NI: Amnesty warning on P.S.N.I. taser plan, as man dies in Durham following taser and baton round shooting

Amnesty International today (17 October) expressed concern after a man died in County Durham, three days after he was shot with a Taser electro-shock weapon and a baton round. Brian Loan, 47, is believed to be the first person in the UK to die after being shocked with a Taser. A Home Office post-mortem reportedly found that he had died of “natural causes”, which the dead man’s family believes to be heart failure, a reported effect of being ‘tasered’.

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland programme director said:

“Brian Loan’s death only underlines concerns that we have voiced for some time with the safety of electro-shock Taser weapons.

“There must be a prompt, impartial and independent investigation into his death.

“This death reinforces our belief that it is unwise and unsafe for the Chief Constable to introduce these potentially lethal weapons to the PSNI. The Policing Board and the Chief Constable must pay due heed to the circumstances of this death – and the hundreds of similar deaths in the USA - when considering possible deployment of Tasers.”

A March report from Amnesty International revealed that since June 2001, 152 people have died in the USA after being shot with tasers, 61 in 2005 alone. Since March, the number of deaths has now grown to over 200. Most were subjected to multiple or prolonged shocks. In 23 US cases coroners have listed the use of the taser as a cause or a contributory factor in death and in three cases in 2005 the taser was listed as a primary cause of death.

Amnesty International believes that there may be further deaths in the USA where the taser cannot be ruled out as a possible factor. Recent studies have cited the need for more research into potential adverse effects from taser shocks on people who are agitated or under the influence of drugs, or who are subjected to multiple or prolonged shocks.

Studies conducted over the last year have not met Amnesty's criteria for an independent, impartial and comprehensive study. None of the studies has included an analysis of the deaths listed in Amnesty International's reports on taser use in the USA. The studies have been limited in scope and methodology and have relied mostly on data provided by one of the manufacturers of the weapons - Taser International - and police departments themselves.

Patrick Corrigan, said:

“Our research in the USA shows that Tasers can kill. Indeed, given the lack of adequate research on their effects, some American experts there have said that giving a Taser to a police officer is like asking him or her to play Russian roulette with people’s lives. That is not the sort of weapon we want to see introduced in Northern Ireland while such fears remain about its safety.”

Background

Tasers are powerful electrical weapons used by over 7,000 of the 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the USA. They are designed to incapacitate by conducting 50,000 volts of electricity into an individual's body. The electrical pulses induce skeletal muscle spasms that immobilise and incapacitate the individual, causing them to fall to the ground.

The PSNI is currently running an equality impact consultation exercise on the Chief Constable’s proposals to deploy tasers.

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