Thousands of police departments buy Tasers on a claim that the electric stun guns will instantly take down suspects without inflicting harm. The Arizona Republic says the assertion of safety has generated record sales for Scottsdale’s Taser International Inc., which markets its guns as alternatives to deadly force and says its goal is to arm every police officer in America.
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.” 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 drunks, shoplifters, mentally ill people and others who refuse to obey commands. The company actually relied on media accounts and anecdotal information from police for most of its analysis, says the Republic. The company’s report does not include details suggesting a Taser could have played a role in someone’s death. The report omits published findings of a medical examiner who concluded that electrical shocks from a Taser contributed directly to the death of a man in an Indiana jail. When presented with cases linking Tasers to deaths, the company says the medical examiners got it wrong and dismisses their reports.