across the board, most will agree that the use of Tasers vs. guns are generally a better outcome for both the police officer and the person they are trying to arrest or subdue. Arrests tend to be made without much incident and any injuries sustained are usually far less serious than gun shot wounds. However, there is also agreement that the use of Tasers needs to be carefully monitored and strict policies implemented. It is easy for the use of Tasers to become abusive and sometimes deadly.
To discuss your claim, contact a Jacksonville personal injury attorney at Farah & Farah at 855-797-9899.