By Nick Dial
I graduated from the police academy in 2006, and worked both as a deputy for a sheriff’s office and police officer for a municipal city. I was trained in the use of a TASER and carried one on duty. I never deployed it while on patrol, but have had a fair amount of exposure to the device and the implications surrounding it. I am not anti-TASER, nor do I wish to see these devices removed from police use. What I am is a former police officer who has become concerned with the issues surrounding TASER, such as officers that are being hurt in training, and it’s misuse in the field with the public.
The TASER has been an issue of increased debate and the more this device is being implemented into mainstream society, more negative effects regarding its use are being reported. This topic is often one filled with emotion and fear among officers. The more controversial the TASER becomes, the more there is fear of losing it as a tool. This anxiety is reasonable and understandable, but that doesn’t take way from the fact there are serious issues that should be addressed surrounding this device and its use in the field. It has become a big elephant in the room, but regardless of one’s feelings on the TASER, there is one remaining consistency – people are sustaining injuries and even death after its use. This of course is no different than when regular tactics are used by the police not involving the TASER are implimented. After all, some people do get hurt and some die after confrontation with police as well despite no use of a TASER. The key points to remember, however, is how these people are being injured or killed, and in what context this takes place.
Context matters, and when people are physically hurt or killed by police in situations where a TASER was not used or present, the individuals most likely arrived at that point by behaving in a disruptive or dangerous manner. The problem that is taking place more frequently it would seem with the TASER, is that people are being subjected to this device much too early. Before this is discussed further, one must understand the use of force continuum, what it is, and how it is applied.
Use of force continuum: The use of force continuum is a system used by law enforcement to calculate the appropriate use of force in any given situation. Generally speaking, the rule of thumb is that the suspect, not the officer, is in charge of how high the use of force continuum advances. If the suspect continues to rise in hostility, the officer must raise the force to counter the actions of the suspect. Some use of force policies may differ between departments, and from state to state in small detail, but generally speaking, most use of force continuum polices are the same. These policies are as follows:
- Officer presence
- Verbal commands
- Soft hands (control tactics/wrist locks/OC spray)
- Hard hands (strike points/impact weapons)
- Lethal force (firearm/strike points to vital areas)
For a clear understanding of this policy, reference the use of the following force continuum chart.
The reason the TASER has become so controversial is because it is often being used in situations where the TASER was unnecessary. If the TASER were only being used in situations where the only other option was hard techniques or lethal force, there wouldn’t be such a public outcry. In my opinion the majority of police officers show sound judgment and use good common sense, however there appears to be an increase where people are being exposed to the TASER on very low levels of force continuum. Many people think the TASER was designed to be a replacement to lethal force. This is false. What the TASER does do, is allow the officer options in which to neutralize a situation more safely and efficiently. If there is a situation where the life of the officer or another is in danger, you do not want an officer reaching for the TASER when they should be reaching for their firearm. The reason for this is because the TASER does not always deploy successfully, and this could result in the officer or a third party severely hurt or killed as a result.
In my opinion, the correct location for the TASER should be placed on level four under hard techniques. If an officer reaches a point where techniques such as hard strikes and impact weapons such as the baton must be utilized, this is an appropriate situation to deploy the TASER. An officer has many tools that can be used against them in a physical struggle, such as their firearm. Many officers have been shot with their own weapon, therefore, when faced with a combative suspect, the TASER is a reasonable tool for such an application. Unfortunately, as more cameras are widely available, we are seeing videos with an increasing number of officers who use officer presence, verbal commands, and then TASER. This is where the true controversies set in because either it is used prematurely, or as a compliance tool - both of which I feel is an inappropriate application of the device.
A good example of misappropriation of the TASER is the “don’t tase me bro” incident that took place at a John Kerry Speech. The officers had the suspect detained and on the ground. The officer threatened use of the TASER if he kept moving (compliance). The suspect then cried out, “Don’t TASE me.” At this point the TASER had done its job. It had intimidated the suspect into submission and there was no threat. The officer used the TASER anyway. This, in my opinion, was nothing more than grand- standing for the audience. There was no need for deployment of the TASER, even if it were only a drive stung (deployment without the cartridge).
Another example is that of a 14 year old girl. She was attempting to run from a police chief in New Mexico when he shot her from behind with the TASER. One of the barbs hit her in the head, penetrating her skull. “The girl slowed down, but became scared after Hatcher yelled at her to stop and threatened force with the taser. She started to run again. “Hatcher said he attempted to catch up to the girl by foot but was unable to do so and believes he had no choice but to fire a Taser dart to stop her” (14 year old girl shot in head with taser. 2009). This could have been potentially fatal, and had the officer realized the potential harm the TASER was capable of, he most likely would have not deployed the TASER in the first place.
