Across the nation, again and again, Tasers are inappropriately used and cause injury and even death. According to Amnesty International, Tasering has caused more deaths to more than 351 individuals since June 2001. The organization is particularly concerned that Tasers are used as weapons of routine force, rather than as an alternative to firearms. Furthermore, medical studies on the effects of Tasers have either been limited in scope or heavily influenced by Taser manufacturers.
This week the city of Fort Worth, Texas offered $2 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the family of a man who was killed with a Taser after a confrontation with police last year. That man, Michael Patrick Jacobs Jr., died on April 18, 2009 after he was shocked for a total of 54 seconds. Manufacturer instructions and manuals warn that two to three seconds of Tasering will often cause a subject to become disoriented and will usually lead to a fall to the ground. Furthermore, Taser International warns law enforcement agencies that “prolonged or continuous exposure(s) to the Taser device’s electrical charge” may lead to medical risks such as cumulative exhaustion and breathing impairment.
Jacobs had a history of mental illness and his family called the police to merely help them calm the man. Three officers arrived and attempted to calm Jacobs, but failed to immediately do so. Nevertheless, an investigation revealed that Jacobs was unarmed and did not strike any of the officers. Despite this fact, the officer who used the Taser said she inadvertently held down the trigger for too long, which led to Jacobs’ death. Jacobs died in front of his parents, and a Tarrant County medical examiner’s office ruled his death a homicide. However, the officers involved in the incident were cleared by a police investigation. City spokesman Jason Lamers recently called the death a tragedy, but stood by the use of the Taser as a “non-lethal use of force”.