WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Wednesday, January 08, 2014
Saturday, December 14, 2013
Why Taser is paying millions in secret 'suspect injury or death' settlements - when does 'less lethal' actually mean deadly?
December 13, 2013 - Matt Stroud, The Verge
On the day before Thanksgiving this year, international stun gun and cop-cam company Taser International, Inc. announced it had given up its fight in two major legal battles over "suspect injury or death." In a 275-word statement submitted to the US Securities and Exchange Commission, the company's chief financial officer said it would pay a total of $2.3 million in settlements to plaintiffs who had sued the company in product liability cases.
This was rare. Taser prides itself in fighting to the bitter end in any case alleging that its products do anything but save lives. Yet there it was in a financial disclosure — Taser backing down.
Taser brushed it off as a remnant of simpler times. According to the vaguely worded statement, enhanced "risk management procedures" and "revisions to product warnings" in 2009 corrected a legal vulnerability. The $2.3 million payouts would address the last lawsuits tied to that vulnerability; they would amount to housekeeping — cleaning up lingering messes that had remained on the company’s books since before 2009.
WHAT WERE THESE "RISK MANAGEMENT PROCEDURES"?
But what were these "risk management procedures"? What were these "revisions to product warnings"? What was the vulnerability? And what were these cases? Taser’s press liaison told The Verge that its SEC declaration "speaks for itself" — a clear indication that the company has no plans to say anything further about settlements unless it’s forced to.
But a little research helped to pin down procedural changes Taser made in September, 2009. And a public records search helped to narrow the possibilities down to four representative cases that may have been settled. Those cases have a few major factors in common: they involve a Taser shot at someone’s chest; they involve someone going into cardiac arrest; and they involve an accidental death.
For years, Taser has battled in court to show that its electronic control devices — its ECDs such as the X2 and the X26 — cannot kill. But if its recent settlements are any indication, the company may either be slowly backing away from that premise, or at least attempting to draw a line in time after which the company feels it's no longer liable for someone’s death.
As bars were closing at about 2AM on April 19, 2008, 24-year-old Kevin Piskura was at a music venue about a block away from the Miami University campus in Oxford, Ohio. As the bar closed its doors and patrons exited, a fight broke out. Oxford Police were called. According to a civil complaint filed in 2010 by Piskura’s parents, an officer ordered Piskura to "step back or back away" from the fight. It’s not clear whether he did or not, but the officer soon pulled out a Taser ECD and shot Piskura in the chest. Piskura went into cardiac arrest; his heart stopped beating. He was taken to a nearby emergency room and soon life-flighted to a Cincinnati hospital where he died five days later. This past March, Piskura’s parents settled with the City of Oxford and the Oxford Police Department for $750,000. In October, Piskura’s parents suggested they were considering a settlement with Taser.
The Piskuras did not return calls from The Verge, and an attorney representing their case declined to comment. But Kevin Piskura’s death fits a pattern consistent to ongoing product liability cases involving Taser-related incidents in which someone was killed prior to September, 2009. The $2.3 million payouts likely stem from similar cases; these incidents occurred before Taser made its switch from "non-lethal" to "less lethal."
Regarding that: letters to medical journals and plenty of anecdotal evidence have suggested at least since 2005 that even healthy people could suffer cardiac arrest if shot near the heart with Taser’s "non-lethal" ECDs. By September, 2009, Taser changed its product warnings accordingly. Today, Taser’s ECDs are branded as "less lethal" instead of "non lethal," and its training materials warn that "exposure in the chest area near the heart … could lead to cardiac arrest."
Another ongoing cardiac arrest case against Taser involves Ryan Rich. A 33-year-old physician in Las Vegas, Rich went into cardiac arrest and died in January, 2008 after he was shot five times with an ECD, including once in the chest. That case is headed to trial in January.
A third case comes out of the Detroit suburb of Warren, Michigan, and will head to trial in May, 2014. It involves the 2009 death of 16-year-old, 5-feet-2-inch Robert Mitchell, who died in an abandoned house after being shot in the chest by a Warren police officer with a Taser ECD.
