SHOCK TACTICS
March 7, 2018 2:30 PM   Subscribe

Inside Taser, The Weapon That Transformed Policing
Part I: The Toll
In the most detailed study ever of fatalities and litigation involving police use of stun guns, Reuters finds more than 150 autopsy reports citing Tasers as a cause or contributor to deaths across America. Behind the fatalities is a sobering reality: Many who die are among society’s vulnerable – unarmed, in psychological distress and seeking help.

Part II: The Warnings
Haas fired his stun gun. One electrified dart hit below Howard’s lower left chest, the other near his waist. The 18-year-old collapsed, unconscious, and was pronounced dead at the hospital; the coroner ruled the cause “unknown.”

“I did not in my wildest dreams expect this kid to die,” Haas, a certified Taser instructor, told Reuters.

Howard’s family sued Haas in his official capacity as a member of the university’s police force, contending he did not heed warnings from the weapon’s manufacturer, Taser International Inc, to avoid chest shots because they can pose cardiac risks. The university settled for $2 million; Taser faced no litigation.

As Tasers have become a common weapon in U.S. policing, so too have legal cases like Everette Howard’s. And as the human toll mounts, the litigation toll is increasingly borne by the public.

At least 442 wrongful death suits have been filed over fatalities that followed the use of a Taser, almost all since the stun guns began gaining widespread popularity with police in the early 2000s, Reuters found in a nationwide review of legal filings. Police departments and the municipalities they represent have faced 435 of these suits. The manufacturer was a defendant in 128 of them.
Part III: The Experts
For more than a decade, Taser has defended its signature weapon by leveraging close ties with police and other professionals, court records show. It has spent millions of dollars commissioning research on its weapons, much of it backing the company’s contention that its stun guns are blameless in deaths or injuries. It regularly hires medical and scientific experts who vouch for the safety of the electroshock devices in court or in published studies. And it cultivates ties with medical examiners, the professionals who decide whether or not a Taser shock is to blame in a fatality.

The result is a thicket of intersecting relationships among police, coroners and a wide network of scientists the company taps, a Reuters examination of hundreds of wrongful death lawsuits and interviews with lawyers for both plaintiffs and police found.
Part IV: The Science
Smith had been right about what police wanted. Sales exploded. Taser International was made. Today, officers around the world and on most U.S. police forces holster the weapon, which Taser says is more akin to a baton than a gun.

But his safety assertions were overstated and rested on science that didn’t rise to the FDA rigor he promised, a Reuters examination of company documents, medical literature and court records found. That science began with one pig, five dogs and some willing cops.

Taser’s human subjects were prospective buyers. At sales demonstrations, police officers volunteered – sometimes for a chance at free beer – to be shocked with the weapon. Those shocks were a fraction as long as what a single Taser trigger squeeze delivers in the field. And the jolts came from darts typically taped to feet, thighs, hips and other places far from the heart.

Researchers observed and chronicled the reactions of the volunteers but took no cardiograms or any other physiological measurements from the subjects. Taser’s early animal and human tests didn’t use control groups – subjects who received no shock or a smaller jolt, for example, and could be used as a benchmark. And CEO Smith’s conclusion that Tasers are “unequivocally” safe was unusual: Scientists typically highlight the limits of their research.
Part V: The X26
The X26, Taser’s most powerful stun gun, was removed from the sales lineup in 2014. Behind the phase-out, a truth: The popular weapon posed a higher cardiac risk than other models.
Part VI: The Prisoners
Corporal Matthew Stice pointed his Taser at Martini Smith’s bare chest.

Smith was 20 years old, pregnant and stripped nearly naked, standing in a cell in the Franklin County jail in Columbus, Ohio. She had been detained on charges of stabbing a boyfriend she’d accused of beating her. Stice and a deputy had ordered her to disrobe, take off all jewelry and don a prison gown. But she hadn’t been able to obey one command – remove the silver stud from her tongue.

“Take the tongue ring out,” Deputy Shawnda Arnold said. Smith continued struggling to unscrew the ring, inserting fingers from both hands into her mouth. No luck. Her fingers were numb, she protested: She had been cuffed for six hours with her hands behind her back.

“I will Tase you,” Stice said. The ring was slippery, Smith said, asking for a paper towel. The deputies refused. “I just want to go to sleep,” Smith cried.

Stice warned her again, then fired. The Taser’s electrified darts struck Smith’s chest; she collapsed against the concrete wall and slid to the floor, gasping, arms over her breasts.

“Why did you Tase me?” she moaned. “I wasn’t harming nobody. I can’t just take it out.”

Five days later, Smith had a miscarriage.

