How Does A 'Non-Lethal' Weapon Kill 400 People?

It's always hard to know where to begin with Tasers. I mean, they're a nightmare for the citizens against whom they're used, the lawsuits will end up costing millions of taxpayer dollars and they inevitably suppress freedom of speech and assembly. Why are they still in such widespread use?

I suppose it didn't hurt that right-wing heroes Rudy Guiliani and Bernie Kerik were so heavily involved in marketing them to police departments around the country. (Did you know the police officers recruited to demonstrate them to their departments receive stock options and/or payments? That explains a lot.)

On Sept. 24, in Brooklyn, N.Y., a 35-year-old man named Iman Morales fell to his death after a 22-minute standoff with New York Police. Morales, who was described as "emotionally disturbed," had climbed onto the fire escape of a building in Bedford-Stuyvesant, naked and waving a metal pole. Unable to talk him down, one officer, under order from his lieutenant, shot Morales with a Taser gun, at which point he fell to the sidewalk, head-first.

He was taken to the hospital, where he was declared dead.

One week later, the officer who gave the order, Lt. Michael W. Pigott, drove to Brooklyn's Floyd Bennett Field, a former air base used by the NYPD, took a 9mm Glock from a locker room, and shot himself in the head.

It's hard to know which are more ubiquitous at this point: stories of accidental death by Tasers, or stories of police brutality involving bullets. Just this week, in New York, a Bronx man was shot and killed after he allegedly waved a baseball bat at police officers who entered his home. In theory, these sorts of confrontations are the reason such "non-lethal" weapons as Tasers exist. But news reports tell a different tale. In the United States and Canada, more than 400 people have died after being Tasered since 2001.

Hmm. Do you suppose the fact that the Tasers shoot a lot more voltage than claimed by their manufacturer might explain things?

A new study has found that the type of Taser stun gun used most by police officers can fire more electricity than the company says is possible, which the study's authors say raises the risk of cardiac arrest as much as 50 percent in some people.

The study, led by a Montreal biomedical engineer and a U.S. defense contractor at the request of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., also concluded that even stun guns firing at expected electrical levels carry some risk of inducing a heart attack, depending on the circumstances.

The researchers' analysis contradicts Taser's position that electric shocks from the weapons cannot kill. The study said the results raise questions about quality control in the stun gun's manufacturing and decline in performance over time.

[...] Researchers said the fact that 9 percent of the guns tested abnormally high was significant enough to recommend a freeze in using X26 stun guns made before 2005. They also recommended more electrical tests on Tasers now in use by Canadian and U.S. law enforcement.

The well-connected company released a statement saying the test results had "no bearing" on safety. So we can all relax!

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