"TURNER COLLAPSED 37 SECONDS AFTER THE DEVICE WAS ACTIVATED."
Darryl Turner’s case is a fourth possibility. Turner was 17 years old in March 2008 when he got into an argument with his boss at the North Carolina Food Lion grocery where he worked as a cashier. According to a complaint later filed by Turner’s parents, the argument escalated to shouting and Turner’s boss eventually called 911. A police officer from the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department arrived and asked Turner to "calm down." When the teenager refused, the officer pointed his Taser ECD at Turner’s chest. Turner began to step toward the officer, so the officer "held down the Taser’s trigger, causing the device to continue emitting an electrical current, until Turner eventually collapsed 37 seconds after the device initially was activated." Paramedics soon arrived to find Turner handcuffed and unconscious. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
In an uncommon outcome, Turner’s family was awarded a massive payout in 2011. Taser appealed. In November of this year, an appeals court issued its opinion that Taser should remain liable for Turner’s death, but that the jury’s award needed to be reconsidered. "We have no doubt that Turner had significant value to his parents," the appeals court’s decision read. But the court couldn’t agree with a "reasonable level of certainty" that the boy’s life was worth $6.15 million. The parties are scheduled to head back to court in 2014 to haggle over that figure. Unless, that is, Taser has decided to cut its losses and settle out of court.
ON THE RECORD
Taser International is very good about keeping records. In addition to its Axon Flex on-body police camera that allows officers to record interactions with suspects, the company also collects data every time a Taser ECD is fired. But it’s up to police departments — and up to Taser International — to decide how much of that information is revealed publicly.
The company takes a similar approach in the courtroom.
Taser typically insists on keeping its legal settlements — such as those referenced in its recent $2.3 million payout — secret. Rarely are the terms made public. But it happens occasionally. One Northern California case involved a drunk man off his psychiatric meds who was shot with a Taser ECD after refusing to get off a bus. He went into cardiac arrest. An emergency crew was able to resuscitate him on scene, but after going 18 minutes without a breath, the man suffered a crippling brain injury. He would require a caregiver from that point forward.
After a long legal battle, Taser agreed to settle that case. As per usual, it demanded that the settlement agreement be kept secret. The defendants in the case agreed. But eventually it was revealed that the company had settled for $2.85 million. The settlement figure was only made public after a probate court judge made the unusual decision to disclose the dollar amount in open court.
THERE WAS, THE JUDGE SAID, "THERAPEUTIC VALUE" IN MAKING THE INFORMATION PUBLIC
A report from the San Jose Mercury News later explained the judge’s reasoning. There was, the judge said, "therapeutic value" in making the information public.
Whether or not a judge makes similar decisions about Taser’s recent settlements, it’s clear that the company has decided to settle cardiac arrest cases as quietly as possible because it has maintained for years that its weapons are effective, non-deadly alternatives to firearms. If too much attention focuses on Taser-related deaths, there’s a risk that police departments might choose to sidestep the controversy altogether and opt against Taser's products.
There’s a lot at stake on both sides. For Taser, its NASDAQ-traded stock value is on the line. And for those engaged in open legal battles over Taser-related deaths involving cardiac arrest and factors such as "excited delirium" ("a euphemism for ‘death by Taser’") — as well as those who may literally find themselves facing down a Taser ECD in the future — the value of an open settlement may amount to more than mere therapy. It could amount to life or death.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Thursday, October 31, 2013
Sunday, August 04, 2013
Friday, July 19, 2013
July 19, 2013
Diana Mehta, The Canadian Press
Friday, June 07, 2013
I can’t believe the number of Canadian cops and even some coroners and judges who are still accepting Excited Delirium as a ‘cause-of-death’. Neither the CMA or AMA recognize it. Then the Braidwood Inquiry looking into the death of Robert Dziekanski blew the ED idea out of the water, as a concocted concept to help police explain away ‘unintended consequences’ during and after Taser incidents. Have you ever heard of ED mentioned in anything other than Taser-related fatalities?