Another example of misuse is that of Kathryn Winkfein. Kathryn was a 72 year old great -grandmother who was stopped for doing 65 mph in a 45 mph zone. According to MSMBC,” Sgt. Maj. Gary Griffin of the Travis County, Texas, Constable’s Office told NBC News that Bieze acted appropriately.“He mitigated this event safely, effectively and efficiently. Nobody sustained any injury,” Griffin said. (Celizic, M., 2009). Even if a 72 year old woman in not cooperating, how can it ever be argued that it’s ok to TASER a woman that is 72 years old? If a male officer cannot effectively subdue women at the age of 72, perhaps they should question their abilities as a law enforcement officer in the first place. A baton would have been out of the question, but lighting her up with 50,000 volts, is this acceptable? As you watch the video, you will see that the officer is in perfect position to use control techniques. He has one of her hands already detained as she jerks away. In the academy, they teach methods that are easily and effectively used in this situation to detain someone without harming them. This officer doesn’t even make an attempt to go hands on with control techniques, instead, he pushes her away and immediately resorts to the TASER as the solution. Was this really the right decision made? There is a serious lack of judgment and logic in this scenario. I hate to be critical of fellow officers, but criticism should be applied where criticism is due. Otherwise, there is no way to learn and adapt to such situations in the future, and this is a very teachable moment.
There continues to be deaths following TASER deployments, and as the years continue to go by, so do the number of injuries and deaths associated with this device. Does this mean the device should be removed from law enforcement? In my opinion no, I believe this would be ill advised and leave the police without a very useful tool in dangerous situations. What it does mean, is that the TASER must be respected as a serious tool that can cause harm, or even in some cases, kill. Therefore, it should be deployed tactfully in appropriate situations. Using the TASER as a compliance tool is simply bone – headed and dangerous to the general public. Police officers are there to protect the public from harm. Using a device without knowing or understanding the possible consequences can be serious, and the public should not serve as a test bed for this device. If an officer realized that this device could kill, they would most certainly be more careful to ONLY deploy it when necessary - not because a suspect is passively resistant.
Passively resistant is when a suspect is verbally defiant, or may not co-operate with an order, i.e. pulling away or shrugging as an officer grabs them, or failing to complete the officer’s verbal demands. A perfect example of a Taser deployment during a passively resistant suspect can be seen below. An officer receives complaints of a man loitering, the officer responds and arrives on scene. Although it can’t be heard, the officer is shouting verbal commands to the man. At this point, the man has his hands up, but refuses to comply to any other orders, this is now passive resistance. The man has not showed any physical sign of threat nor has he squared off in a combative stance. The officer then deploys the TASER. After deployment, you hear an upset patron come out of the business stating he knows the man, and that he is mentally ill. Of course, the officer has no way of knowing if the man is mentally ill, however this situation serves as a good example for debate. Was this a good use of the TASER?
With the many documented cases of misuse that has taken place in the past, one must ask, why? The answer may be simple….training. I truly feel that most police officers are genuinely good people who want to help their fellow man. However, it has become almost police dogma that the TASER is a safe and risk free device. TASER International is providing the safety data along with training criteria to the various police departments on the proper use and safety of the TASER. For a long time TASER International took the position that their device is completely safe and could not cause cardiac arrest. This has recently changed. In October of 2009, TASER International released a document instructing officers not to aim at the chest. This of course caused controversy. In the past, coroner reports have ruled cause of death to be from the TASER. TASER International responded by filing a lawsuit against the coroner’s office demanding the report be changed as to its findings. As a result, doctors spoke out against TASER, stating these were unethical strong- arm tactics of corporate intimidation. Infowars.com states the following:
“Doctors have condemned as corporate “intimidation” a court decision ordering a chief medical examiner to remove any reference to the use of a taser as an antecedent in the deaths of three men.
Ohio examiner Dr. Lisa Kohler had noted in her autopsy reports that electrical shocks from Tasers were partially to blame for the deaths of individuals in three separate confrontations with police.
Taser International, now notorious for its stern legal defense having won 68 out of 68 lawsuits, filed and won a civil suit, forcing Kohler to delete all mentions of the weapons and to term the deaths “accidental”
Jeffrey Jentzen, president of the National Association of Medical Examiners, an organization that represents the majority of medical examiners in the United States, has warned that the actions of Taser International and the court ruling have set a dangerous precedent:
“Our membership is very concerned about these cases and the reaction of Taser to these cases,” he said last night.
