Sunday, August 21, 2005

N.M. Officers Suing Taser Firm

The Associated Press

PHOENIX— Police officers in New Mexico and four other states have filed lawsuits against Arizona-based Taser International Inc., claiming they were seriously injured after being shocked with the electronic stun gun during training classes.
All of the lawsuits have been filed in the past two weeks, including four in Maricopa County Superior Court here on behalf of officers in Florida, Kansas, New Mexico and Ohio.
The officers allege they suffered "severe and permanent" injuries, including multiple spinal fractures, burns, a shoulder dislocation and soft-tissue injuries.
The lawsuits challenge Taser's principal safety claim and accuse the company of misleading law enforcement about the extent of potential injuries. They also accuse company officials of concealing reports of injuries to at least a dozen other law enforcement officers.
Taser, based in Scottsdale, has marketed the weapons to 7,000 law enforcement agencies and promoted the gun's safety.
The devices temporarily paralyze people with a 50,000-volt jolt delivered by two barbed darts that can penetrate clothing.
The American Civil Liberties Union reports more than 130 deaths in the United States related to Tasers, while Amnesty International reports more than 120 deaths in the U.S. and Canada— both figures since June 2001.
Taser International has consistently denied that its products are to blame in the deaths, arguing that none have been directly linked to Tasers.
The company also contends Tasers have saved thousands of lives— suspects who might otherwise have been fatally shot by police.
In a statement Friday, Taser vice president Steve Tuttle said the company planned to "aggressively fight" all of the lawsuits.
In their lawsuits, the officers allege they were injured in training classes between August 2003 and October 2004.
They say that Taser instructors did not reveal any medical information suggesting that the guns could cause injuries and they claim the company has ignored important research suggesting the guns could be extremely dangerous, if not fatal.

Saturday, August 6, 2005

All City Officers to Carry TASERs

By Joshua Akers, Journal Staff Writer

Every police officer working the streets in Rio Rancho will soon have a TASER.
The Department of Public Safety is ordering 28 new TASERs with money it received from a federal grant.
Rio Rancho received $23,107 from the Bureau of Justice Assistance to purchase the TASERs. Each costs just over $800.
The city plans to use an additional $2,107 from forfeited drug funds to purchase five cases of TASER cartridges and pay for training on the weapon.
Deputy Chief Steve Shaw said Friday that the TASER is one of the most effective weapons in the city's arsenal.
"It is the most effective less-than-lethal-force weapon we have available to us," Shaw said. "Not just for Rio Rancho, but in all law enforcement."
The TASER, which looks similar to a handgun, fires two metal probes into a suspect. Once the probes connect, a charge of electricity is sent through the connecting wires that immobilizes the person.
Rio Rancho officer Shelby Smith has trained DPS officers on TASER use for the past two years.
Smith said the modern TASER evolved from the early "stun guns," which were handheld.
"The stun gun was more of a pain weapon that a suspect with enough concentration or high pain threshold could fight through," Smith said. "The TASER is more effective because it mimics the electric impulses the brain sends to the muscle."
A five-second jolt from the TASER gives officers the opportunity to handcuff an unruly suspect, Shaw said.
DPS has seen the number of officer and suspect injuries drop since it began using the TASER in 2001, Shaw said.
"Prior to the use of the TASER, we would see a lot of officers with knee injuries or torn rotator cuffs and suspects with injuries that resulted in lawsuits against the city," Shaw said. "Since the TASER, I cannot recall the last injury we've seen from a confrontation with a subject."
As more and more law enforcement agencies have employed the TASER, some people have questioned the safety of the weapon.
Those questions were brought on by the deaths of some people after being shot by the TASER.
Shaw and Smith said there were other factors involved in those deaths beside the TASER.
"I don't think any of those incidents are directly attributable to the TASER," Shaw said. "With the people that died, there were other things going on like drugs."
Smith said officers who are trained to use TASERs are instructed to make a judgment call about when the TASER should be used.
The city hopes to have the majority of its officers trained to use the weapon by the end of this month.
TASERs will be distributed to field officers once they arrive.
Rio Rancho currently has 28 officers carrying TASERs. DPS has 20 TASERs ordered and plans to order the 28 to be paid for with the grant money as soon as the City Council approves a budget adjustment.
Shaw said when the TASERs arrive depends on the company's production schedule.
The council is scheduled to consider the budget adjustment at its meeting Sept. 14.