Mother Jones published an eye-opening piece in 2009, right around the time when Taser International quietly announced in a training bulletin that officers should avoid chest shots because of proximity to the heart. That flies in the face of the claims made by the company a decade earlier, when its executives crowed about Tasers being safe to use on any assailant. Mother Jones reported the manufacturer’s questionable methods of promoting ED to anyone who would listen—mainly police and lawyers- through a second-party organization based in Las Vegas, Nevada! The article is a bit dated now, in that Taser has lost at least one other major product liability case- that being the late 17-year old Daryl Turner, who was stunned twice in the chest by a cop in North Carolina. The Turner family won a $10-million dollar jury judgement, although it was halfed on appeal. Taser was rapped for 'failure to warn' about cardiac risks; these are risks TI executives were told about in 2006 by one of their own scientists after one of their own healthy volunteers suffered a heart attack during a controlled experiment. Luckily a defib was nearby and the volunteer survived. They company kept selling product, only issuing the chest-avoidance warning in late 2009. That case set the legal precedent that Tasers can kill. Commissioner Braidwood concluded that too. And now, if you read the fine print you'll see TI itself is admitting its products can cause cardiac and metabolic changes that can lead to death.
Monday, February 18, 2013
A documentary about the September 17, 2006 death of James Chasse.
From the website: On Sept. 17, 2006 James Chasse was stopped by three law enforcement officers in Portland, Oregon in broad daylight. A dozen eyewitnesses watched in horror as the officers tackled, beat, kicked, and tasered James until he lay motionless on the pavement with 16 broken ribs and a punctured lung. He died in the custody of Portland police about two hours later.
Thursday, October 18, 2012
October, 15, 2012
Special Committee to Inquire into the Use of Conducted Energy Weapons
and to Audit Selected Police Complaints
Monday, October 15, from 10:45 to 11:30 a.m.
Douglas Fir Committee Room, Room 226, Parliament Buildings.
I would like to thank the committee for inviting me here today. I am a Registered Psychologist (in private practice) that has worked in the area of police psychology for over 30 years. I completed basic police training at the RCMP Training Academy (Depot Division) in 1988. I specialize in the area of crisis management and have experience in the application of force across a broad array of police tasks including: hostage/barricade incidents; kidnappings; incidents of public disorder; and crisis intervention. I have been instrumental in the creation and delivery of crisis intervention, crisis negotiation, and incident command courses from the Canadian Police College (Ottawa, Ontario) to the B.C. Police Academy (New Westminster, B.C.). I have been an adjunct lecturer at the FBI Training Academy. I have consulted internationally and with several law enforcement agencies including: Colombia, Mexico, Singapore, Brazil, the United Arab Emirates, Hungary, Iceland, Sweden, Australia, and Europol. I have consulted operationally at a variety of incidents including: the old BC Penitentiary (hostage takings); Waco, Texas; Gustafsen Lake, B.C.; Jordan, Montana; Ft. Davis, Texas; the G8; the G20; Apex Alpine; and numerous kidnappings from Iraq to Indonesia, and Kashmir to Colombia. I am familiar with both Use of Force Models; the RCMP’s Integrated Model of Incident Management and the National Use of Force Framework. I provided testimony at both phases of the Braidwood Commission of Inquiries.
