It seems like you couldn’t pick up a paper or check an online newsfeed in the last two years without hearing about an accusation of brutality or excessive force in regard to a person being taken into custody. Each of these tragedies have different circumstances, but one common thread that has run through many of the stories is a new form of technology—the Taser. Tasers are used widely by police in over 100 different countries. In fact, over half a million police officers in just the United States alone carry Tasers everyday. Many of these officers have been told repeatedly that Tasers are safe to use when it comes to subduing a suspect. However, the reality is that Tasers are becoming overused and are still much more dangerous than they have been hyped. Here, then, are some important things to know about the police use of Tasers and how it can affect you and your loved ones.
The Rising Popularity of Tasers
Tasers are weapons that usually resemble a handgun and are fired by either pulling a trigger or pushing a button. The weapon will then shoot electrodes (some more than 35 feet) which will then discharge between 20,000 and 150,000 volts of electricity into the target. Although they are sometimes referred to as “Taser Guns,” they are not actually regulated by the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. This means that any private citizen can purchase one without having to register it as a weapon, a fact that has made them very popular as “safe” self-defense weapons. They have also been hyped by marketers as an effective way for police and private security firms to incapacitate a suspect, but it now seems that the potential for greater harm has been largely ignored.
The Dangers of Tasers
The fact is that the electrical charge that a person receives actually won’t cause permanent damage—directly. However, they can lead to cardiac arrest that can eventually be fatal. So while the electricity won’t kill a person, it can trigger a heart attack that can. In addition, once the suspect is dropped by a Taser, he or she has no way of controlling their fall. This means that a person will fall uncontrollably, often resulting in fall injuries including head trauma, concussions, and possible life-threatening wounds. In addition to these two problems, law enforcement officers have banned one function of the Taser—namely the “drive stun”. This is when an officer does not fire the Taser from a distance but places the electrodes directly against the skin to deliver the electric shock. This will not incapacitate a suspect because a drive stun will not have an effect on the central nervous system. Instead, it has been used for “pain compliance” namely inflicting enough pain that the suspect gives up and obeys the commands of the police officer. Amnesty International has raised concerns about this practice that is still used in isolated incidents as a means of specifically inflicting pain. According to the international human rights group, several prisoners have been electrocuted after being taken into custody, resulting in their subsequent deaths from cardiac arrest. In fact, during a twenty-year time period, 490 suspects died as a result of the use of Tasers. In addition, a study by the Canadian police forces has determined that, while Tasers are a safer alternative to handguns and police batons, they are still not as safe as pepper spray which can incapacitate a suspect without causing permanent injury or damage. Even the U. S. Justice Department has concluded that officers use Tasers “too frequently and inappropriately, often on patients who are mentally ill.”
Excited Delirium—What Is It?
Even though the use of Tasers and other police tactics have resulted in death, many of the cases have been attributed to a concept called “excited delirium.” This is a questionable diagnosis that means that the person who died did so as a result of years of unsafe activity, such as drug use, that eventually culminates in the person acting overly aggressive right before they die. Excited delirium has been used as a means of taking the blame away from the tactics of law enforcement officers and onto the own individual and his or her past activities. This term is also being used in police training as officers are taught that a suspect will be overly aggressive and exhibiting “superhuman strength.” As a result, they feel that they must use excessive force, including the overuse of Tasers, to subdue an individual. If you have been injured by an officer’s inappropriate use of a Taser or have lost a loved one over the excessive force used by police, then you may be able to bring legal action against these officers. They are not above the law and can be brought to justice for their actions. The lawyers at Wolf & Pravato are here to offer a free consultation to review your case and inform you of your options.