Jury awards massive judgement against Taser International, shares slump

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Taser International fights hard against claims that its stun guns kill. Wired's Noah Shachtman puts it bluntly: "They never, ever lose in court."

That just changed, with a precedent-setting verdict from a federal jury that awarded $6m in damages against TI, even though the victim was held to be 85 percent responsible for his own injuries.

An autopsy found that Heston died from a combination of methamphetamine intoxication, an enlarged heart due to long-term drug abuse, and Taser shocks. Heston's parents, Betty Lou and Robert Sr., and their daughter sued Taser International. ... The six-person jury found that Arizona-based stun-gun manufacturer Taser International should have more effectively warned police that Taser shocks were potentially dangerous. Salinas police testified during the trial that they were not warned that the shocks could be dangerous.

According to the plaintiffs' attorney, the verdict comprises $5.2m in punitive damages and $1.021m in compensation. Taser seeks solace in the fact that it was only held 15 percent responsible. Shareholders, however, are rendering a verdict of their own.

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Is it because of the increasing use of Tasers as human prods in situations where guns would never be drawn? Or was this just an inevitability in the long run?

First Jury Zaps Taser; $6 Mil for Wrongful Death [Wired: Danger Room]

Published by Rob Beschizza

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38 Comments

  1. It’s this kind of thinking that will keep people from investing in the development of the star trek phaser with stun setting.

    But yes, the is because cops are using tasers to shock everybody that doesn’t smile while being handcuffed.

    On the upside, less people are being maced.

  2. Bah, the guy was extremely high when it happened. If the tazed guy decides to injest a ton of drugs and lose his shit, the brunt of the responsibility should rest with him. He’s the one that created the incident after all. That he died is serious, but this reads like he wouldn’t have have if he hadn’t screwed up his heart due to prolonged drug abuse. Sometimes the consequences for a person’s actions are serious.

  3. Yeah! I agree with REDSHIRT77. I think that actually we should get rid of all the cops and encourage everyone who is old enough to stand upright to go ahead and snort, shoot, drink, eat, and otherwise absorb as many chemical substances as possible. THAT would certainly bring about the kind of society that we want, wouldn’t it? And yes, it MUST have been because he just wouldn’t smile. We certainly couldn’t hold that poor little angel accountable for his own actions, could we? I definitely would believe a professional, college-educated cop less than a tweeked-out meth junkie with a history of criminal activity. It just makes sense.

  4. I definitely would believe a professional, college-educated cop less than a tweeked-out meth junkie with a history of criminal activity.

    Dude, how does one not “believe” a “junkie” who is dead?

    The only person to believe or disbelieve is the autopsy doctor, who is probably a professional, college educated person. Maybe even more educated in matters as to whether the taser contributed to the death of the “junkie” than the police officer in question might be. Not many MD/cops walking around, you know.

    What is it about BoingBoing that attracts the authoritarian-worshipping, cops-can-do-no-wrong, nutjobs anyway?

  5. It doesn’t give any information on how the “incident” (i.e.killing) came about, so how are you going to say that he “created” the situation? By being on drugs? That makes you deserving of lethal electrical force?
    If that were so, we could clean up quite a few neighborhoods in my town. But then I guess there would be alot of dead bodies lying around.

    Don’t tase me, bro!

  6. @Greglondon
    I thought BB attracted self-important attention seeking steampunk and hyperbole lovers?

    Btw. I am very cool myself. Read my blog. Perhaps the coolest.

    😉

  7. The way I see it, tasers are far from a bad thing. It can be uaed as a less lethal force than guns.

    However, there needs to be accountability of the company to actknowledge the danger, though I wouldn’t expect them to know about EVERY interaction possibility, it would be wise to look in to the possibilities at least. Also, there needs to be more education in our police force and accountability. Police should be trained that tasers should only be used when they would have used the gun. Police also should be acountable for when they use tazers or overstep their authority or use exessive force, and encouraged to turn in fellow cops who beak their oath to “protect and serve.”

  8. What is it about BoingBoing that attracts the authoritarian-worshipping, cops-can-do-no-wrong, nutjobs anyway?

    Scientists are currently at work in a secret underground lab trying to solve that very puzzle. I’m guessing that it has something to do with the miserable trying to drag the happy down to their own level.

  9. What is it with financial types and their graphs that don’t go to zero? That sure looks like a huge drop, until you note that it’s from something like 6.13 to 5.82 – about 5%.

