Before a bystander’s video led to his murder charge and firing, North Charleston, S.C., police officer Michael Slager said he killed a fleeing suspect in a traffic stop after a struggle over his Taser. Slager’s attempt to subdue Walter Scott with a stun gun points to a policing paradox that has civil rights advocates alarmed, the Associated Press reports. Promoted as tools to avoid lethal force, stun guns can sometimes become part of a deadly equation, AP says, citing at least seven other fatal shootings of black men by police in confrontations involving stun guns in recent years. Stun guns are useful, but can give officers “a really false reassurance that you have more control over a situation than you do,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a former New York City police officer now at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
“Officers need to be spending more time de-escalating situations, instead of resorting to the use of this very convenient tool,” said Emma Andersson of the American Civil Liberties Union. “The jury’s still out on whether or not it’s lethal force, but it’s not nothing; it’s very dangerous.” Stun guns are used in more than 15,000 U.S. law enforcement and military agencies. TASER International Inc. says it has sold more than 800,000 devices to law enforcement agencies, which have used them more than 2.3 million times in 20 years. Tasers are “safe, effective and accountable,” said company spokesman Steve Tuttle, “But it’s not a magic bullet. … There is no magic bullet.” The ACLU and Amnesty International say hundreds have died from the shocks alone. The potential for deadly consequences has prompted many law enforcement agencies to limit how officers use them.