“Our membership is looking into the area and although Taser has developed its own opinion, there are certainly opposing opinions as to their involvement in causing sudden death in individuals.
“Our organization feels that it violates the physician’s ability to make a medical decision. Ordering a professional physician to change or alter their records is in violation of their right to practice medicine.
“Taser has sued a number of medical examiners for making informed medical opinions in an attempt, I think, to both protect their product and send a threatening message to medical examiners.
“It is dangerously close to intimidation,” he said. “They are attempting to send a message to medical examiners that if they elect to make that determination they may face a civil suit.” (Watson, S, 2008).
Now, in 2009, TASER International has changed their position. According to the Arizona Republic, “The maker of Taser stun guns is advising police officers to avoid shooting suspects in the chest with the 50,000-volt weapon, saying that it could pose an extremely low risk of an “adverse cardiac event.”
The advisory, issued in an Oct. 12 training bulletin, is the first time that Taser International has suggested there is any risk of a cardiac arrest related to the discharge of its stun gun.
But Taser officials said Tuesday that the bulletin does not state that Tasers can cause cardiac arrest. They said the advisory means only that law-enforcement agencies can avoid controversy over the subject if their officers aim at areas other than the chest. (Anglen, R, 2009).
As the above states, “Taser officials said Tuesday that the bulletin does not state that Tasers can cause cardiac arrest”. This is completely false. The following is taken from the training bulletin released by TASER International, “while it may not be possible to say that an ECD could never affect the heart under any circumstances, the risk of VF is extremely rare and would be rounded to near zero” (Taser training bulletin, 2009).
In a media interview, a spokesman states, “No where did they say the Taser could cause cardiac arrest”, and here as you can see, the bulletin clearly states it can happen, even though TASER claims the chances are low. Low or not, they are still stating it can happen. The contradictions, however, do not stop there. The bulletin also states the following:
“Should Sudden Cardiac Arrest occur in an arrest situation involving a TASER® electronic control device (ECD) discharge to the chest area – plaintiff attorneys will likely file an excessive use of force claim against the law enforcement agency and officer and try to allege that the TASER ECD played a role in the arrest related death by causing ventricular fibrillation (VF), an arrhythmia that can be fatal without intervention. The available research does not support this” (Taser training bulletin, 2009).
TASER states in their bulletin that “the available research does not support this”. This is another complete false statement and misleading. There have been numerous studies done with TASERS, and experts have come forward warning of the possible dangers of TASER and cardiac arrest. CBC News reported in 2008, a team of doctors and scientists at the trauma center at Cook County Hospital conducted tests on pigs with the TASER device. The results were shocking – literally.
“The team of doctors and scientists at the trauma centre in Chicago’s Cook County Hospital stunned 11 pigs with Taser guns in 2006, hitting their chests with 40-second jolts of electricity, pausing for 10 to 15 seconds, then hitting them for 40 more seconds.
When the jolts ended, every animal was left with heart rhythm problems, the researchers said. Two of the animals died from cardiac arrest, one three minutes after receiving a shock” (Chicago study calls taser safety claims into question, 2008).
Police officers need to be aware of the dangers says the experts,
“Dr. Andrew Dennis, a Chicago-based trauma surgeon and police officer who worked on the study, said if Tasers can affect pigs, more research needs to be done to study how safe the stun guns are. In the meantime, police should question when, and on whom, they use the devices, he said.
“The officers need to question themselves and ask themselves, ‘Is this the appropriate situation for this device?’ “Dennis said. “They need to have the understanding that this is not a truly benign device” (Chicago study calls taser safety claims into question, 2008).
TASER International hit back with the following statement:
“Rick Smith, the CEO of Taser International and company co-founder, doesn’t think much can be concluded from the Chicago study because it focused on pigs that weigh less than 100 pounds and have a very different physiology from humans.
Smith said studies done on humans have shown Tasers don’t pose a serious health threat.
“The human studies are clearly much more relevant to policy-makers, and to people that are interested in the science of how Tasers affect people,” he said” (Chicago study calls taser safety claims into question, 2008).
Again, however, there appears to be more inconsistencies on the side of TASER International. As CBC News correctly points out, “pig studies have been used as evidence in arguments for and against stun guns in the past. Even the Taser International website points to studies on pigs in which the outcomes suggest the stun guns aren’t a serious safety risk” ” (Chicago study calls taser safety claims into question, 2008).
