The Subtleties of Electrocution

Danny Lawson/PA Wire URN:7474636 (Press Association via AP Images)

Reuters reporters took an exhaustive look at Taser use by U.S. police officers, documenting 1000-plus incidents in which people — often people with mental or physical illnesses, or substance abuse issues — died following a tasing. In half the cases, the person was shocked after they or a loved one actually called for help. Of course, Axon Enterprise (the rebranded Taser International) stands behind the safety of its product, throwing the nation’s medical examiners under the bus in the process.

Taser says these tallies give an exaggerated picture of the weapons’ hazards because they suggest Tasers caused all those deaths, when most involved other types of police force as well. The devices have saved tens of thousands of lives, the company says. All weapons carry risks, said Steve Tuttle, the company’s vice president for communications, but Tasers are “the safest force option available to law enforcement.”

Tuttle also said the autopsy results collected by Reuters are unreliable because they were not “peer reviewed” – a standard for studies published in medical journals, although not applicable in courts of law. The medical examiners and pathologists around the country who decided the official cause of death in those cases may not understand the weapons’ physiological effects, he said, and may be “over-listing” potential factors in their rulings to avoid being criticized for possible omissions.

“Ultimately, Taser is not responsible for educating every medical examiner on the subtleties of electrocution,” Tuttle said.

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