“It stays with me like it was yesterday,” Smith said of the Taser’s pain and the memory of her loss of the child. The charges against her in the domestic violence case were dismissed.
posted by the man of twists and turns (29 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
U.N. watchdogs call for probe of Taser assaults in U.S. jails - "The U.N. special rapporteur on torture urged U.S. authorities to investigate and weigh criminal charges against jail officials in Ohio, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Arkansas for the “clearly gratuitous infliction of severe pain and suffering” from the use of Tasers on inmates, citing a Reuters report this week."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:32 PM on March 7 [3 favorites]


Cops would still be using billy clubs and saps if the public would tolerate it.
posted by Beholder at 3:21 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]


for Robert Dziekański:

.
posted by scruss at 3:23 PM on March 7 [8 favorites]


Cops would still be using billy clubs and saps if the public would tolerate it.

Billy clubs are still a thing in quite a few places.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:31 PM on March 7 [8 favorites]


Cops use batons all the time.
posted by Lexica at 3:49 PM on March 7 [9 favorites]


Cops would still be using billy clubs and saps if the public would tolerate it.

Billy clubs are still a thing in quite a few places.


I'd actually be really interested in seeing an analysis of this. Back in the 80s, my cousin's friend was in a situation that was broken up by police, was hit in the head with a billy club, and has had a permanent brain injury ever since. If that officer had a stun gun and used it instead - and while not ignoring the fact that there are people who die from being stunned - he likely would have had a short-lived injury with no long-term negative impact.

When officers decide to use force, they have to choose from what's available to them. I'm sure there are people alive today who would have been shot with a gun if an officer didn't have the option of a stun gun. I'm sure there are people who have been stunned who otherwise would have been clubbed.

It would be interesting to see an analysis showing if the overall trend was toward a less-lethal engagement because of more options available to the officer, although I imagine controlling for all the other factors would be a nightmare.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:03 PM on March 7 [3 favorites]


Police that are properly trained in conflict minimisation and de-escalation don't need to use as much force and don't need to use it as frequently. Less-lethal weapons are no substitute for this: it's like equipping cars with really soft bumpers instead of training drivers.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:35 PM on March 7 [24 favorites]


Wild idea: instead of discussing what potentially deadly weapons cops should be able to use on even unarmed people, how about a discussion on the different types of non-violent conflict resolution tactics police could be trained to use in the US, based on the experience of police officers in other countries?

Or abolish the police. I'm fine with either.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 4:35 PM on March 7 [13 favorites]


Cops would still be using billy clubs and saps if the public would tolerate it.

lol jesus christ police use guns to murder people every day for any reason or no reason at all
posted by indubitable at 4:44 PM on March 7 [24 favorites]




...officers around the world and on most U.S. police forces holster the weapon, which Taser says is more akin to a baton than a gun.

And yet it's shaped like a gun, not like a baton. That shape apparently led to an already-subdued suspect being shot dead when an officer pulled his pistol and fired. He said he thought it was his Tazer. IIRC, this was in a BART station. I doubt that it's the only time something like that has happened.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:13 PM on March 7 [2 favorites]


The NSW cops just killed someone recently beside my university. Tasers were involved. I really don't see how they continue to be justified. Except that it's usually the marginalised being killed.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 6:28 PM on March 7 [2 favorites]


That shape apparently led to an already-subdued suspect being shot dead when an officer pulled his pistol and fired. He said he thought it was his Tazer
That's not credible. Police are trained to wear their tazer and gun on different sides. The weights and feel in the hand of the two weapons are completely different. A tazer presents a completely different sight picture from a gun. They're usually bright yellow, for a start. There is no possible way a trained user could make this mistake.
posted by Combat Wombat at 6:30 PM on March 7


That's not credible. Police are trained to wear their tazer and gun on different sides. The weights and feel in the hand of the two weapons are completely different. A tazer presents a completely different sight picture from a gun. They're usually bright yellow, for a start. There is no possible way a trained user could make this mistake.
And, yet, Oscar Grant is dead, that precise argument was made in court and Johannes Mehrsele was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and not murder.
posted by hoyland at 6:44 PM on March 7 [22 favorites]


Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane: “Or abolish the police”
JoeZydeco: “A Texas court of appeals has ordered a new trial for a convicted sex offender after a Fort Worth judge instructed his bailiff to administer an electric shock to the defendant three separate times with a stun belt for failing to follow courtroom decorum.”
Frankly, the administration of justice from the courts to the jails should be dismantled and we should start over.
posted by ob1quixote at 8:26 PM on March 7 [6 favorites]


Or abolish the police.

Yes, because I'm sure the local Volunteer Citizens Militia you'd get instead would implement only the very best practices in nonviolent conflict resolution. That normally works out well.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:08 PM on March 7 [2 favorites]


My local police (Norway) of course has all kinds of different issues, but for your entertainment here's a couple of cops handling a belligerent drunk (with subtitles). Note that they're usually unarmed and Tasers are just now being investigated as a possible future tool. Police education is a three-year bachelor's degree, BTW, which is some contrast to the US' average of 22 weeks...

The idea of Tasers has met some resistance (link goes to decent effort by Google to translate article).
posted by Harald74 at 11:57 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]


When officers decide to use force, they have to choose from what's available to them. I'm sure there are people alive today who would have been shot with a gun if an officer didn't have the option of a stun gun. I'm sure there are people who have been stunned who otherwise would have been clubbed.