Based on the above report, TASER International is promoting testing with pigs when it’s in their favor, and dismissing it when it is not. This is in my opinion is very concerning. They say no research is available to support the dangers of cardiac arrest, yet we have a study they commented on and attempted to refute concerning cardiac arrest. They say that pig studies are not creditable, yet they promote it when it’s in their favor with the findings. How can a police officer confidently use such a device in a real world setting when the very manufacturer continues to shift its position on what the device is,or is not capable of? Perhaps the real problem is that if TASER were to admit to such an issue, millions of dollars would be at risk. There have been many lawsuits against Taser International, many of which are actually police officers who were hurt during training. A study in 2006 found that many of the devices on the street were more powerful then TASER International claimed they were capable of.
“A study measuring electric shocks from a Taser stun gun found that it was 39 times more powerful than the manufacturer claimed, raising new questions about the weapon’s safety.
The study, published last month in the peer-reviewed Journal of the National Academy of Forensic Engineers, concluded that the shocks are powerful enough to cause fatal heart rhythms. It is one of the few scientific studies of Taser’s electric jolt in which the company did not participate.
“The findings show the energy delivered by the weapon to be considerably understated by the manufacturer,” the Journal study said. “These findings place the weapon well into the lethal category” (Study raises concern over Taser’s safety, 2006). Canada removed many Tasers from use on the street as a result of finding Tasers that were emitting too much power.
(see references for Affidavit)
In 2007, Pamela Schrieiner, a former employee of TASER International, testified in an affidavit about her experience while working at TASER. Pamela stated in 2004 she was hired as an executive legal assistant for the executive team at TASER International. She states “I reported to Doug Klint, corporate counsel, rick Smith, CEO, and Tom Smith, the company’s president.” Pamela states she was assigned to organize a large number of volunteer exposure reports that were located in boxes scattered throughout the offices. Volunteer reports are documents filled out by police officers exposed to the effects of the TASER. Pamela states “while creating the spreadsheet, I became aware that there were hundreds, if not thousands, of injuries noted on the volunteer exposure reports”. According to Pamela, Doug Klint and Rick Smith became very upset at this. The company was under investigation by the Security and Exchange Commission, and the Department of Justice concerning the safety of TASERS. Pamela states” Mr Klint and Mr. Smith told me to remove the data from the spread sheets for most of the injuries which I had entered. They then shredded most of the reports showing injuries, bringing in dumpsters to dispose of the paper. Many of the destroyed documents contained reports of injuries to the back”.
Pamela states that in late 2004 there was a meeting held about information being leaked to the media. TASER had hired some off duty police officers to investigate the issue. Pamela states she was accused of leaking information by the officers, and even though she claimed her innocence, she was forced to resign. Pamela says since leaving TASER International, she has been threatened by people hired by TASER. She states that people she has never met would come up to her in the grocery store, and tell her “it’s not a good idea testify against TASER”. Pamela ends her testimony by stating the following:
“Rick Smith, Tom Smith, and Doug Smith are responsible for hiding and covering up information on the extent of injuries to officers during TASER trainings. I know this because I was instructed to alter the spreadsheets and saw them destroy documents. Doug Klint told me that the lawsuits against TASER would go away because there would be no documents to prove that TASER knew that injuries were happening”.
Pamela is set to testify on behalf of a case involving a Georgia State Trooper. According to RMCP watch.com, the following has taken place:
“Ms. Johnson, the lawyer representing the Georgia state trooper, filed an emergency motion for a protective order from the court regarding the expected deposition of Ms. Schreiner. The woman did not wish to testify in the Phoenix area, “due to the previous threats and harassment by members of the law enforcement community in the Phoenix area on Taser’s payroll,” the motion says.
Since then, Taser has been asking numerous “intrusive and harassing questions” about Ms. Schreiner’s finances and private medical history, according to Ms. Johnson’s motion. The company has subpoenaed her tax returns, bank account statements, phone bills and documents reflecting “your diagnosis of and treatment for cancer” for the years 2004 and 2005” (ex-taser worker alleges she was threatened, 2009).
If TASER International is demanding such irrelevant history about Mrs. Shriener in regards to her testimony, It demonstrates the troubling lengths in which the company will go to somehow destroy a person’s creditability. RMCP Watch.com goes on to state the following:
“The Georgia case that includes Ms. Schreiner’s allegations involves claims of a debilitating back injury sustained by David Wilson, a former Georgia State Trooper, during his training on how to use the device.
That case, launched last year, is similar to one filed by RCMP Constable Dan Husband, who was stationed in Revelstoke, B.C., when he suffered a back injury after a voluntary Taser strike, he claims. Officers are encouraged to experience a Taser shot as part of their training, the suit says. Const. Husband’s suit was filed a year ago but only made public this week in the National Post.