    And the graph would look exactly the same if the drop had been 0.5%, or 50%.

    Does this bug nobody else but me?

    I am also confused by the people who jump in full ignorance to the defence of the police in all cases. Are any of these the same ones who defended officer dude a while back, I wonder?

  10. People make (or link to) charts like that so they can dupe people who don’t know any better, thereby “proving” whatever point they are trying to make.

    TASR lost $0.24 today. For a stock only worth $6 that’s a drop, but hardly indicative of them being fucked.

  11. We’re just starting to learn about tasers what we’ve known for hundreds of years about guns: shit can be lethal.

    Maybe if we had stayed with the guns we wouldn’t be having to relearn that lesson at the cost of lives.

  12. I’m guessing that it has something to do with the miserable trying to drag the happy down to their own level.

    Eh? People who believe that they live in or are in imminent danger of living in the kind of country where they’ll get tazed to death for not smiling when they get a ticket are happy?

    Meanwhile, those who think that tasers, while carrying some risk, are far less damaging than nightsticks, saps, or chokeholds – never mind firearms – and are generally satisfied with their local police are miserable.

    I learn something new every day.

  13. I got a question. How much is too much. I haven’t seen anything here yet about HOW much he was tasered. It was reported today that he was tasered for 25 cycles. That may not sound like much…but it’s 5 seconds per cycle. Thats…what 2 mins and 5 seconds (+/- 15 seconds). That’s a little bit TOO much if you ask anyone. NO ONE in training videos or any other testing that was brought forth have been tasered that long in duration. Of course, that’s what the weapons say they’ve discharged…so, it’s possible that it wasn’t that long, but with MORE tasers. Now, FINALLY, it’s come to light that they are NOT safe. That much is actually fine. I’m not against them keeping the tasers, they have a time and a place, just not as a ‘compliance’ tool as they have been used in the past (in some cases). But finally TASER will have to call their weapons “less lethal” and Police will have better guidelines on when and where it is appropriate to use them. Personally, I’d like to see a controlled voluntary study, done in the presence of doctors, to see how ‘lethal’ this is. Does it make a difference if the person is younger or older, if you have a mental condition, or medical condition. If your heart is already racing, could the taser send you in to tachycardia or a systole. If it is more than say…1%…then the officers with tasers (who are in cars, not footpatrol) should ALSO be equipped and trained with the defribulator. The newest ones are quite good and do pretty much all the work for you. Cuff than resuscitate.

  14. The problem, as it usually is, is one of unintended consequences.

    Since Tasers require less risk and effort on the part of the officers and can be used as simple cattle prods as well as at a distance, they’ve become the preferred method of physical manipulation over handholds and other physical means of restraint.

    Tasers are fast, light and convenient, and can be used as shock devices without firing the needles for any recalcitrant suspect. The net effect of this is that people are tasered as preemptive restraint at the slightest provocation (or lack of cooperation).

    An hour spent watching reality cop shows or perusing video websites will give any number of examples of suspects who are Tasered because they’re too slow to put their hands behind their back, who argue with tickets and the like. Many of these are not actively resisting arrest or anything that would justify the use of force, though they’re often intoxicated.

    Sadly, it will probably take the death of a prominent personality (or one of their children) to curtail the excessive use of these devices.

  15. As an officer trained in the use of a Taser AND as someone with an electronics background trained in how to deal with a co-worker who might get hung up on a various voltages I can say that everything I’ve learned about the Taser tells me it is safe to use on humans. We’re talking about the order of 2.1 mA on average. This is well below any lethality levels. The unit is designed so that it can’t provide lethal doses.

    Look at the research and testing that has gone on. The sheer numbers of volunteers that have taken “The Ride” is huge. I’ve taken it myself, it’s not fun. If I had to do it all over again, I’d do it–just not a second time.

    There have been no verifiable deaths attributed to a Taser. This jury verdict was wrong and a product of an over litigious society. Even then, it’s only 15%. Maybe the other 85% should come out of the deceased’s estate. Oh, wait.

    The family was simply looking for payday.

    No, I’m not saying that you can’t kill with a Taser, you can. First you have to understand how it works. It’s not a pain compliance tool (though it can be), it’s not a stun gun. We’re talking about two different animals. The Taser works by disrupting the nervous system. When you get hit by a Taser your body simply “locks up.” Some can fight through it, but you have little control. How you can kill with a Taser is you continuously hit them keeping the body “locked up” so they can’t breathe. The outcome is obvious.

