Thousands of police departments buy Tasers on a claim that the electric stun guns will instantly take down suspects without inflicting harm. That assertion of safety has generated record sales for Taser International Inc., which markets its guns as alternatives to deadly force and says its goal is to arm every police officer in America.
But an Arizona Republic investigation has revealed that Taser’s claims are based on autopsy reports the company never possessed. For years, Taser officials cited these reports as proof that the stun guns never caused “injury or death to another human being.” Now, officials acknowledge they never had those autopsy reports and didn’t start collecting them until April.
The Republic’s review of autopsies and interviews with medical examiners found Tasers have been linked to at least five deaths. Medical examiners in three cases involving suspects who died in police custody cited Tasers as a cause or a contributing factor in the deaths. In two other cases, Tasers could not be ruled out as a cause of death.
These deaths raise questions about a weapon police routinely use on those who refuse to obey commands. Kelly Deitrich, whose brother, Raymond Siegler, died in February after being shot by police with a Taser in a Minneapolis group home for mentally ill people, said Taser’s explanations are misleading. “That is the polite way to say it,” she says. “The other way to say it is they are full of you-know-what.”
The Republic, using computer searches, media accounts, police reports and Taser’s own records, identified 44 cases in the United States and Canada of death following a police Taser strike from September 1999 to March 2004. In its special report, Taser cited 42 deaths. The Republic began with those 42 cases and eliminated two because suspects were fatally shot by police with a regular gun after being shot with a Taser. The Republic then identified four additional cases not included in Taser’s report.