Taser International’s Legal Clout Takes A Hit

UPDATE: Attorney Peter Williamson, Williamson & Krauss, reports the first successful products liability verdict against Taser International

Full text is available in Comments to this Post.

In the case of Heston v. TASER, Intel., et al., the first products liability jury verdict against TASER, we were able to convince a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California (San Jose) that TASER knew about the potential risks of its M26 model due to prolonged discharges but failed to warn about such risks.

Read more about the death of Robert Heston and Betty Lou Heston’s case against Taser International:

Jury awards against Taser International total $6.22 mln in damages for 15% Responsibility in Robert Heston’s Death – Update

Truth Not Tasers – article on opening statements

Original May 21, 2008 post

Taser International’s Legal Clout – Stunning

How powerful is Taser International? They are telling coroners how to rule.

In the words of Summit County Prosecutor John Manley “Taser is quite a force to be reckoned with and does everything to protect their golden egg, which is the Model X26.

Manley knows. His department was involved in a challenge by the Arizona based stun gun manufacturer “targeting state and county medical examiners with lawsuits and lobbying efforts to reverse and prevent medical rulings that Tasers contributed to someone’s death.”

Medical Examiners say Taser’s campaign is tantamount to intimidation.

“Many medical examiners, who are charged with determining the official causes of death, view the Scottsdale-based company’s efforts as disturbing, the spokesman for the National Association of Medical Examiners says.

“It is dangerously close to intimidation,” says Jeff Jentzen, president of the National Association of Medical Examiners. “At this point, we adamantly reject the fact that people can be sued for medical opinions that they make.

In the Ohio case “Chief Medical Examiner Lisa Kohler said that her examiners rightly concluded Taser contributed to the deaths and said county lawyers will appeal the judge’s ruling. “I would not be going forward with this if I did not believe in the rulings,” she said.

via AZCentral.com.

Why does this matter?

Since Kevin Piskura’s tasering and death, in North America alone, 6 9 10 14 (updated June 30th), more people have died after being tasered:

340. April 24, 2008: Dewayne Chatt, 39, Memphis, Tennessee
341. April 27, 2008: Paul Thompson, 24, Greensboro, North Carolina
342. April 28, 2008: Jermaine Ward, 28, Jackson, Tennessee
343. May 4, 2008: Joe Kubat, 21, St. Paul, Minnesota
344. May 6, 2008: James S. Wilson, 22, Alton, Missouri
345. May 28, 2008: Ricardo Manuel Abrahams, 44, Woodland, California
346. May 31, 2008: Robert Ingram, 27, Raceland, Louisiana
347. June 5, 2008: Willie Maye, 43, Birmingham, Alabama
348. June 6, 2008: Donovan Graham, 39, Meriden, Connecticut

349. June 8, 2008: Quintrell T. Brannon, 25, Vincennes, Indiana

350. June 9, 2008: Tony Curtis Bradway, 26, Brooklyn, New York

351. June 23, 2008: Jeffrey Marreel, 36, Norfolk, Ontario

352. June 24, 2008: Ernest Graves, 26, Rockford, Illinois

353. June 27, 2008: Nicholas Cody, 27, Dothan, Alabama

via Truth Not Tasers

All were unarmed, many were under the influence and some were already cuffed and/or on the ground when they were tasered.

When otherwise healthy individuals die after being Tasered an autopsy can yield information on the cause of death. However, if Taser International has their way a medical examiner will not be able to include any reference that tasers contributed to death, without the threat and expense of a lawsuit by the company, even where there is a finding of fatal cardiac arythmia.

Safety and Money Do Not Go Hand in Hand

Promoting their device, Taser International has relied on “independent” research as proof that the device is a safe* alternative to disable suspects. But a 2005 investigation revealed that the “independent” research was not so independent after all.

Taser International was deeply involved in a Department of Defense study that company officials touted to police departments and investors as “independent” proof of the stun gun’s safety, according to government documents and e-mails obtained by The Arizona Republic and interviews with military officials.Taser started promoting the safety factor before the Department of Defense study was released

Taser trumpeted results of the study long before the actual report came out on April 1. In an October news release, Taser Chief Executive Officer Rick Smith said, “This comprehensive independent study further supports the safety of Taser” and “reaffirms the lifesaving value of Taser technology.”

