A grand jury in a small Louisiana town last week took the rare step of indicting a police officer for repeatedly shocking a handcuffed suspect with a Taser. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says an Aug. 5 incident in which Andre Thomas, 37, died after a Swissvale, Pa., officer stunned him multiple times appears to be strikingly similar. Amnesty International claims that more than 320 people have died since 2001 after being shocked with a Taser. Taser International disputes that number, stating that medical examiners have listed a Taser as a contributing cause of death in fewer than 30 cases.
In Pennsylvania, Thomas’ parents awaiting an explanation from the Allegheny County medical examiner about what caused his death. Their lawyer, Howard Messer, said that although all the facts are not known, the circumstances leading up to the Taser shocks appear more egregious for Thomas than for the Louisiana man. “My client was not under arrest, he had not participated in any criminal acts, and, according to the [Allegheny County] district attorney’s office, he was not about to be arrested for any reason,” he said. “Therefore, the question remains: How can a man die in the custody of the police when he is not the suspect of any criminal activity?” Messer will release a private autopsy today.