    What happened in this case is uncertain. It could be an application of good technology is a bad way.

    I get a kick out of hearing about “Taser-related deaths.” Any death, no matter the actual cause, where a Taser is used is called “Taser-related.” It could also be called “handcuff-related.” How about “Taken to Jail-related.” “Fight the Police-related.”

    Any time I break leather and use ANY form of force, even simply putting someone in handcuffs, I have to write a report. Tasers have computers in them and record a time stamp so any Taser activation is recorded. So, yes, I could be get caught using a Taser and not documenting it.

    Tasers leave marks. It’s going to be pretty darn difficult to “torture” someone with a Taser and not leave evidence. It took a week for my probe marks to heal. Drive stun marks are burn marks and take even longer to heal.

    @8 “Police should be trained that tasers should only be used when they would have used the gun.”

    Yeah, Taser, gun, same thing. Right. The level of force we consider a Taser is on the level of pepper spray and below that of the ASP baton. The Taser can not electrocute, does leave minor injuries, heck can even put out an eye. The ASP baton can leave serious bruises, break bones, and if not careful, kill. The handgun is only considered lethal force, nothing less. It is also a defensive weapon, not offensive.

    In short, the Taser is a very effective tool in reducing injuries and deaths when the police are having to deal with an violent offender.

    Unless… Anyone have a better solution?

  16. no “verifiable” deaths? The Taser company may be able to hire flocks of lawyers but that doesn’t magic away the pile of dead bodies. Dead is dead. I don’t care if the police and Taser got away with in a court room. Dead is dead.

    As to a better solution?: Cops willing to take a beating. It’s their job. They get paid, they get benefits, they get security and as much shit as they wish to eat. Being a cop is not supposed to be easy. Or safe.

  17. meh they should just go back to kneecapping people with a nightstick, or shooting them in the legs, at least you know it probably wont kill them…instantly anyway.

    tranquilizer darts?

  18. Well, looking at all of those “news” reports Takuan must be right. The Taser must be an evil contraption that must be banned. I stand corrected and will now throw my Taser in the trash. So sorry.

  19. I am a correctional officer who’ll throw in his opinion. It’s possible to injure/kill someone just attempting to use minimal force and physically restrain someone. If you don’t use a Taser, then using a firearm is certainly going to injure/kill someone.

  20. “news” reports? Yes they are what is called “news”. You find them in the “newspapers” and other media. Or do you rely on the Police Gazette solely?

    I see a definite reality disconnect here. Police are not supposed to kill. Soldiers kill. Police are not soldiers. I suppose we can blame the molding of the police mythopoetic icon of recent North American history on bloody Hollywood. Somehow the upright sheriff and clueless, relentless Mountie got perverted by Dirty Harry into licence to become “the gang with control of the streets”. Most active police now don’t even remember a time when the image was supposed to inspire respect, not fear and hatred.

    Yes it is possible to injure and kill with bare hands. That is why those who work in the prison industry owe to themselves and society to insist the job cannot be done with staffing numbers that permit over powering by such obvious force of numbers that only the violently insane would even attempt resistance (what,1%?) The rot begins when people agree to do jobs that can’t be ethically done with the resources provided. No one was ever “sentenced” to be a guard. If your society won;t pay for enough resources to do things humanely and safely, then maybe it is time for you and your society to change your laws and stop filling your prisons with the poor and pot smokers.

    I just heard that recent Canadian RCMP Taser study indicates that tasers are nearly always used when the cop is NOT alone. And they are used multiple times on the same victim.

    The jig is up boys. We want guardians, not torturers.

  21. Tasers may not be the ’cause’ of death in most of the cases, but it is a ‘contributing factor’. That cannot, and should not be discounted. Most of the cases where death has occurred, the ‘victim’ of the taser was not in as good of health as those who the taser were tested on. Therefore, they may be inherently safe to use, but, anything that causes a disruption in the nervous system can cause various problems, not the least of which is stopping your heart. And YES…the voltage and amperage in the taser is enough, on certain points of the body, depending on the conditioning of the body, to cause harm and/or death. It’s called documentation, and it’s out there. What isn’t out there, is the taser as a DIRECT cause of death. That would be hard to prove anyways. The guy in question was tasered 22 to 25 cycles of 5 seconds each. Roughly 1m45 to 2m15. I’m guessing THAT hasn’t been tried in testing yet…on someone strung out on drugs. Test EVERY possible scenario and say its safe, not just on subjects in good health.