There have been at least 10 training-injury lawsuits filed against Taser since 2003, according to the company. They are among the more than 100 product-liability suits it has faced, according to the company’s most recent filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the U.S. stock market regulator.”
“Lawyers for Taser, who are defending against the Georgia suit, filed weighty legal arguments trying to keep a jury from hearing Ms. Schreiner’s allegations. Taser said in court she resigned after working for nine months when she was accused of providing false information during a corporate investigation and that her affidavit contradicts her earlier statements”(ex-taser worker alleges she was threatened, 2009).
These issues are very concerning considering many officers have been injured in training after being encouraged to take such a hit from a TASER. I, myself, was hit with a TASER in training and suffered a severe back strain to my upper back that required medical attention resulting in missed work. Had I known about such cases involving officers being hurt in training beforehand, I certainly would have made a different decision. The risk of injury vs. no benefit to receiving a hit in my opinion is not worth it. I have personally spoken with three officers who have been TASERED in training that had suffered fractured vertebrates as a result, endings one’s career. The fact TASER allegedly destroyed such information that should have been shared with officers, including myself, is even more concerning. I am not unique in this regard. One such example is that of a 38 year old officer in 2007. This officer volunteered to demonstrate the safety of the TASER for the British Metropolitan Police. After being hit with the device he was rushed to the hospital with severe back fractures. Janes.com sates the following:
“A police officer in the US who volunteered to be the subject of a Taser demonstration has suffered possibly lasting damage including spine fractures after receiving a five-second discharge, according to a respected medical journal.
The 38-year-old victim was rushed by ambulance to hospital where a scan showed he suffered compression fractures in his spine caused by muscle spasms triggered by being Tasered in a training class.
The case has now entered medical literature after being written up in the eminent American College of Emergency Physicians journal which released the details
Supt Charlie Hill, staff officer to the ACPO police use of firearms working group, said the case underlined the need to move with caution until more can be discovered about the potential side effects of using Tasers”(Officer injured in taser demonstration, 2007).
A more recent case is that of Utah man, 32year old Brian Cardall. Brian had a history of mental illness. While on a road trip from Arizona with his wife, he became agitated. Brian had stripped his clothes off and began having an episode. His wife called for the police to come help detain him. When the police arrived they TASERED him, knocking Brian unconscious. He died shortly after at a nearby hospital. Brian’s wife was pregnant when he passed, leaving behind three children and a wife. Had the police been aware that the device could kill Brian, or if it was found that the mentally ill are more susceptible to the TASER, they almost certainly would have used another method (Non-lethal weapon kills utah man, 2009).
In conclusion, should the TASER be taken off the street? In my opinion no. It can still serve as a good tool in law enforcement as long as it is used appropriately and respectfully. People reading this article should understand I am not anti-TASER. I am however for doing what I believe is morally and ethically right by putting the safety of fellow officers in training and the safety of the general public first and foremost. In my opinion the following should take place concerning the TASER:
- There should be a federal investigation into the legitimacy of Mrs. Schriener’s testimony and validated whether or not important evidence of the device’s safety has been withheld and destroyed.
- There should be government and private sector independent testing of the device. It is not ethical that the general public be used as a test bed for the TASER, while TASER International continues to change their policies and positions as people suffer the consequences after being exposed to the device.
- The number of officers injured during “safe” taser training must be taken seriously. This device must be respected. It is not a toy, and officers should not be encouraged to take a hit. We don’t shoot each other with our firearms and bean bag rounds, and we don’t hit each other with our batons.
- The TASER should be moved up on the use of force continuum to hard techniques. Passive resistant suspects do not warrant use of the TASER and the TASER should not be used as a compliance control device.
- New training methods and procedures regarding use of the Taser should be implemented.
I feel the above stated points should be addressed. The longer this device is used without proper testing, study, care, and respect, the longer people will unintentionally suffer unwarranted injury or death as a result. There are now many cases pending regarding people who died shortly after being hit with the TASER – and an increasing number of situations are where lethal force would not have been used or permitted. One thing should be remembered above all else. As law enforcement officers, we commit to protect the public and to serve. It is a cause greater than ourselves. The TASER is a tool, not a symbol of loyalty. There is no reason why law enforcement cannot take a grounded and well rounded approach to the issues discussed here concerning the TASER. We are loyal to the oaths we take and that includes getting to the bottom of how safe this device truly is before we subject someone to its use unnecessarily.
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