The BC Government failed its citizens when TASER technology was introduced to the Province. As someone who is trained to construct, conduct, and be critical of research, I was taken aback last week to hear the Assistant Deputy Minister and Director of Police Services cavalierly gloss over the inadequate and flawed process used to approve the use of TASERs in this Province. Those who appreciate the scientific method prefer to regard that process as amateurish, at best, and replete with misrepresentations provided by what appears to have been a seriously compromised policeman/project manager. I would like to elaborate. There was not enough rigorous science applied by the manufacturer to guarantee the safety of the weapon. TASERs were anecdotally not scientifically developed. Universally, public officials failed to verify the safety claims being made by the company and its spokespersons. TASERs were rushed into service by decision makers and police in B.C. and throughout Canada in 1999. The weapon has caused problems for the public and the manufacturer. For example, TASER International is presently engaged in damage control by offering trade-ins to “recall” older, more powerful weapons. (Are you aware that the M-26 model is powered at 26-Watts, the next generation model the X-26 is lower powered, and the newest model the X2 will be even lower? This begs the question as to why the manufacturer would lower the power of the weapon without alerting law enforcement first and providing some explanation). It appears that with the lack of regular and rigorous peer reviewed independent measurement, no policeperson could be sure of the amount of current being emitted from the weapon at any given deployment; for unlike breathalysers, defibrillators, and radar guns, the police do not routinely measure the output of their TASERs.
1. It does not determine electrical safety of ESWs
2. It only tests to determine whether ESWs are “in tolerance” or “out of tolerance”.
3. A test result of “in tolerance” does not indicate or imply that injury or death will not result from use of the tested ESW, or that the tested ESW will incapacitate a person against whom the ESW may be deployed.
4. It does not measure the electrical energy delivered into a body (i.e. invasive shocks).
5. It also does not disclose scientific references or rationale as to why 600 Ohms is identified as the measurement base vs. a range of resistances.
Monday, October 15, 2012
Justice for Victims of Police Killings:
Third Annual Commemorative Vigil
MONDAY, OCTOBER 22, 6:30pm (2012)
rendez-vous: 480 Gilford, métro Laurier (St-Joseph exit)
Family-friendly; welcome to all! Rain or shine.
Thursday, September 13, 2012
September 13, 2012
By William Boardman, IVN
Vermont Taser Death Investigation Stalls
None of the officials involved in Vermont’s first taser death can explain why it’s almost three months since a Vermont State trooper tasered Macadam Mason, a 39-year-old epileptic artist who died almost immediately, and there’s still no completed autopsy report.
The same officials in two states, Vermont and New Hampshire, also failed to reveal last June that Taser International, the taser manufacturer, almost immediately intervened in the investigation, submitting guidance and background information for the Vermont State Police and the NH medical examiner’s office that was in the midst of performing Mason’s autopsy. That was June 21 and Taser’s involvement remained unknown to the public until reported September 9 by the Burlington Free Press.
Taser’s covert intervention into Mason’s taser-related death is part of apparently long-standing policy on the company’s part to intervene as early as possible to protect the Taser brand from bad publicity.
With some 500 taser-related American deaths since 2001, Taser has already changed its characterization of its 50,000 volt stun gun from “non-lethal” to “less lethal.”
Taser’s approach to taser deaths is to challenge anyone suggesting that taser was in any way to blame. Last July when OpEdNews.com ran a story headlined, “Taser Death In Vermont: Trooper Zaps Unarmed Epileptic Artist,” Stacey Todd of Taser International posted a comment asserting that: “It’s premature to describe Mr. Mason’s death as a ‘Taser death.’ To simply infer that the use of one police tool may be to be to blame for this man’s death is irresponsible as there are no facts to support that causal relationship.”
All reports of the event of June 20 are consistent, relating that when trooper David Schaeffer shot his taser at Macadam Mason, Mason dropped to the ground and never regained consciousness. He was taken to a hospital in NH where he was pronounced dead.
When asked, “do you think Mason would be dead even if no taser was used,” the Taser International spokesperson did not answer the question. Instead, Stacey Todd wrote that: “Until a medical expert, coroner or medical examiner, determines a cause of death it’s speculation to state that the Taser device caused Mr. Mason’s death.”
In fact, in three different cases in Ohio in 2005-06, when the Chief Medical examiner’s office in Summit County, Ohio, made exactly that determination, Taser International took the county to court. After a four-day trial in 2008, Ohio Judge Ted Schneiderman found for Taser on every item in the company’s complaint, as well as some items it had not requested, and ordered the medical examiner to re-write three separate death certificates.
