The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Backlash Against Taser Company May Turn Tide on Shock Weapons

by Andrew Stelzer

As a number of police departments begin to concur with human rights and victims’ advocates, the heat is on Taser International to defend its controversial devices or begin paying up.

July 25, 2005 – As the number of people who die after being shocked by police Taser weapons continues to grow, the city of Dolton, Illinois has filed a lawsuit against the Arizona-based company that manufacturers the hand-held electrical shock devices. The suit alleges the weapon has not been adequately tested and was sold to police through faulty marketing.

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Amnesty International reports that more than 114 people have died shortly after Tasers were used on them in the US and Canada since 2001. The Securities and Exchange Commission is already looking into whether Taser International, which invented and manufactures and markets the weapons, misled its shareholders with safety claims.

Sean Howard, spokesperson for Mayor William Shaw of Dolton told The NewStandard that the mayor and police chief recently decided to pull Taser guns off the streets, and the lawsuit is to recoup the more than $8,000 the police department spent on the weapons.

"Taser spent a lot of money in advertising," Howard said, "not only with elected officials and police officials, but with communities at large." In Dolton, the police department decided to use the weapons, according to Howard, "under what now is the false pretense of it not doing any deadly harm to a suspect slash victim."

Doug Klint, a spokesperson for Taser, sent an email to the Arizona Republic defending the weapons. "The claims made in the lawsuit are based on inaccurate and incomplete news clippings rather than independent review and scientific fact," he wrote. "To date there have been dozens of independent studies conducted by leading medical and law-enforcement experts, the US Department of Defense, the United Kingdom Home Office and other countries each of which support Taser technology's safety and effectiveness relative to other use-of-force alternatives."

Though medical examiners have directly linked Tasers to only a handful of the deaths that have occurred after shocks from the weapon, victims’ advocates and police watchdog groups have pointed out a lack of scientific study of the effects of the weapons on people of varying physical size and health condition.

Dolton town officials are hoping the suit, which was filed at the US District Court in Chicago, will be granted class-action status. Paul Geller, the attorney representing the Dolton Police Department in the suit, told the Arizona Republic that police departments in four states have retained his firm for the lawsuit, but would drop the suit if Taser would take back the guns.

A continuing stream of bad publicity and lawsuits from families of people who died after suffering Taser shocks seems to be taking its toll on the company, which in the second quarter of 2005 saw its sales decrease by $3.1 million and net income decrease by $4.0 million compared to the second quarter of 2004.

"In the second quarter, we invested significant resources defending our product safety record against what we believe to be misleading information in the public domain," said Rick Smith, the Chief Executive Officer of TASER International, Inc. in a press release to investors. "Accordingly, sales, general and administrative expenses increased significantly, particularly in the areas of legal services and public education campaigns."

Law enforcement agencies are also beginning to discipline officers for inappropriate use of the weapons, which are marketed as "less than lethal."

The Asheville, North Carolina department fired an officer earlier this month after he gratuitously shocked a woman three times with a Taser while she was walking through her own neighborhood.

In Kansas City, two officers recently saw their pink slips upheld by a the city board of police commissioners for a August 2004 incident in which one officer shocked a man five times, four of which were when he was in handcuffs, and three of which were when the suspect was on the ground. The second officer encouraged the Tasings, saying, "Hit him again."

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Andrew Stelzer is a contributing journalist.

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