Thursday, September 18, 2008

Justice Department Review of TASER-related Deaths

From Amnesty International

(Washington, DC) -- Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) applauds the U.S. Department of Justice for its decision to review the deaths of up to 180 people who died after law enforcement officials shot them with TASERs.

"This is an important acknowledgement that there is a serious problem with the widespread use of TASERs," said Dalia Hashad, Director of AIUSA's U.S. Human Rights program. "People are dying needlessly. It's important that the federal government is taking this seriously."

According to news reports, the Justice Department review will initially focus on 30 deaths, including one from two decades ago. The review, which could take up to two years, will enlist the help of the National Association of Medical Examiners, the American College of Pathologists, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The Justice Department review is a good first step," said Hashad. "Following a thorough review, the next step should be for the federal government to issue comprehensive federal regulations and guidelines on the use of TASERs."

Amnesty International (AI) has identified more than 150 TASER-related deaths in the United States since June 2001. The organization has repeatedly called for a thorough and independent investigation into the effects of the devices. Studies conducted over the last year have not met the organization's criteria for an independent, impartial and comprehensive study, as they have been limited in scope and methodology and have relied mostly on data provided by a primary manufacturer of the weapons -- Taser International -- and police departments themselves.

Most of those who died after being shocked had pre-existing medical conditions, were under the influence of drugs or medication, and/or were subjected to multiple or prolonged electro-shocks. Amnesty International calls on police departments to suspend purchase and use of TASERs pending the outcome of independent safety research. Where law enforcement agencies refuse to suspend their use, AI recommends that TASERs be employed solely in situations in which the only alternative is the use of deadly force.

TASERs are powerful electro-shock weapons in use in more than 7,000 of the 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States. They are designed to incapacitate by conducting 50,000 volts of electricity into an individual's body. The electrical pulses induce skeletal muscle spasms that immobilize and incapacitate the individual, causing him to fall to the ground.
For more information or for AI's reports on TASERs, please visit

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