American Heart Association: Tasers can cause death

But some police agencies continue to stand by their use of the weapons, saying the devices provide officers with a valuable, less-lethal means of subduing unruly suspects.
About 16,000 agencies internationally use Tasers, and officials have credited it with helping to reduce fatal police incidents.
But the American Heart Association’s premier journal, Circulation, published an article online Monday that examined eight cases involving the TASER X26 ECD. Seven of the people died.
Dr. Douglas Zipes, of Indiana University’s Krannert Institute of Cardiology, found that a shock from the Taser "can cause cardiac electric capture and provoke cardiac arrest" as a result of an abnormally rapid heart rate and uncontrolled, fluttering contractions.
A spokesman for the devices’ manufacturer, Taser International Inc., based in Scottsdale, Ariz., assailed Zipes’ conclusions. Steve Tuttle pointed out that the study looked at only a handful of cases "and he argued that broader conclusions shouldn’t be drawn based upon such a limited sample.
"There have been 3 million uses of Taser devices worldwide, with this case series reporting eight of concern," Tuttle said. "This article does not support a cause-effect association and fails to accurately evaluate the risks versus the benefits of the thousands of lives saved by police with Taser devices."
The devices administer 50,000 volts that usually temporarily immobilize a person’s muscles so police can gain control of the suspect. The Taser can be fired from 35 feet away; wires are attached to barbs that pierce a person’s skin. That distance helps keep officers safe, law-enforcement officials say.
But critics argue that Tasers are not as "non-lethal" as they were first touted to be.
Since 2001, more than 500 people have died following Taser stuns according to Amnesty International, which said in February that stricter guidelines for Taser use were "imperative." But in only a few dozen cases, medical examiners have ruled that the Taser contributed to the death. In some cases, other factors, such as drug use and prior medical conditions, also played roles.
Research shows the Taser has saved lives and reduced injuries among officers, and advocates say an officer is less likely to kill someone with a Taser than if an officer fires bullets at the suspect.
Tuttle also questioned the researcher’s possible bias, saying Zipes has testified as an expert witness against Taser International. Tuttle alleged that "there are key facts that contradict the role of the Taser device in all of these cited cases, and Dr. Zipes has conveniently omitted all facts that contradict his opinion," Tuttle said.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Zipes, 73, shrugged off criticism.
He said his research has withstood rigorous review by well-respected cardiologists and was published in the prestigious journal, proving his case. Zipes said, he "very clearly" disclosed in his article that he is a paid expert witness with a potential conflict of interest. He said he earns $1,200 an hour.
Cincinnati police began using Tasers after the 2003 death of Nathaniel Jones in police custody. The 41-year-old man’s violent struggle with officers ended when his heart stopped. Jones had cocaine, PCP and methanol in his system.
Cincinnati defense attorney and legal expert Mike Allen predicts the study will prompt more police agencies locally and nationally to drop the use of Tasers for fear of liability in deaths that could be attributed to the devices.
"Dr. Zipes’ study just adds credibility to the position that Tasers could be potentially dangerous. He is well-respected in the medical community," said Allen.
"It’s a snowball rolling down the hill that is only going to get bigger. Law enforcement agencies now are going to be taking a skeptical look at Tasers," he said.
"I think there have been 50-plus wrongful death lawsuits filed against Taser since it went on the market. For a long time, (Taser International) was successful in getting them thrown out of court," Allen said.
"But now they seem to be getting some large judgments against them and that seems to be the trend. There is some evidence the device was not properly tested, and I expect to see potential product liability actions against Taser."