Tasers Continue To Lose Juice;
Portland's First Fatality is a Dog

As regular readers know, Tasers, 50,000 volt electrical devices used to disable the muscular system, have come under increasing scrutiny since their introduction to Portland in 2002. Now, with Taser International's stock down to 1/3 of its highest selling price, numerous lawsuits including a class- action against them, an ongoing SEC investigation, and an increasing number of stories of deaths related to their product, there is some hope that the apparent non-stop proliferation of the weapons is coming to a halt. The bad news: Portland suffered its first fatality due to the electroshock devices --a healthy 50-pound pit bull, subjected to multiple taserings on June 5.

According to the July 13 Willamette Week, the dog belonged to Aaron Palfoss. Someone called the police to his apartment, and they entered while he was not there. The dog allegedly attacked an officer who fired his Taser several times. Palfoss's friend told the WW that the apartment was "strewn with feces from the frightened dog." An autopsy shows the dog died of "circulatory collapse," but made no judgment about the possibility that the repeated shocks meant to stun generally larger, heavier humans may have caused it.

[Chief Foxworth 
tased on TV]
Ironically, much of the heat coming down on Taser has to do with its admission that its tests prior to releasing the weapons were done on "a pig and five dogs" (see PPR #33). Recently, lawyers in Florida (the state with the most Taser-related deaths, at well over 30) filed a class action suit on behalf of the town of Dolton, IL, whose police department wants to be reimbursed for the Tasers it bought believing the company's claims that they were "non-lethal." An article in the July 20 Daily Business Review outlining the lawsuit mentions that "Tasers are significantly more dangerous for bodies flooded with adrenaline"--for example, just about anyone who is confronted by a cop pointing a weapon at them! The lawsuit cites a Palm Beach Post study that lists Palm Beach County as having shocked "three pregnant woman, an 86-year-old man, children as young as 13, and in at least 237 incidents to get complaince from 'passively resisting or fleeing suspects.'"

Meanwhile, though Taser's founders have made money hand over fist, the company's stock took a big tumble. While the company itself earned less than $25 million in sales in its four years, the value of its stock was once as high as $2 billion. So, by selling their stock at a time when the price was high (it peaked at $33 in late 2004), Chair Phil Smith, CEO Rick Smith and President Tom Smith made $110 million, over four times what the company earned and sold in real terms (Barron's, June 13).

[Taser sues USA 
Aside from doubts over safety, one reason for Taser's stock dive (it was down to $10 in June) is that two other companies are starting to make similar units, now referred to as "Conducted Energy Devices," or CEDs, so as not to rely on the trademarked Taser name. A June 14 report put out by the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner of British Columbia lists Stinger Systems as one of the two companies threatening Taser's turf.

The BC report pulls together information from a wide number of studies, significantly leaving out several done in San Francisco which attributed heart problems to Taser shocks. The BC report indicates that Tasers are unlikely to directly cause heart attacks except in extremely rare circumstances. [Cover 
of BC Report] However, they clearly support several recommendations similar to those made by Amnesty International: 1) that Tasers should not be used multiple times unless absolutely "necessary," and 2) that Tasers should not be used on people only engaging in passive resistance.

On June 1, Portland issued Tasers to every officer on the street. We have continuously cautioned Chief Foxworth and others about the potential harm, as well as noting the International Association of Chiefs of Police's recommendation not to issue Tasers to every officer (USA Today, April 14). However, in his June 23 letter to us, Foxworth continued to defend the use of Tasers as an "option that will reduce injuries to officers and citizens."

The British Columbia report is available at

Chicago: Medical Examiner Finds Taser Caused Cardiac Arrest Death

In July, a medical examiner in the case that prompted Chicago to stop issuing new Tasers to its officers (see PPR #35) ruled that the electroshock device was responsible for the cardiac arrest that led to the death of Ronald Hasse. It is the first time a Taser has been cited as the primary cause of death. Taser International has called for a judicial review, insisting their weapon is safe. However, the company's previous claim that Tasers have never been linked to a death is now that Tasers have never been cited as "the sole cause of death" (Arizona Republic, July 30).

Deaths of individuals following the use of Tasers are coming too fast to report on them all, but here is a sampling of recent cases:
April 5, Delhi, CA, James Wathan, 32. "Combative."
April 22, Ronkahona, NY, John Cox, 29, "Agitated," tasered 5 times.
May 3, Phoenix, AZ, Keith Graff, 24, "Assaultive."
June 11, West Park, FL, Horace Owens, 48, home invasion.
June 29, Miami Gardens, FL, Pharoah Knight, 33, "Acting irrationally"
July 1, Surrey, BC, Gurmeet Sandhu, 41, "Acting paranoid." Multiple taserings.
July 16, Palm Desert, CA, Carlos Fernandez, 31, "Acting paranoid." Taser and pepper spray.
July 16, West Palm Beach, FL, Michael Leon Crutchford, 40, Forced way into assisted living facility.
July 28, Queens, NY, Terrence L. Thomas, 35, "Resisted violently."
August 1, San Jose, CA, Brian Patrick O'Neill , 33, fought with police.
August 4, Sacramento, CA, Dwayne Zachary, 44, "Throwing furniture."


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