The Austin Chronicle

Naked City

Multiple tases may kill

By Jordan Smith, August 5, 2005, News

Repeated Taser shocks "may impair" breathing and may lead to death, according to a new safety bulletin published by Arizona-based Taser International Inc., the leading manufacturer of electro-shock weapons used by nearly 7,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide. In a June 28 bulletin, the company warned that "repeated, prolonged and/or continuous exposure to the Taser may cause strong muscle contractions that may impair breathing and respiration, particularly when the [weapon's metal] probes are placed across the chest or diaphragm," The Arizona Republic reported on July 30. In previous training manuals, however, "Taser … told police to use repeated shocks to control a suspect," the daily reported. The bulletin also warns that multiple shocks and corresponding muscle contractions could cause injury to "tissues, organs, bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, joints and stress/compression fractures to bones," reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Nonetheless, Tom Smith, Taser's founder and president, told the J-C that the warning is "nothing new" and is merely a regular training update. "We are just being more specific than we were before," Smith said.

Nonetheless, the warning was posted the same day a Chicago, Ill., medical examiner ruled that the February death of 54-year-old Ronald Hasse was an electrocution caused by two Taser jolts delivered by a Chicago police sergeant. The ruling marks the first time that a medical examiner has listed a jolt from the electro-shock weapon as the primary cause of death. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Cook Co. Deputy Medical Examiner Scott Denton reported that Hasse received a five-second jolt, followed by a second, 57-second charge. Hasse was intoxicated on methamphetamine at the time, the daily reported, but it was the Taser, not the drugs, that ultimately caused his death – the Taser, Denton said, was what "pushed [Hasse] over the edge." The Sun-Times further reported that Denton plans to meet with Chicago PD officials this week to "suggest" that Tasers not be used on people who "are acting psychotic or appear to be under the influence of drugs." In fact, many of the people who've died after being shocked by Tasers have been determined to have had drugs in their system – including the Austin case of Abel Perez, who was tased several times and later died. The autopsy listed "accidental overdose" as the cause of death.

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