The judge’s 13-page decision in May 2008 described three events that unambiguously included tasers and fatalities, as well other factors like extreme drug use, a badly slashed wrist, serious mental impairment, and obesity. These descriptions alone raise doubts about the taser use directly causing any of the three deaths, but tasers were indeed deployed just a matter of minutes before each of three men died, belying the judge’s conclusion that: “The Taser device had nothing to do with their deaths.” [emphasis added]
In Arizona, where Taser International is based in Scottsdale, the Arizona Republic newspaper of Phoenix covered the decision in a story that starts: “Taser International has fired a warning shot at medical examiners across the country. The Scottsdale-based stun gun manufacturer increasingly is targeting state and county medical examiners with lawsuits and lobbying efforts to reverse and prevent medical rulings that Tasers contributed to someone’s death.”
The medical examiner appealed the decision on seven separate issues, getting upheld on one and denied on the rest. In April 2009, the three-judge appeals court denied the medical examiner’s constitutional due process argument on the ground that it had not been raised in the original trial. The appeals court also reversed the trial judge for granting Taser items it had not requested.
In a pointed dissent, Judge Donna J. Carr argued that Taser International had no basis for bringing the suit in the first place “because it has not suffered an actual injury and because the interests it seeks to protect do not fall within the zone of interest to be protected by the statute.” The statute in question is concerned with preserving the integrity and finality of cause-of-death determinations.
Judge Carr went on to say that the cases the majority cited to support its position “involved persons with direct interests in the cause of death of the decedent, such as persons accused in the death, not corporations seeking to make a preemptive strike to preclude lawsuits from being filed against it.”
In Ohio, at least, “the controversy of medical examiners and Taser-related deaths” continued to make news in 2012 when WCPO-TV in Cincinnati looked into the taser-related death of a teenager that was ruled “unknown/undetermined” after he was tasered by a police officer. That ruling was challenged by the family’s attorney who said, “He’s a very clean and upstanding kid, very healthy kid…and the only thing that happened that night is he was tased and then he died and she’s saying this doesn’t matter, the Taser doesn’t matter…I don’t think so.”
WCPO also reported on a 2003 study by the Dept. of Defense that discussed the difficulty of assessing tasers as a cause-of-death, since electric shock leaves no tracks. Without direct evidence, medical examiners must rely on inference to assess the elements of a death, the same inferences that seemed so obvious to the Summit County medical examiner until Taser took her to court.
Asked if she had an opinion of the courts’ rulings, medical examiner Dr. Lisa J. Kohler said, “Yes.” She did not elaborate except to say, “I respectfully disagree with the original ruling. The death certificates reflect that disagreement in that they are unsigned.”
Whether any of these events have anything to do with the delay in Vermont getting Macadam Mason’s autopsy report from NH is anyone’s guess. Taser International has contacted at least some of the officials involved. The Vermont Attorney General’s office and the Vermont State Police won’t comment. The NH Medical Examiner’s office says that Taser hasn’t influenced them. The NH Attorney General’s office refers inquiries to the Vermont Attorney General and other NH officials refers autopsy questions to the Vermont State Police. The Vermont State Police won’t comment beyond saying that, when it gets the autopsy report, it will forward copies to the Attorney General and to the Orange County State’s Attorney Office, which has primary jurisdiction, since Mason died in Thetford in Orange County.
Monday, September 10, 2012
This problem will only be solved by raising awareness.
Please feel free to post this on the blog if you would like, I don't know how...sorry I am not very savvy with this sort of thing. Thanks...great blog.
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
9th Circuit Court says Taser International had no reason to advise in 2004 that
repeated jolts from its stun guns could cause a condition that raises heart
Maura Dolan, Los Angeles Times
A federal appeals court Tuesday upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit against the manufacturer of Tasers, ruling the company had no duty to warn that repeated jolts from the stun guns could trigger death.
The parents of Michael Rosa, 38, who died in 2004 after police repeatedly shocked him with electricity from Tasers, sued the manufacturer on the grounds the company should have warned of the risk. The company maintains there is no evidence that Tasers cause acidosis but began warning about it anyway in 2009.
