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Tasers and Human Rights – Follow Up

Filed under: Human Rights — feyMorgaina @ 12:33

This is a follow-up to my blog post from 2008, Tasers and Humans Rights.

Tasers in Canada

In its 2007 World Report, Amnesty International (Amnesty or AI) reported that there were 15 Taser-related deaths in Canada since April 2003. (The report covers the year 2006.)

In the 2009 World Report, there were at least four more Taser-related deaths in Canada bringing the total to 19 since April 2003. This report included Polish immigrant, Robert Dziekanski, who died after being stunned with a taser by the RCMP at Vancouver International Airport (as mentioned in my “Tasers and Human Rights” blog post linked above). His death was number 17.

The 2009 World Report by Amnesty cited six more Taser-related deaths bringing the total to 25 since April 2003.

In July 2009, AI reiterated its call for restrictions on Taser use. This public statement indicates that there were a total of 26 Taser-related deaths since April 2003. Amnesty in this public statement shares the findings from the Braidwood report (which is a report of the investigation into the death of Polish immigrant, Robert Dziekanski):

“After reviewing evidence from a wide range of sources, including research studies and experts in cardiology and electrophysiology, Justice Braidwood concluded that “conducted energy weapons” (CEWs) such as Tasers had the potential to fatally disturb the heart rhythm, even in healthy individuals, particularly when the CEW probes were placed across the chest.

He found that the risk of dangerous arrhythmias increased in people who had cardiovascular disease; whose heart was already stimulated through intense pain or stress; who were “thin” with “smaller skin-to-heart distance”; wore heart pacemakers; or were subjected to repeated shocks.

The report recommended that the threshold for using CEWs should be raised from “active resistance” (the most common threat level at which it was deployed by police in B.C.) to cases where individuals presented a bodily threat – and only when less extreme measures had been exhausted or were ineffective. It also recommended that all officers deploying Tasers should carry defibrillators (electrical devices used to restore normal heart beat) and should generally limit any CEW use to one five-second shock.

Amnesty International considers that the Braidwood findings are particularly significant as the potential and theoretical health risks described in the report appear to be demonstrated in actual death cases.

The findings reflect many of the concerns raised by Amnesty International in its recent study of deaths following Taser use in the USA. In a report published in December 2008, Less than Lethal? The use of Stun Weapons in US Law Enforcement, Amnesty International reviewed scores of deaths since 2001 and found they raised serious concern about safety and reliability of such weapons.

Many of the individuals who died were subjected to prolonged or repeated shocks, and in a significant proportion of the fatalities the deceased had heart disease or were shocked in the chest.

Most of the 334 fatalities in Amnesty International’s study involved people who were disturbed or intoxicated; however, in some cases, the deceased had no drugs in their system or underlying health problems but collapsed shortly after being shocked.

A further concern is that most of the individuals in Amnesty International’s study did not appear to present a serious threat when they were shocked with Tasers; 90% were unarmed.
Based on the potential health risks linked to such weapons and their potential for abuse, Amnesty International continues to call on governments and law enforcement authorities to either suspend their use or limit the deployment of Tasers to life-threatening situations.”

AI released its 2010 World report at the end of May this year. It states that there was at least one Taser-related death in Canada bringing the total to 26 (this is same number reported in AI’s July 2009 public statement reiterating its call for restrictions on Taser use; thus, it seems no more deaths have occurred since the Braidwood report). According to the 2010 World Report, in February, the RCMP revised its policy on Tasers and limited their use to situations where there is a “threat to public or officer safety”. There was public inquiry in British Columbia into the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski (the Braidwood inquiry mentioned above). The provincial government accepted all the recommendations outlined in the inquiry’s July interim report, one of which is raising the threshold for police use of Tasers from the standard of “active resistance” to “causing bodily harm”. This means that the Taser should not be used on someone for simply resisting arrest, but rather that the person’s actions must be physically hurting someone before the Taser could be used. Finally, in October, the RCMP and other Canadian police forces adopted directives that officers “should not aim Tasers at the chests of individuals.”

Although there was one Taser-related death in 2009, hopefully the changes made during the past year will prevent any further deaths related to having been stunned by a Taser.

Tasers in other countries

We still have a long way to go in preventing Taser-related deaths in other countries, notably the U.S. As of July 2009, “More than 360 similar deaths have been reported in the USA since 2001.” Additionally, the Taser X3 is a concern of AI as it allows officers to discharge three consecutive shots without needing to reload the cartridge. Amnesty writes, “Although current models, such as the Taser X26, allow officers to inflict repeated shocks by pressing the trigger once the Taser probes are attached to the subject, officers have to reload the cartridge to fire a second set of probes. This provides a built-in break on multiple discharges of the probes and allows officers to stop to evaluate the situation, as required by a growing number of law enforcement policies.”

In AI’s 2010 report on the U.S., there were at least 47 Taser-related deaths, bringing the total to more than 390 Taser-related deaths in the U.S. since 2001. Some of those killed were teenagers. From AI’s 2009 report on the U.S:

“Seventeen-year-old Darryl Turner died in March when he was shocked after an argument in the store where he worked in North Carolina. A video-tape showed a police officer firing Taser darts into Darryl Turner’s chest as the unarmed teenager stood with his arms by his side. The officer held the trigger down for 37 seconds and shocked him again after he had collapsed on the floor. Darryl Turner died at the scene. The coroner ruled the cause of death to be a fatal disturbance of the heart rhythm due to stress and the Taser shocks. The officer received a five-day suspension from duty.”

and also from the 2010 report:

“Fifteen-year-old Brett Elder, died in Bay City, Michigan, in March, after being shocked by officers responding to reports of unruly behavior at a party. The coroner ruled that the boy, who was of small stature [emphasis added], died from alcohol-induced excited delerium, with the Taser shocks a contributory factor.”

Most recently, following the death of a Mexican migrate after being Tasered by Customs and Border Control police, AI is calling for a full, impartial investigation into the death as well as for the US Customs and Border Protection Agency to “either suspend using Tasers or limit their use to situations where officers are faced with an immediate threat of death or serious injury that cannot be contained through lesser means.” (The same recommendations given in the Braidwood report from Canada.)

To sum up: In the U.S. alone, 390 people have died from Taser-related incidents. Some of them were teenagers. When is law enforcement going to finally admit that Tasers are lethal and deadly and that they are being improperly use? Apparently, not until the public decided to use them. See “Drive-Thru Taser Incident At Wendy’s“. The women involved were charged with “aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a felony”. And law enforcement spent the past few years claiming Tasers weren’t dangerous?? Clearly, the issue of Taser use needs to be straightened out in the U.S. – and soon.