As the Portland Police Bureau distributes 270 new Tasers to arm every officer on patrol with the 50,000 volt electroshock devices, serious concerns continue to arise, including from the police themselves.

The December 26 Arizona Republic quoted Portland Training Division Sgt. Robert Day, who said about 30 percent of Portland officers training with Tasers decided not to volunteer to be hit by shocks as part of their indoctrination. The article focuses on a Maricopa County deputy who suffered a fractured back (a crushed seventh thoracic vertebra) due to being hit by a Taser for only one second. One physician attributes the injury to an increased risk for those who are prone to osteoporosis. Sgt. Day told the Republic he wants more information about safety: "I'm not just talking about officers, I'm thinking about citizens. There is obviously a risk there."

Lawyer John Dillingham, interviewed in the article, sums up the issue: "This is not a problem with law enforcement. It's a problem with Taser... Police officers are brainwashed into thinking that the (stun) gun is safe, taking a hit during training and then us[ing] it in the field anytime they want." In San Francisco, UCSF cardiologist Zian Tseng found that Tasers might interrupt the rhythm of the human heart, particularly if they are used for more than one five-second cycle. He told the SF Chronicle on January 5, "If you are shocking someone repeatedly, it becomes a bit like Russian Roulette. At some point, you may hit that vulnerable period in the cardiac cycle when shocks can cause dangerous arrhythmias."

[Jan 24 
Columbian Taser headline] In Chicago, the Police Department held off expanding its use of Tasers after a 54-year-old man and a 14-year-old boy went into cardiac arrest after being tased within a few days of each other. The younger man survived, but the older man died (Oregonian, February 12).

The Justice Department commissioned a study at the University of Wisconsin to test Tasers, but the study will use "anesthetized pigs," not humans. Dr. Robert Kaminski of the University of S. Carolina criticized that idea since "most deaths have occurred when suspects are shocked after taking drugs or running from the police" (NY Times, February 17).

Across the river in Clark County, the Columbian ran a front-page story on January 24 regarding two high-profile Taser cases there. In one, from May, 2003 and now the subject of a $1.1 million lawsuit, Donald Ray Cross was stepping out of his truck after being pulled over for expired tags and an expired license when officer Blayden Wall threatened him with a stun gun. Cross began to unfold his shirt to put it on when Wall fired the Taser, hitting with only one prong, so he tased Cross multiple times on the neck causing "multiple electrical burns." The other case is of 35-year- old Russian immigrant Olga Ryback, who was hit 12 times in 91 seconds with a Taser, also in 2003, causing "swollen wounds on Ryback's chest, stomach and back." In big news, the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) is investigating Taser International for possibly having made false claims about their product's safety (Arizona Republic, January 8).

But Taser International is not backing down, and continues to tout its product's safety. However, their stock fell by 52% as of early February after having quadrupled in 2004 (NY Times, February 9).

Amnesty International (AI) released a new report in late March counting 103 Taser-related deaths in North America from 2001-2005. They cite Taser's website, which shows the weapons did not stop suspects nearly one-third of the time. AI called on the company to cease promoting Taser as having a 95% success rate (see www.amnestyusa.org). National Lawyers Guild attorney Lynne Wilson asserts that the reason for many of the Taser- related deaths is not the device itself, but subsequent restraints used by law enforcement (Police Misconduct and Civil Rights Report Jan/Feb 2004 and Covert Action Quarterly, April 2005). Since Portland has had its share of deaths by "positional asphyxia" (restricting the suspect's breathing by piling on them or putting them on their stomach while in restraints), it would be wise for Portland Police to incorporate precautions into its training, since they don't appear ready to give up Tasers.

Recent News of Taser-Related Deaths:
--Robert Clark Heston, 40, died after his "heart stopped when he was hit with Taser darts" (LA Times February 22).
--Multiple Taser shocks also may have killed Greg Saulsbury in Pacifica, CA, when police stunned him for being uncooperative during a call initiated by his family, who were concerned he wasn't breathing properly (San Jose Mercury News, January 4).
--The family of James Borden won a $500,000 settlement with two Indiana counties for his death in jail in November, 2003. Borden died of a heart attack after officer David Shaw shocked him six times. Shaw is facing criminal charges (Associated Press, January 21).
--37-year-old Douglas Meldrum died after being hit by a Taser and pepper spray in his vehicle in Heber, Utah (Deseret News, December 18, 2004).


People's Police Report #35 Table of Contents
People's Police Report Index Page
Return to Copwatch home page