That announcement had an immediate impact on Taser stock: It shot up 60 percent during the next month. Taser executives and board members sold 1.28 million shares for $68 million in November. Taser tied to ‘independent’ study that backs stun gun Robert Anglen, The Arizona Republic, May. 21, 2005

It should come as no surprise that names of Taser employees who participated in the study were removed from the published version. It should also come as no surprise that the money flowed both ways – “The company has also paid training fees and given valuable stock options to police officers involved in decisions to purchase the stun guns.”

Taser stock prices declined between 2003 and 2005 as the number of deaths linked to tasers increased. via AZCentral.com

This may well explain Taser International’s litigation campaign. It is a preemptive and defensive strike designed to protect the company’s bottom line. The golden goose bites the hands that feed it.

Victim’s Family Fights Back

The stark and disturbing amateur video captured by Paul Pritchard put an unforgettable face on the impact of tasering on a person in distress. Watch it closely – you see fear and suffering – and ask yourself, should use of this level of force EVER be considered.

You are watching Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski die. As did his mother. As a result of the outcry over this video, and her efforts, a comprehensive inquiry is underway in Canada.

The would-be Polish immigrant, who did not speak English, had been wandering around Vancouver’s airport for hours confused, thirsty and hungry and waiting for his mother to arrive.
Police were called when he began throwing computer equipment and within seconds of their arrival, Dziekanski had been jolted with a Taser twice.

The video showed him screaming and writhing in agony before four officers pinned him to the floor in front of horrified onlookers.

Kosteckyj said he and his client have had the video analyzed and Cisowski believes her son — who had just taken his first-ever airplane flight — was in fear for his life in those last few moments.

His grieving mother, who had worked two jobs for seven years to save up money for son to join her in Canada gave testimony last week. via CTV.ca

The panel also heard testimony from cardiologists that taser jolts “almost certainly” cause heart problems and possibly even sudden cardiac arrest..” A senior police officer who trains others on how to use the Taser, also testified saying that “training from the company that manufactures the device suggests the Taser does not lead to cardiac arrest.” emphasis added.

* Testimony from Taser International before the inquiry suggests that Taser International now admits that tasers are not “safe” stating that Tasers not risk free, referring to them instead as “non-lethal” and clarifying that this does not mean safe.

via CTV.ca

Have you written a letter to your local government yet?

More information about Tasers:

Understand the risk:

Nobody really knows exactly why these people are dying, we only know that people are dying after they are Tasered,” said Cox. “When we started doing our first study, 70 people had died in the United States. Now it’s nearly 300 people who have died in the United States. They’re Tasered and then they die. We’re calling for a study to find out exactly why.

Cardiac experts have warned against taser use:

When 50,000 volts of electricity from a Taser surge across the body, it can instantly incapacitate a person — more safely than a blow from a police baton or a blast of pepper spray, its manufacturer contends.

But cardiologists are concerned that, in certain cases, the device might also interrupt the rhythm of the human heart, throwing it into a potentially fatal chaotic state known as ventricular fibrillation.

Rather than pump blood in sequence through its four chambers, a heart in ventricular fibrillation writhes uncontrollably, wiggling like a bag of worms. It is a common cause of sudden death.

Cardiologists also know that the window in which a jolt of electricity can halt a heart expands significantly when a patient is treated with certain drugs, or when the body is flooded with the fear hormone, adrenaline. Patients with underlying heart problems are also more vulnerable to the condition.

Amnesty International spoke out against taser use.

The degree of tolerable risk involving Tasers, as with all weapons and restraint devices, must be weighed against the threat posed. It is self-evident that Tasers are less injurious than firearms where officers are confronted with a serious threat that could escalate to deadly force. However, the vast majority of people who have died after being struck by Tasers have been unarmed men who did not pose a threat of death or serious injury when they were electro-shocked. In many cases they appear not to have posed a significant threat at all.

An excellent summary of Kevin Piskura’s story and related links is available at Mahalo.

From Truth Not Tasers a list of the dead in North America.

Taser use is banned in New Jersey, even by police. Thank you to Twisted Family Antics.

Wikipedia article on Tasers.


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Reality Chick
    May 22, 2008 @ 05:09:33

    Thank you for linking to my website. I just wanted to point out that, while tasers are banned in New Jersey at this time, the pressure is on to change that. See http://truthnottasers.blogspot.com/search/label/new%20jersey Keeping tasers out of New Jersey is going to take a strong and united effort. Once they’re there, it becomes too late.


