Human Interest

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Recent Deaths Raise Questions about Safety of Tasers

November 24, 2007 10:20 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Two separate incidents involving police Tasers arouse concerns about the potential misuse of this increasingly common weapon.

30-Second Summary

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According to The Frederick News-Post, at 4:54 a.m. on Nov. 18 an unnamed deputy struck 20-year-old Jarell Gray with a Taser after finding him and three other young men fighting in the street.

Gray fell to the ground unconscious, and was taken to the area hospital where he was later pronounced dead. The autopsy was unable to determine the cause of death.

Gray’s death follows an Oct. 14 incident in which Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski died after being hit with a police Taser at the Vancouver Airport, British Columbia.

Dziekanski’s death was caught on film. The footage shows an aggravated Dziekanski being hit with a Taser by Canadian police.

These images have inspired international criticism of the officers and concerns about the safety of the electro-muscular disruption weapon—the Taser.

However, Taser International, Inc.—maker of the eponymous device—maintains that its less-than-lethal weapon is safe, a claim bolstered by a recent Wake Forest University study.

The study, led by emergency medicine specialist William Bozeman, M.D., found that out of 1,000 cases, 99.7 percent of those subjected to a Taser had suffered either no injuries or only mild ones like scrapes and bruises.

But Dr. Corey Slovis, professor and chairman of emergency medicine at Vanderbilt University, has his doubts. He believes Tasers “may change the underlying heart rhythm of individuals who do not have a normal conduction system—such as those using cocaine, those who are dehydrated, agitated, hypoxic or those taking anti-psychotics,” he told ABC News.

Even if the weapons are proven to be harmless, the increasingly frequent use of Tasers has many wondering whether police departments should re-examine the rules that govern their use.

Headline Links: Jarell Gray and Robert Dziekanski

Background: Studying Tasers, examining ‘excited delirium,’ and surveying the rules of Taser use

Studying the safety of Tasers
Examining ‘excited delirium’
A survey of Taser-use rules

Reactions: Polish widow blames police, cameraman says Dziekanski not violent, and Taser says not responsible for death

Opinion & Analysis: Are Tasers being overused?

Related Topics: New Taser-style weapons

Reference Material: How Tasers work

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