The suit stemmed from an incident in the Monterey County city of Del Rey Oaks. Someone called police to report that a "pretty disturbed" man was walking around and yelling. The first officer on the scene believed the man, Rosa, was "either really high or crazy" and called for backup, the court said. More officers arrived, and officers repeatedly fired Tasers at Rosa before wrangling him into handcuffs.
"At this point, Michael slumped, his lips blue, his breathing erratic," Judge Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain wrote for the court. "He quickly stopped breathing entirely."
Efforts to resuscitate Rosa failed, and he died shortly thereafter. High levels of methamphetamines were discovered in his blood, and his death eventually was linked to acidosis, the court said. But studies previous to the Rosa incident failed to substantiate that Tasers cause acidosis, the court said.
John Maley, an attorney for the company, said it has been sued several times on the grounds the weapon caused the condition. One case led to a jury award of about $200,000 against the company. Maley said he hoped Tuesday's ruling would end the litigation.
"The science even today doesn't establish that dangerous acidosis results from Taser application," Maley said. He said the company decided to issue warnings only to avoid potential liability.
Peter Williamson, one of Rosa's lawyers, disagreed, citing a 2005 study that he said showed Tasers can trigger the deadly condition. The Rosa suit was dismissed only because the death occurred before that study was published, Williamson said.
Wednesday, July 04, 2012
Jake Lee Smith, a 44-year-old City of Kawartha Lakes resident, called 911 after suffering a breakdown and taking an overdose of pills. City of Kawartha Lakes officers went to Smith’s home and when he refused to come out an emergency response team was called in.
According to Smith’s brother, John Garton, Smith panicked when he saw officers in riot gear with semi-automatic rifles and barricaded himself in the house, along with his elderly mother. Some media reports indicated Smith might have had a gun. Garton says the only firearms in the house were a pellet gun and a flare gun used as safety equipment in a boat.
That situation could easily have let to trouble. However, Garton’s version of what happened after he arrived suggests the incident could also have ended quietly. Garton said the officers refused to let him to speak to his brother. Only after a 3-1/2 hour standoff was he allowed to phone in to the home, and convinced Smith to come out and give himself up.
Garton says his brother walked out of the house with his dog and was almost immediately shot twice with a Taser, once in the leg and once in the neck. He described it as a “huge overreaction.”
The OPP refuses to release any details of what the officers reported following the incident. Last week a spokeswoman would say only that the officers were well trained and were protecting the safety of “community members.” On Tuesday she said police will not comment because Smith has been charged with weapons offences and breach of probation.
Police need to be more upfront when they use force during an arrest, particularly in light of the number of deaths following Taser incidents and concerns about the handling of mental health patients. It not clear that Smith was a danger to anyone or that he had threatened the officers in any way.
If not, a full team of specially trained officers should have been able to arrest him peacefully, and should at least have considered letting his brother try to calm him down.
If police saw evidence of a threat serious enough to require Taser use the OPP should say so. The facts will come out if charges against Smith go to court, but the public interest would be better served by not waiting for when, or if, that happens.
Saturday, June 16, 2012
June 13, 2012
Rob Shaw, timescolonist.com
The MLAs will focus on recommendations made by Justice Thomas Braidwood on Tasers, as well as how those recommendations have been implemented throughout the province, said Murray Coell, the Liberal MLA for Saanich North and the Islands and the committee convener.
“The direction we were given [by the legislature] was basically to look at the recommendations of Justice Braidwood, that’s the starting point,” Coell said.
MLAs will also consider “the scientific research into the medical risks to persons against whom conducted-energy weapons are deployed,” according to the committee’s terms of reference.
The politicians have the power to call witnesses, gather evidence and travel throughout the province, though it’s not known to what extent they will exercise those abilities.
Coell said it is reasonable to assume that police officials would be called to give evidence.
The first meeting is scheduled for July 18, and the committee must produce a report within a year.
Braidwood released recommendations on the use of and training surrounding Tasers in 2009.
