UK: Tasers - Amnesty International briefing as North Yorks police prepare to introduce new electro-shock weapons

Amnesty has studied Taser use in the USA, where the devices are widely used. The organisation found:

Deaths: 130 people have died after being ‘Tasered’ in the USA. In at least 15 cases coroners have stated that the Taser played a role in the death.

Abuse: Tasers are widely used in the USA as a standard policing tool rather than as an alternative to using firearms. Amnesty International has documented the use of Tasers against unruly schoolChildren's rights, pregnant Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights (one of whom lost her baby afterwards) a 71-year old half-blind woman and startlingly, a 9-year-old girl who was already handcuffed.

Amnesty is calling for a public statement by the Home Office and Police Chiefs that these devices will only be used by firearms officers and kept locked in the firearms box. The organisation is also calling for a full, independent, public inquiry into the safety and rules for use of Tasers.

Such an inquiry should be carried out by acknowledged medical, scientific, legal and law enforcement experts who are independent of commercial and political interests in promoting such equipment.

Amnesty International said:

"Tasers could kill, so they must be treated as lethal weapons.

"Tasers should only be issued to trained firearms officers and should be kept locked in the firearms box. To routinely arm the police with potentially lethal weapons that deliver 50,000 volts would be extremely worrying.

"Amnesty International is not opposed to research into finding less-lethal alternatives to firearms – but before such weapons are deployed at large in Britain they must be fully tested. There should be a rigorous, independent review of the effects of Tasers and their safety.

"Many experts believe Taser shocks may exacerbate a risk of heart failure in people who are under the influence of drugs or suffer underlying health problems such as heart disease - risk factors present in many of the cases we examined in the USA."

Killer facts

Taser fires 50,000 volts of electricity through the subject, causing collapse, intense pain and loss of control of their bodily functions.

A statistical analysis of 2,050 Taser field applications across the USA, produced for Taser International in November 2002, showed that in 79.6% of cases the suspects were unarmed

The UK Government recently banned electro-shock weapons for export from the UK to other countries, because of concerns that they are used to torture people. Amnesty International has documented the use of electro-shock weapons for torture in many countries.

Disputes re medical evidence/cause of death There are often a host of factors involved in a Taser-related death – heart problems, drug use, for example – but it is difficult for a police officer making a split-second decision to fire the Taser, to establish whether someone has a heart complaint or has taken a dangerous amount of drugs

The latest statement by the government’s DOMILL scientists raises the possibility that stress induced by application of a Taser can itself have implications for heart arrhythmias.

DOMILL’s report also notes the “dearth of information on the potentially-adverse electrophysiological effects of the higher current flow in the body, particularly in subjects who may have a predisposition to cardiac arrhythmias arising from drug use, pre-existing heart disease or genetic factors."

Cases

In May 2004 a police officer from South Tuscon, Arizona, used a Taser on a nine-year-old girl who was a runaway from a residential home for severely emotionally disturbed Children's rights.

According to reports, the child was already handcuffed with her hands behind her back and sitting in the back of a police car when the Taser was used as an officer struggled to put her into nylon leg-restraints.

The officer is reported as saying that the girl was “screaming, kicking and flailing, and would not listen”.

  • Willam Teasley, aged 31, died in Anderson County Detention Center, South Carolina in August 2004. Officers reportedly used a Taser to subdue him after he became violent while being booked into the jail and “shortly after he was shocked [he] stopped breathing”.

    A preliminary autopsy reportedly showed he had died from cardiac arrest. The deputy county coroner, Charlie Boseman, is quoted as saying the Taser contributed to Teasley’s death, combined with a medical history that included heart disease. Teasley reportedly had other health problems, including severe brain damage resulting from an accident in 2003.

    The preliminary autopsy report was passed to the State Law Enforcement Division investigation team, with a final determination of manner of death pending the results of this inquiry.

  • James Borden was arrested in November 2003 and died shortly after the administration of the last of six electro-shocks, delivered while his hands were cuffed behind his back. The medical examiner released a statement listing cause of death as a heart attack, drug intoxication and electrical shock

    Extreme pain

    Officers subjected to even a fraction of the normal Taser discharge during training have reported feeling acute pain: "It is the most profound pain I have ever felt. You get total compliance because they don’t want that pain again." (firearms consultant, quoted in The Associated Press 12 August 2003)

    “They call it the longest five seconds of their life … it’s extreme pain, there’s no question about it. No one would want to get hit by it a second time." (County Sheriff, quoted in The Kalazazoo Gazette, Michigan, 7 March 2004)

    Exports and abuse

    Electro-shock devices similar to Tasers are used all over the world for torture, precisely because they can inflict intolerable pain at the touch of a button and leave very few marks. Such devices are banned for export from the UK.

    Amnesty International is strongly opposed to the export of such devices to countries where they may be used for torture or other human rights abuses.

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