Among Rising Taser Fatalities, 'Safer' Model Promises Fall Short

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Common Dreams

Among Rising Taser Fatalities, 'Safer' Model Promises Fall Short

by
Common Dreams staff

New taser technology was announced in Texas this week, as the Fort Worth police department expressed a desire to phase out lethal taser incidents. The new T2 taser model, produced by Taser International, is promised to prevent sustained shocks to victims, as apposed to the widely used T26 model which allows unlimited shock time.

However, due to lack in funding for the new technology, the Fort Worth police force, among most departments around the country, will continue to use the older, more lethal, technology.

According to Amnesty International there have been at least 500 'energy device' deaths in the United States since 2001, with the largest number (92) in California, followed by Florida (65) and Texas (37).

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports:

"The voltage is the same and the darts themselves had no major design revision. The main two points we were looking for was the automatic cut off at five seconds after being deployed, even if an officer holds the trigger down. That was a safety issue that was very important for us." [...]

The older model did not prevent a longer shock. In 2008 in North Carolina, a teenager died of cardiac arrest after a police officer shocked him twice with a Taser, first for 37 seconds, then for five. [...]

The issue came to light in Texas in April 2009, when Fort Worth officer Stephanie Phillips fired her X26 at 24-year-old Michael Patrick Jacobs Jr., a mental health patient who was acting erratically at his east-side home. The barbs struck Jacobs in the chest and neck. Phillips told investigators that she inadvertently held down the trigger for 49 seconds and then shocked Jacobs again for five seconds after he failed to comply with officer commands. Jacobs died. [...]

While [lobbying] may have been persuasive, another factor in the company's decision may have been potential liability. In July, a jury in the North Carolina case found Taser International at fault, awarding the teen's family $10 million. Jacobs' family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the police and Fort Worth. Without admitting fault, the city settled in 2010 for $2 million, far more than the city had ever paid in a wrongful-death suit. [...]

However, the new Taser sounds far from 'safe' as it would enable automatic discharge -- allowing the weapon to fire twice without the need to reload. "Another new feature is the ability to discharge the device at two targets without reloading -- if an officer misses, for example, or the darts make an incomplete connection," the Star-Telegram reports.

Still, departments such as Fort Worth, who lack funding, will continue to predominantly carry the more lethal X26 tasers, nullifying the excitement over the 'safer' techology.

The Fort Worth police department, which employs about 1,500 sworn officers, has more than 1,200 X26 Tasers on hand. But while the older Tasers do not meet the needs of the Fort Worth department or other police departments nationwide, budget constraints meant there was no money for the new technology, [Fort Worth Police Chief] Halstead said.

Amnesty International has reported on the dangers of Taser technology:

"The problem with Tasers is that they are inherently open to abuse, as they are easy to carry and easy to use and can inflict severe pain at the push of a button, without leaving substantial marks."

Amnesty International’s study – which includes information from 98 autopsies – found that 90 per cent of those who died after being struck with a Taser were unarmed and many did not appear to present a serious threat.

Many were subjected to repeated or prolonged shocks – far more than the five-second "standard" cycle – or by more than one officer at a time. Some people were even shocked for failing to comply with police commands after they had been incapacitated by a first shock. [...]

"We are very concerned that electro-shock weapons such as Tasers have been rolled out for general use before rigorous, independent testing of their effects."

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