90% of Taser Death Victims are Unarmed
Sunday, March 18, 2012
Although the Taser™ was invented to give law enforcement a non-lethal alternative to the handgun for subduing uncooperative or even violent suspects, more than 500 Americans have been killed by Tasers since their use began to take off in 2001, which is almost one per week. According to a 2008 Amnesty International Report that examined more than 300 deaths, 90% of Taser death victims are unarmed. Tasers and similar stun weapons (also known as Conducted Energy Devices) shoot two barbed metal darts into a person’s body, where they deliver a shock of up to 50,000 volts, incapacitating them by disrupting the neuromuscular system. There is no disagreement that being shot with a Taser is generally less injurious and less likely to cause death than being shot with a gun, although the experience is very painful. Further, manufacturer Taser International claims that use of the Taser has saved thousands of lives.
Nevertheless, Taser critics, including international human rights group Amnesty International, point out that 500 Taser-related deaths in ten years constitutes a serious problem, especially when so many of the victims were unarmed. Forty-three year old Allen Kephart, for example, died in May 2011 after police stopped him for an alleged traffic violation in San Bernardino County, California; three officers shocked the unarmed Kephart up to 16 times. In April 2011, Orlando, Florida, police shocked Adam Spencer Johnson, 33, four times with a Taser, in bursts lasting 31, 5, 4 and 5 seconds. An autopsy found that Johnson, who was acting belligerently, but was unarmed, had no drugs or alcohol in his system. Former Boca Raton police chief and Taser expert Andrew J. Scott called the 31-second burst “way too much.” Although the 9th Circuit Medical's Examiner's autopsy report ruled Johnson’s death a homicide, the officers were not charged.
Most recently, on March 12, police in Aurora, Illinois, killed 37-year-old Jersey Green with a Taser gun after he jumped on the hoods of parked cars and approached police in an aggressive manner. Green was unarmed.
Critics like Amnesty International are not calling for Tasers to be banned, but for new, more restrictive rules on their use, and the freewheeling era of Taser use may be coming to an end. The police in Montpellier, Vermont, recently withdrew a request to purchase Tasers after heated public opposition, and in July 2011 a jury in Charlotte, North Carolina, awarded damages of $10 million against Taser International in a case arising out of Taser use by Charlotte police on a 17-year-old boy. The City of Charlotte had previously paid the family $625,000 in a settlement.
To Learn More:
Autopsy Concludes Police Restraints Killed Winter Haven Man (by Rick Rouso, Lakeland Ledger)
520 Taser-Related Deaths in the United States Since 2001 (Electronic Village)
Amnesty International Urges Stricter Limits on Police Taser Use as U.S. Death Toll Reaches 500 (Amnesty International)
Tasered 86-Year-Old Wins Excessive Force Trial (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)
Oklahoma Police Taser Bedridden 86-Year-Old Woman (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
Taser Deaths on the Rise (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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