Wednesday, July 20, 2005


The Taser: A shocking toy for the police

We can be thankful, at least, that the Fresno police didn't use a Taser on Maribel Cuevas. Perhaps the Fresno police department hasn't yet provided its officers with what is quickly becoming a favorite police toy. In any case, it was a good thing, because Tasers can be lethal, especially when used on children.

Now a class-action suit has been filed against the manufacturer Taser International of Scottsdale, Arizona, on behalf of police departments. According to Dan Lynch of Daily Business Review,

The suit alleges breach of contract, breach of warranty and unjust enrichment by the defendant based on bogus safety claims and false and deceptive representation of material facts concerning the product's safety.

The complaint says that "the true extent of the harmful effects of Tasers are unknown, in direct contrast to the company's marketing. Thus, despite touting its potentially deadly product as harmless, Taser International has no idea of how Tasers impact, among others, pregnant women, the elderly, young adults and children, individuals with heart conditions and individuals with implantable cardiac devices."

Other suits filed against Taser International have been filed by the next of kin of people who died after being shot by Tasers. This is the first known class action and the first known suit by a police department alleging that the company damaged the department by misleading it concerning the safety of the product, Geller said.

Suits against the police will eventually force them to look for cover—

Earl Johnson Jr., a Jacksonville plaintiff lawyer ... said Geller's suit is the first such action he's heard of filed by law enforcement agencies. But he expects many more because, in his view, because the company has "fundamentally misrepresented" its product to police agencies.

"After these agencies find themselves defendants in these wrongful death and unreasonable force claims, they'll turn their attention to Taser, which coaxed them into believing that regardless of how the product was used, it was nonlethal," said Johnson, who has asked a federal judge to enjoin Taser International from selling its products in Florida. Taser "hung law enforcement out to dry."


Wherever Tasers are used, they kill. Statistics are at least a year behind. But Florida police are bumping people off like flies in an electric bug trap—

Since Tasers were developed in 1999, there have been about 105 reported deaths of suspects in confrontations with law enforcement officers using Tasers, according to a 2004 study by the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Amnesty International cites 74 such deaths.

Florida leads the nation in Taser-related deaths with more than 30. The Palm Beach Post reported 29 in May, and there have been several deaths since then.

Abusive use

Why talk when you can tase? Besides, it's only a toy, right?

The lawsuit also raises the issue of police using Tasers in situations where they otherwise would not use deadly force. It cited a Denver Post study that reported that 90 percent of persons shot with Tasers by the Denver Police Department were unarmed and two-thirds faced only a misdemeanor charge of citation.

The suit also cited a Palm Beach Post study of Taser use in Palm Beach County that showed that police had used the devices on three pregnant women, an 86-year-old man, children as young as 13 and in at least 237 incidents to get compliance from "passively resisting or fleeing suspects."

In an interview, Fort Lauderdale lawyer Bruce Rogow, who's not involved in the new class action suit, said that with Tasers, "what you see is that police are less restrained because they feel they're not using deadly force when they might have been more restrained about using a gun or club. There's kind of an emotional disconnect that leads to more use than might be appropriate."

The preliminary safety study

When you've got a product to get to market, every businessman understands that sometimes you have to take shortcuts—

The New York Times reported last year that Taser International's research on the gun's safety is "spotty and inconclusive. The company's primary safety studies on its most powerful weapon consist of shocks administered to one pig and five dogs." The suit described these and other Taser safety studies as "severely inadequate."

The article fails to report whether the animals lived.

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