    @Takuan : RCMP and tasers, don’t trust their stories. They’ve been cleaning reports for a while getting rid of taser use and/or playing up the scenario in which they ‘had’ to use them.
    There’s only a few detachments that have been found doing this, but it will throw all the numbers off.

    Again, I’m all for the use of tasers, but used ‘properly’ which I would assume in the normal takedown of a suspect should be less than 25 (!!!!!!) times. A few bad apples shouldn’t spoil the bunch. Better testing, better training, and better after-tactics (move in to cuff WHILE he is being tazed and you should be able to control him after). Plus the re-classification to “less lethal” from “non-lethal”, and some stricter policies on when to use them (maybe NOT when someone is holding a baby…or standing NEXT to highway traffic, or bound in a wheelchair).

  22. There seems to be an implicit threat when law enforcement gives the argument “if it weren’t for Tazers, we would have to resort to more dangerous methods of force”. That is, if you take away the most favored tool for committing brutality, they’re still going to brutalize you, just in more dangerous ways.

    In some cases that’s false – brutality was only committed due to the convenience afforded by the Tazer. In a lot of cases, though, it’s true. Cops brutalize people. It’s not a new phenomenon, nor is people dying from it.

    It’s good that Tazers have put police brutality on the map in a a new way, but it’s important to remember that just as with most technologies, the problem is with the people and institutions, not the tools. Ultimately, it’s cops that are the problem, not Tazers. Until we deal with the cops, they’ll just find some other new tech to torture us with until we catch up and ban that too.

  23. COYOTERED, you mention that you’ve “taken the ride” and been tasered and that it was far a pleasant experience, but it still doesn’t kill. I presume you, like most volunteers, got hit just one time. But in several of the linked articles about taser deaths, they’re talking about people being tasered multiple times–ten, or in the case of this person, 25. Knowing firsthand how painful and disruptive it is being hit just once, don’t you think the pain and shock, not to mention the voltage, of that happening x25 (quite possibly more than one hit simultaneously) would be enough to cause death? If not, are there any cops (or Taser, Inc. officials) that would like to volunteer to be hit not once but ten or 25 times in the space of a few minutes, to show how perfectly survivable it is?

  24. “Yeah! I agree with REDSHIRT77. I think that actually we should get rid of all the cops and encourage everyone who is old enough to stand upright to go ahead and snort, shoot, drink, eat, and otherwise absorb as many chemical substances as possible.”

    You may have misunderstood me a little.

    Those are indeed my weekend plans, but I wouldn’t encourage everyone to do it, there simply aren’t enough for everyone.

    In terms of policy I would simply say that use of less lethal weapons should have the same level of regulation as the discharge of a firearm.

    I think they are good tools that likely save the lives of violent people that need to be stopped but not shot.

    On the other hand locally they tased a guy for riding his bike to the airport even though he was legally allowed and his only offense was arguing his point.

    Give a human being power with out rules and they will abuse it, regardless of what uniform they put on in the morning.

  25. I wonder if COYOTERED would volunteer to be handcuffed and then drive-stunned five or six times by hostile officers who don’t know him from Adam instead of being hit just once while in a controlled environment surrounded by friendlies. Then he could tell us how safe it is under real-world conditions instead of the safe and planned setup he describes.

    “The Ride” you’re talking about, COYOTERED, is like comparing a bike with training wheels and Daddy standing by to catch you when you fall to laying a motorcycle down on a dirt road at 60mph. We, the regular folks you SERVE, don’t get coddled like you did. We don’t get checked to see if we’re okay. We don’t fall down onto gym mats and we don’t get carefully helped back up. Come back and talk to us about the ride after you have some fellow officer run you face-first into the concrete with his knee in your back and then drive-stuns you when you scream because you’re “non-compliant”.

    Now taking bets on when the “you’re not a cop so you don’t understand what it’s like” stuff begins.

  26. #5 I’m not sure it’s that boingboing attracts cop-lovers so much as there are people (a minority on this blog) who don’t automatically blame the cops when something goes wrong. You have to admit, there is a definite “anti-cop” sentiment here.

    Now, I don’t say “cops can do no wrong” and I certainly don’t worship authority. I do get disturbed by what I perceive to be a chip on most people’s shoulders in regards to authority figures.

    There is a nuanced position where one can still question cops and authority figures without descending into mouth-foaming hatred.

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