TASERs and Arrest-Related Deaths

TASERs and Arrest-Related Deaths

TASERs and Arrest-Related Deaths

TASERs and Arrest-Related Deaths

Synopsis

Williams examines TASER use and high-risk group theory, which posits that people with certain physiological attributes, such as heart disease, mental illness, or drug use, are at increased risk of sudden death following application of a TASER electronic control device (ECD). Data derived from autopsy reports indicate few differences in the presence of such attributes between arrest-related sudden deaths following the application of an ECD and arrest-related sudden deaths that did not involve an ECD. The notable exception was deaths involving excited delirium, which appeared statistically more often in ECD-proximate events.

Excerpt

TASER electronic control devices (ECDs), manufactured by TASER International, Inc. in Scottsdale, Arizona, have become a popular tool for law enforcement. TASER International has sold more than 710,000 devices to 16,880 agencies in 107 countries. Although other manufacturers produce comparable types of electro-shock weapons, TASER products are the most commonly used in the United States and worldwide.

Unfortunately, more than 900 people worldwide have died unexpectedly following law enforcement officers’ uses of TASER ECDs. Currently, there is no research definitively establishing a causal relationship between the use of an ECD and the death of a person exposed to it. However, some recent studies suggest that application of TASER technology is responsible for sudden unexpected deaths. The ever increasing number of deaths following application of TASER ECDs and the growing number of cases wherein a coroner or medical examiner attribute the use of an ECD as a cause of death or as a significant contributing factor to the death raise legitimate concerns about the safety threshold of the devices.

Researchers have proposed and tested many theories of why people die following the application of ECDs, including direct electrostimulation of cardiac muscle, interference with breathing, and metabolic changes resulting in acidosis. Thus far, human model experiments have produced no evidence to support these theories. Another theory, which has recently appeared in the literature, has received no empirical testing—the theory of high-risk groups. High-risk group theory postulates that elderly people, young children, people with preexisting cardiovascular disease, people with pacemakers and implantable cardioverter-defibrillators, people under the influence of drugs (amphetamines, cocaine, lysergic acid diethylamide, marijuana, opiates . . .

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