It is all about training and the culture of domination and control. US police (generally) act like aggressive bullies rather than guarantors of the peace.

So yes, in the current US context, removal of tasers would mean more people shot. Because police are aggressive bullies who escalate rather than deescalate conflict.

I have seen the police in dozens of countries around the world. In the vast majority of places they are calm and polite, even with drunks raving and threatening. They are trained to try to talk people down, and if that doesn't work and they need to physically subdue, it will generally be with wrestling style take downs / grappling, and batons or similar.

How is it cops can be so in fear of their lives when it is usually at least 2 on 1, often a mob of 4 or 5 on one guy? And when cops in China, or Germany, or wherever, are able to deal with such situations without anyone getting seriously injured?
posted by Meatbomb at 2:09 AM on March 8 [11 favorites]


I've had some heart attacks. One section of my heart has dead tissue, from going without oxygen for longer than it wanted. While I have gained back most of my strength and am in really good shape -- daily bicycle rides, yoga, etc -- I cannot help but wonder what would happen to me if some cop decided to taze me for whatever reason, or no reason.

Heart condition or not, I confess here and now that I'd rather be hit with a tazer than pegged by some braindead Barney Fife moron with a 9mm -- just sortof a personal preference, if you will.

~~~~~

Fun fact: Here in Texas, your basic rent-a-cop, the mope working as the security guy in the local grocery store etc -- he is armed with a handgun. (Probably could carry an assault rifle, maybe two or three of them at once.) So anyways, he/she can and does carry a pistol but he/she cannot carry a tazer.
posted by dancestoblue at 2:16 AM on March 8 [3 favorites]


Policing is not even on the top 10 list of dangerous professions in the US.
posted by Harald74 at 2:55 AM on March 8 [6 favorites]


Policing is not even on the top 10 list of dangerous professions in the US.
posted by Harald74 at 4:55 AM on March 8

I bet that policing is in the top ten of professions that are dangerous to the rest of us. Black Lives Matter a huge eye-opener for me; the best thing that's happened to bring it in the open is cell phone cameras.
posted by dancestoblue at 3:14 AM on March 8 [3 favorites]


I'm sure there are people alive today who would have been shot with a gun if an officer didn't have the option of a stun gun. I'm sure there are people who have been stunned who otherwise would have been clubbed.

So that's just the thing, police departments spent money on Tasers and claimed that their access to this newfangled weapon would reduce shootings. But instead, PDs' access to Tasers just increased violence and injury; it hasn't reduced police shootings across the board; instead, they've been cruelly used as a compliance tool in situations when weapons are not necessary.
posted by entropone at 4:33 AM on March 8 [16 favorites]


Yes, because I'm sure the local Volunteer Citizens Militia you'd get instead would implement only the very best practices in nonviolent conflict resolution. That normally works out well.

Yeah uh for the record I'm not suggesting we instead give a whole other group of people the power to use violence against others with impunity. I'm talking about nonviolent conflict resolution and restorative justice.

Everyone talks about "without cops we'd have people beating, robbing, raping and killing with impunity and no chance of recourse against them" and it's like, wtf do you think the cops are exactly?
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 7:29 AM on March 8 [6 favorites]


Police abolition isn't some pie in the sky theory. It's been floated for a while, with real suggestions for implementation, and frankly, given that the US police force has an absolutely horrific history, it's worth examining.

It's actually quite easy to google all sorts of stuff about that, and I suggest doing so, so this doesn't become a derail about the subject. I certain suggest doing so over presuming you know what it means and then having a knee-jerk reaction to that supposition, which is like hearing there is grape jelly, never having heard of it before, and screaming OH YEAH BECAUSE I WANT MY JELLY ROUND WITH A PEEL ON IT.
posted by maxsparber at 8:51 AM on March 8 [7 favorites]


But instead, PDs' access to Tasers just increased violence and injury; it hasn't reduced police shootings across the board; instead, they've been cruelly used as a compliance tool in situations when weapons are not necessary.

This was part of the lie used to sell Tasers to the public. They were never going to be a replacement for guns, they're a replacement for billy clubs.
posted by rhizome at 10:36 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]


The old folks might remember this warning we got from Jello Biafra in 1980.
posted by bink at 11:59 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]


If abolishing is a bridge too far I'd settle for disarmament.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 12:09 PM on March 8 [3 favorites]


like equipping cars with really soft bumpers instead of training drivers

To be fair, it's getting harder to find training drivers who are still willing to be strapped on front and rear.
posted by flabdablet at 12:49 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]


'Non-lethal' is a dog whistle. If ya got brains, you can see it's all about compliance. Now sit down on the curb right now, boy.

Essentially, field execution for misdemeanor failure to follow an officer's order.
posted by j_curiouser at 9:19 PM on March 9 [2 favorites]


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