The provincial government accepted them all and, in late 2011, approved new mandatory policing standards for Taser use, as well as crisis intervention and de-escalation techniques.
The Braidwood commission then went on to examine the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, who died after police repeatedly Tasered him while restraining him face down on the floor at Vancouver International Airport on Oct. 14, 2007.
The video of the incident sparked international criticism, and Braidwood ultimately said the actions of the four RCMP officers involved were shameful and not justified.
The officers have since been charged with perjury, and B.C. has launched a civilian Independent Investigations Office to handle police-involved serious injury and death cases.
“Clearly, given the death of Robert Dziekanski, given the serious concerns raised about the Taser … the committee has the chance to bring forward some good recommendations,” said NDP justice critic Leonard Krog, who is also a committee member.
The MLAs will also conduct a random audit of the police misconduct cases handled by B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner.
Coell said the government is doing “due diligence” in examining the office’s performance.
Friday, June 15, 2012
June 10, 2010
Norb Franz, Oakland Press
Macomb County’s second-largest police force has dropped Tasers from its daily weaponry.
The Warren Police Department recently discontinued use of the stun guns after Arizona-based Taser International notified the city that the “general useful life” of the 152 devices carried by officers has expired.
After receiving an email that X26 and M26 Tasers more than 5 years old with certain serial numbers are past the recommended “deployment lifecycle,” police administrators and training division staff weighed whether Warren — which is Michigan’s third-largest city and has the most criminal incidents in the county — should eliminate Tasers, after six years of use.
Police Commissioner Jere Green cited multiple reasons for his decision to order all patrol officers, shift commanders and others on the street to turn in their Tasers. Warren’s top-ranking police administrator emphasized he will not risk officers’ safety if there’s potential for a delay when a Taser trigger is pulled; that use of Tasers failed to produce the desired results nearly a quarter of the time they were deployed; and that he doesn’t have the money in his budget to replace the aged models with new ones.
“If it doesn’t work, it’s going to give the bad guy time to go to plan B,” Green said. “We don’t have much wiggle room on the road for mistakes.”
The Taser model used by Warren police fires two barbs with 25 feet of wire. If both probes penetrated the target’s skin or clothing, the device delivers 50,000 volts for five seconds. All were purchased using drug forfeiture funds.
Police officials said their review found that the Tasers were used unsuccessfully 23 percent of the time they were used by Warren officers. The failures ranged from batteries and cartridges that became disconnected, to both probes not striking the target, to suspects wearing several jackets preventing complete penetration.
“It wasn’t really a no-brainer,” Green said. “It was a tough decision to make.”
Use of Tasers, formally regarded as an electronic control device, is touted as a non-lethal use of force. But the devices and police have made headlines together when a person dies after being struck.
Two people have died after being shot by a Taser fired by Warren police.
Last September, Richard Kokenos, 27, of Warren, died after a city police officer stunned him with a Taser as he attempted to break out of a squad car after being handcuffed, according to media reports.
A neighbor of Kokenos on Kendall Street said Kokenos had appeared “freaked out” while knocking at his door, asking to use a telephone. When the neighbor returned with a phone, Kokenos knocked on a door next door, went to a third house before returning to the second house, then walked to nearby Eureka Street, where he reportedly was seen slamming his body against the home.
In the other incident, Robert Delrico Mitchell, 16, bolted from a car during an April 2009 traffic stop by Warren police on Eight Mile Road. Mitchell was cornered by officers inside a vacant house on Pelkey Street in Detroit. Officers ordered him to show his hands after he told police he was 15 years old, Warren police said. An officer tried to grab him, but the teenager pulled free, police said. Mitchell pushed away and turned like he was heading to the front door to run again, and one of the two additional officers who arrived at the house fired a Taser, detectives said.
Mitchell fell unconscious. Police said officers and paramedics performed CPR, but he died.
The incident triggered a public outcry from Mitchell’s family and members of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality. Ten days after her son’s death, Cora Mitchell filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the city of Warren and its police department, claiming police violated his constitutional rights and used a “code of silence” to cover up the incident.
