After almost half the nation’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies had bought Tasers, “We had the perfect storm hit us,” Taser International president Tom Smith told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Deaths and lawsuits started piling up. More than 100 people who were jolted by a Taser have died nationwide since 2001. Investors brought lawsuits against the company and law enforcement officers injured in training sessions filed suits saying the devices weren’t so safe as Taser officials had led them to believe. “They have brainwashed cops,” charged John Dillingham, a Phoenix attorney for an Arizona deputy whose spine was fractured in a demonstration. “Cops wanted to believe what Taser was telling them.
In Georgia, the most notorious of six deaths was that of Frederick Williams, 31, who was stunned three to five times at the Gwinnett County Jail in May 2004. The autopsy report said Williams had a heart attack, but it is “uncertain” whether the Taser shocks were a contributing cause. As some agencies suspend use of Tasers, company sales “got cut in half,” Smith said, from $19.7 million in the last quarter of 2004 to $10.2 million in the first quarter of 2005. Smith is on a nationwide “education campaign” to help revive the image of the flagging company. Among other things, the company has gone on the offensive suing USA Today over “inaccurate coverage.”