At least 48 people have died in the U.S. since January in incidents in which police used Tasers, but the link between the use of Tasers and the 48 deaths is unclear, reports the Washington Post. At least one deaths occurred when an incapacitated person fell and hit his head. Other factors mentioned among causes of death were excited delirium, methamphetamine or PCP intoxication, hypertensive heart disease, coronary artery disease, and cocaine toxicity. Twelve of the 26 cases in which the Post obtained autopsy reports or cause-of-death information mentioned a Taser along with other factors. More than half of the 48 suffered from mental illness or had illegal drugs in their system at the time. At least 10 were Tasered while handcuffed or shackled. Only one was female. Nearly 55 percent of the people who died were minorities. (The Guardian published its own account of deaths in Taser cases this year recently, tallying 47.)
Deaths after Taser usage by police are relatively rare, accounting for a small fraction of the people who die during or after encounters with officers, said a study by the National Institute of Justice. Research shows that when used correctly, the devices are generally safe and prevent injuries to both police officers and civilians. When Tasers are used excessively or if officers don't follow department policy or product guidelines, the risk of injury or death can increase, according to company product warnings and police experts. Tasers are best known for their ability to incapacitate individuals while used in “probe mode,” when they fire two barbs that deliver an electric current along wires, causing the muscles to lock up. When placed against a person's body in “drive stun” mode Tasers do not incapacitate but cause local pain that can be used to control dangerous individuals. Pain compliance, police call it. At least nine of the 48 cases this year involved individuals who were Tasered in the drive-stun mode.