Latest Taser Victims Undermine Manufacturer Claims about Device Safety
While Taser International still trots out the same old arguments claiming that its Taser electroshock weapon is "non-lethal" and continues pushing the non-medical term "excited delirium" as an alternative to coroners and law enforcement officers when a Taser was involved in a death, victims of Tasers that are improperly or unnecessarily used continue making headlines across the nation.
However, the tide may be turning, as Taser recently lost its first product liability lawsuit when a jury decided that it was negligent in not informing police that its product was potentially lethal. Further cases making headlines are amply demonstrating two striking facts: In addition to causing personal injury, Tasers can be lethal, and law enforcement officers across the U.S. are using them improperly and inappropriately.
A 17-year-old boy named Darryl Wayne Turner was shocked with a Taser by police after an altercation in a grocery store in Charlotte, North Carolina. The teenager worked in the store as a bagging boy, and was asked to leave after an altercation with a manager. Police were called in, and one police officer fired his Taser weapon when Turner approached them in an "agitated" state, according to reports.
Turner fell after he was hit by one of the Taser darts in the chest, and then died. After investigation, the medical examiner determined that Turner died of acute ventricular dysrhythmia and ventricular fibrillation-in other words, his heart stopped.
"This lethal disturbance in the heart rhythm was precipitated by the agitated state and associated stress as well as the use of the conducted energy weapon (Taser) designed for incapacitation through electro-muscular disruption," the medical examiner wrote.
In the eyes of the medical examiner, the Taser contributed to the teen's death. Taser International has used the term "excited delirium" to describe the agitated state that many Taser shock victims are in when they are hit as the cause of death; however, in this model, they refuse to acknowledge the role played by the Taser device itself. As the medical examiner noted, the "agitated state and associated stress" did lead to his heart failure. But the examiner recognized that the introduction of energy into the victim's body also contributed to death, a medical opinion that the marketing team at Taser International refuses to acknowledge.
The second victim to make news headlines was a 75-year-old New York resident named Charles Faybik. Sheriff's deputies went to Faybik's house to respond to concerns expressed by a friend that he may be suicidal. Officers knocked on Faybik's door and called his phone with no answer (though it later turned out they had called a wrong number).
Faybik, who is hard of hearing and blind in one eye, finally responded to the pounding on his door, only to find officers knocking in the door and upending him. Officers claimed he was "flailing" on the ground when they decided to use Tasers to subdue him. The elderly man was shocked six times in the chest and stomach.
After the incident, Faybik was alive but left with burn marks on his stomach from the Taser darts. He is currently filing a lawsuit against the county for excessive force and violation of civil rights.
As the death of Darryl Wayne Turner suggests, Tasers are potentially dangerous devices intrinsically, a fact that undermines the manufacturer's claim that the devices are "non-lethal." Further, the severe injuries sustained by Charles Faybik demonstrate how the idea that Tasers are "non-lethal" makes officers less hesitant to use them, even in situations in which they are completely inappropriate. "Less lethal when used properly" should be the slogan adopted by Taser International-but it would probably not look good on a marketing brochure.