Some cardiologists worry that Taser stun guns, which police use to subdue suspects with a jolt of electricity, can interrupt the heart’s rhythm and can possibly cause death.
Taser International, the device’s manufacturer, says stun guns, which typically emit 50,000 volts of electricity, can instantly incapacitate a person more safely than police batons or pepper spray.
But cardiologists are concerned that, at just the right moment in the heartbeat cycle, Tasers can trigger a potentially deadly state known as ventricular fibrillation during which the heart writhes uncontrollably.
“I think they are dangerous,” said Dr. Zian Tseng, a cardiologist at the University of California, San Francisco. “If you are shocking someone repeatedly, it becomes a bit like Russian roulette. At some point, you may hit that vulnerable period.”
Cardiologists say people who have underlying heart problems, or who are using certain drugs, are more vulnerable to the condition.
Executives at Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Taser International say they’re aware of the heart’s vulnerability to ventricular fibrillation, but insist their devices are safe.
“The current delivered by a Taser is too weak to induce ventricular fibrillation,” said Mark Kroll, a Taser board member.
On Sunday, Gregory Saulsbury, 30, of Pacifica suffered a heart attack and died after police shocked him with a Taser while trying to subdue him at his family’s home. His family has retained Oakland civil rights attorney, John Burris, to represent them.
Pacifica police have released little information about events leading up to Saulsbury’s death. The police department and San Mateo County District Attorney’s office are conducting a joint investigation into the incident.