Amnesty International: Death Shows Taser's Risks

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Associated Press

Amnesty International: Death Shows Taser's Risks

by
David N. Goodman

A 15-year old boy died Sunday in Michigan after police used a Taser stun gun to subdue him, police said. (AFP/Thomas Coex)

DETROIT  - Amnesty International criticized police in Michigan on Tuesday for using a Taser to subdue a 15-year-old boy who died shortly afterward, saying it illustrates the dangers of the electroshock weapon.

Bay City police said an officer used a Taser on Brett Elder on Sunday because he tried to fight with them. The teen would have turned 16 Tuesday.

An autopsy was conducted on Monday, but a cause of death has not yet been determined, said Lt. John Card, commander of the state police's Bay City post. He said the investigation into the incident is ongoing.

The London office of Amnesty International, an outspoken critic of Tasers, issued a statement Tuesday saying the death "reinforces the need for greater caution" before Tasers are distributed more widely.

"Tasers should only be used in life-threatening situations, and this doesn't appear to be such an instance," said Oliver Sprague, director of Amnesty International's arms program in Britain. "Surely another form of restraint could have been applied in this case."

A spokesman for Taser International, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., said Amnesty was "inappropriately jumping to conclusions" about the teen's death.

"The Taser itself has saved thousands of lives, and medical science has shown it to be the safer alternative compared to any other tool on an officer's belt today," said spokesman Steve Tuttle.

"We stand behind the safety of our Taser devices, and medical science supports this stance, especially in terms of human testing," Tuttle said.

Bay City police turned the case over to Michigan State Police for investigation. The department also placed one officer on administrative leave while it conducts an internal probe of whether its rules were followed.

Amnesty International said it was the second death of a minor after Taser use this year in the U.S. and one of 351 deaths after use of a Taser in the U.S. since June 2001. Tuttle said the Taser has been exonerated as a cause or contributing factor in the vast majority of deaths.

City police Chief Michael Cecchini defended his officers' actions at a news conference Tuesday. He said officers were trying to settle a verbal dispute between Elder and a man, and the officers acted when the youth became unruly and took a "fighting stance" against them.

The officers handcuffed Elder but saw he was having a medical problem and gave assistance while calling an emergency medical crew.

His father, Eugene Elder, told The Bay City Times that while his son was unruly, police shouldn't have used the Taser on him. "There's no reason to kill my boy," he said.

Associated Press Writer Ben Leubsdorf contributed to this report.

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