  2. Peter Williamson, Esq.
    Jun 09, 2008 @ 09:42:27

    I, along with my co-counsel, John Burton, are thrilled to report that the facade of invincibility peddled for so long by TASER Intl., has finally begun to crumble. In the case of Heston v. TASER, Intel., et al., the first products liability jury verdict against TASER, we were able to convince a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California (San Jose) that TASER knew about the potential risks of its M26 model due to prolonged discharges but failed to warn about such risks.

    In order to do this, we took a slightly different approach which we hope will become more well known in the coming days and months. For over a year and a half, John and I reviewed all of the known research we could find on TASER’s physiological effects on the human body. Much of that research has to do with direct electrical stimulation of the heart – one theory that many people believe explains why people die suddenly while being subjected to TASER discharges. We rejected this theory because the state of the research, in our opinion, does not support it. However, we developed another theory which is not widely known but is supported by medical research – metabolic acidosis. Our position is quite simple. TASERs admittedly cause severe muscle contractions which cause the muscles to produce lactate or lactic acid. As the acidity of the blood continues to rise, pH drops. If a person’s blood pH drops to far too quickly, cardiac arrest can occur. We believe this is precisely what happened to Mr. Heston. It should also be noted that our jury rejected Excited Delirium as the cause of death (ED is nothing more than a way for police agencies to shift the blame for a person’s death away from their conduct and onto the victim)

    Rick Smith, the CEO of TASER, has already issued a press release suggesting that the Heston jury reached its decision based on sympathy for the family. I know this is not true but simply more spin from TASER. I was the only attorney to speak with some of the jurors after the trial. Their decision was based on a very solid understanding of the facts of our case. They were convinced that TASER knew about the risks of prolonged applications (Mr. Heston received 25 total discharges from 3 different devices) but did nothing to warn its customers. As the Jury Foreperson put it, TASER could have easily sent warnings to its customers but choose not to do so. This explains the 5.2 million dollar punitive damage award.

    As I told the Heston family after the verdict was announced, it is still possible for a David to beat a Goliath in a U.S. Court of Law.

    Congratulations – as an attorney I have an appreciation of the dedication and skill it takes to do what you have done.


  3. Excited-Delirium.com
    Jun 17, 2008 @ 19:24:36

    My blog might be of interest to those fighting against tasers. It’s intended to capture info and arguments.

    (don’t forget the dash)

    Congratulations to Mr. Williamson and Mr. Burton. As they say, the first cut is the deepest. This one wiped out about $48M worth of smugness from Taser (market cap collapse after $6M judgment).

    Thank you for stopping by and commenting – I am heading over to check out your blog.


  4. givemeabreak
    Jun 17, 2008 @ 19:28:13


    I have an issue with the wholesale use of Tasers. Per my son “the misleading labeling of tasers as nonlethal weapons has led police departments and commanding officers to encourage the use of tasers in cases or situations where previously no weapon that is not reliant on human strength (bean bag rounds or other forms of restraint) alone would be used.”


  5. LookFurther
    Jul 08, 2008 @ 13:56:48

    Givemeabreak – There were 6 officers on the scene, they had other options than taser and guns. Please look further in to the case before you open mouth and insert foot. Ventricular defibrillation can occur when the body is subjected to as little as 1/2 amp of electricity. The taser puts out 50,000 volts at close to 1 amp. That’s enough to stop anybody’s heart, especially those with heart related medical issues, which Rob had.

    Also, please watch this video:

    Still think they’re not lethal?

    Read this article:

    Still think they’re safe?

    Google is your friend, learn how to use it, the info is out there.

    Thank you for stopping by and commenting – you are right – there are many non-lethal alternatives available to police officers. Taser use is accepted because of the perception that is is safe. Given the ever increasing statistics of death after tasering it is surprising to me that people are so complacent. I think unless it hits close to home people don’t stop to even think about it.


  6. Trackback: The Tragic Death of Kevin Piskura - One Year Later the Taser Death March Continues « Five Husbands
  7. andy
    Jun 18, 2009 @ 02:53:18

    I propose a training exercise for police before they use the device:

    1. they have to drink the equivalent of a 6-pack of beer
    2.they have to run 1Km on a track as fast as they can;
    3. they get tasered
    4. they get positioned face down for 2 minutes with 2 other police sitting on top of them.

    those that survive and are still able to work get to use the device.


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