An attorney for the family alleged the Taser was a factor in the teen’s death. Attorney William Goodman died of “cardiac arrhythmia induced by (a thin heart wall)” with the “use of an electrical delivery device a contributing factor.”
A toxicology test showed Robert Mitchell had marijuana in his system, but the illegal drug was not a contributing factor in his death, Warren police said.
In 2007, 47-year-old Steven Spears, a bodybuilder and hairdresser from Shelby Township, died after he was involved in a tussle with police that included the deployment of a Taser by township police. Autopsy reports attributed his death to cocaine use. Spears’ family filed an excessive force lawsuit against the township and settled the case for $1.95 million.
Green, the Warren police commissioner, stressed the Mitchell case was not a factor in his order to halt Taser use by the city’s officers.
Warren also is engaged in a lawsuit filed by the city against Taser International.
The decision leaves officers in Warren without the device intended to temporarily incapacitate suspects who resist arrest without making direct contact. Patrol officers and shift commanders still carry batons and chemical spray.
Cpl. Matt Nichols of the Warren police training division said nearly all officers eagerly turned in their Taser and only about three officers expressed concern about being ordered to turn in their Taser. “Once we explained it … they freely handed it over,” Nichols said.
Warren could have purchased Taser’s newest model designed for law enforcement use at a cost of approximately $800 including the holster, four cartridges and after a $250 trade-in allowance.
A Taser International spokesman did not return a phone call seeking comment for this report. In an email to Warren police, the company wrote: “We were contacted by several agencies seeking help in determining how many of their Taser ECDs are approaching or have passed the recommended five-year lifecycle. We learned that we could better serve our customers if we took the time to run a proactive analysis of agencies’ ECDs so they could better plan for the future.”
Last month, Michigan became the 45th state to allow residents to arm themselves with Tasers. Under the new law, anyone trained in the use of a stun gun and with a license to carry a concealed pistol can carry a Taser for personal protection.
The consumer model reportedly can incapacitate a person reportedly with 1,200 volts for 30 seconds — far less electricity than the police model.
Use varies around Macomb
A Macomb Daily survey of police departments in Macomb County showed all make Tasers available to patrol officers and commanders, but in a few departments carrying the stun guns is optional. Several communities keep only enough for each shift.
The Fraser Public Safety Department has had Tasers since about 2005, Lt. Dan Kolke said.
“When a Taser is over five years old, we’re just getting rid of it and buying a new one,” he said.
“I don’t see a need to take them out of service,” Faber said. “We’ve had no problems with anyone not wanting to use them.”
The Utica Police Department has seven Tasers, which are signed out by officers at the start of their shift.
New Baltimore Police Chief Timothy Wiley said the Tasers purchased by the city in 2004 were replaced in 2009. The seven units are assigned to the department’s road patrol officers and commanders, and the city’s school resource officer.
In the St. Clair Shores and Richmond police departments, carrying the stun guns is optional.
New Haven Police Chief Michael Henry and his Romeo counterpart, Chief Grag Paduch, both carry a Taser.
Henry said his village’s police department traded in Tasers for new models four years ago.
“The ones we turned in were operating well. We didn’t have any problems,” he said. “My concern was the warranty had expired on them.
“That means more liability for the (village) government.”
Taser International’s recommendation that older models be replaced has been a controversial topic in Michigan police administrative circles.
“Some say it might be a sales pitch by the company. Others say there’s nothing wrong,” Richmond Police Chief Dave Teske said.
At the annual Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police convention in February, Taser touted its latest models designed for law enforcement agencies.
Center Line Public Safety Director Paul Myszenski said his department’s Tasers are more than four years old.
“We have no reason to get rid of them, but we will address that when we get to that five-year mark,” said Myszenski. He noted that officers still have a baton and pepper spray on their belts.
“The biggest tool an officer has is his mouth and his brain,” said Myszenski, explaining that officers can often talk an uncooperative suspect into complying with police orders. “Nothing’s going to be 100 percent. There’s always risk involved.”