Revealed: Taser Lies and Deaths That Could Come to Britain

The Evening Standard (London, England), October 31, 2005 | Go to article overview

Revealed: Taser Lies and Deaths That Could Come to Britain


Byline: ANDREW GILLIGAN

JANE BURNS, a girl from South Tucson, Arizona, got more than she bargained for when she ran away from her children's home last year.

The home called the police, who chased her for a few blocks through the streets, then caught her, handcuffed her and placed her in the back of a patrol car.

Upset and frightened, Jane, not her real name, refused to calm down. She was, said the officers, "combative" and "insulting". She shouted at them. She refused to stop kicking the screen separating the front and back seats. So Sergeant Armando Teyechea shot her while she was still chained and locked in the back of the police car with a device called a Taser.

The Taser, an electric stun gun, delivers a paralysing, 50,000-volt electric shock through twin metal prongs into its victim's body. You suffer what one police officer describes as "the most profound pain you have ever felt" and lose control of your bodily functions.

At the time of the incident, Jane was less than 5ft tall, and nine years old.

She was one of 211 children zapped with Tasers in the United States in the past three years. A few, no doubt, were a genuine threat to public safety, or a real risk to police officers. But most were simply being naughty, or uncooperative, or childish - like the two 12-year-olds who were stunned with Tasers by security staff in their school after fighting each other in the playground, or the two-year-old in Miami who wandered into the path of a police raid.

Then there was the six-year-old boy in a Miami elementary school who, police said, threatened to harm himself with a shard of broken glass; the 12-year-old girl (also, remarkably, in Miami) who got zapped after skipping classes and running away from a police officer; and the 14-year-old in a Chicago children's home who had a heart attack after police used a Taser on him.

All these people, including the heart- attack boy, recovered quickly, as the manufacturers say they should. But according to Amnesty International, 130 Americans have died after being "Tased", and at least one pregnant mother has lost her unborn child.

Still, that's the United States - land of the chain gang, the orange jumpsuit, the 99-year sentence for stealing a pizza. They're like that over there - it could never happen in Britain, could it?

Interestingly, however, when it comes to the Taser, it is the Americans who are turning away in alarm - and the British who are the device's new best friends.

At the moment, in keeping with this country's traditions of minimum force, the Taser's use in Britain is strictly controlled: it may only be used by authorised firearms officers in situations where a conventional "lethal" weapon could also be fired.

In these dangerous times, the Taser has been used to disable, harmlessly, at least four terrorist suspects. That is arguably the right use of the Taser - as a lifesaving alternative to deadly force.

So far, in Britain, the weapon has only been fired 70 times - and no one has died.

But last week the Standard reported that British police are seeking government permission to use it far more widely. "We want to deploy the Taser into other conflict-management situations, outside the firearms arena," said Ian Arundale, head of firearms policy for the Association of Chief Police Officers. "There's great potential for deployment of it." The Met is one of five forces which would pilot the scheme. …

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