USA: Excessive and lethal force? Amnesty International's concerns about deaths and ill-treatment involving police use of Tasers

November 29, 2004

USA: Excessive and lethal force? Amnesty International's concerns about deaths and ill-treatment involving police use of Tasers

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(142) These include U.S. Department of Justice National Institute of Justice (NIJ) Advisory Guidelines for the Care of Subdued Subjects (June 1995); NIJ Bulletin on Positional Restraint, October 1995; Metropolitan Police Complaints Authority (UK), bulletin July 2001.

(143) The most common forms of chokehold are the "carotid" restraint or the "lateral vascular neck" restraint both of which involve the application of pressure to the arteries in the side of the neck. Some of the largest US police agencies ban all forms of chokehold in all circumstances; these include the New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit and Houston police departments.

(144) Since the early 1990s more than 100 people in the USA are reported to have died after being subjected to pepper spray. While most deaths have been attributed by coroners to other causes, such as drug intoxication or positional asphyxia, there is concern that pepper spray could be a contributory factor in some cases. Pepper spray has been found to be a factor in several recent in-custody deaths. Studies discounting a link between physical restraint and pepper spray have generally been conducted on healthy subjects and do not replicate what happens in the field. Further research is needed.

(145) See, for example, Amnesty International report: The Restraint Chair: How Many More Deaths? AI Index AMR 51/31/2002

(146) It is unclear what the coroner meant by this, as the external marks from Taser burns bear no relation to the effect the shocks may or may not have on the heart.

(147) Dr Sigdel Rogde's report to Amnesty International (op cit).

(148) Autopsy report in case of Terrence Hanna, July 2003

(149) Communities United Against Police Brutality "The Death of Walter C. Burks, An Analysis of Police Actions", April 12, 2004

(150) Mehle L.E. "Electrical Injury from Tasering and Miscarriage", Acta.Obstet Gynaecol Scand, 1992; 71:118-23.

(151) Orlando Sentinel June 16, 1991

(152) The Olympian 11 November 2002

(153) The US Department of Defense is reportedly conducting an ongoing study, based, in part, on materials by Taser International, including operational use, but the results have not yet been made public.

(154) (R. Kornblum, M.D., S. Reddy, M. D, "Effects of the Taser in Fatalities Involving Police Confrontation," 36 Journal of Forensic Sciences, 434-48, 1991).

(155) 37 Journal of Forensic Sciences, 956-58, 1992

(156) R.M.Fish, L.A. Geddes,"Effects of stun guns and Tasers", Lancet, September 2001, op cit.

(157) The early medical literature includes concern about the potential of Tasers to disrupt the software or cable in pacemakers: Koscove ME. "The Taser Weapon: a new emergency medicine problem", Annals of Emergency Medicine, 1985; 14:1205-8.

(158) First DOMILL statement on the medical implications of the use of the M26 Advanced Taser, December 2002

(159) Ibid, paragraph A18

(160) Ibid, paragraph A30 (b)

(161) The ACPO guidelines state that "Authorized Firearms Officers (AFOs) … are issued with firearms where the authorising officer has reason to suppose that they, in the course of their duty, may have to protect themselves or others from a person who is: in possession of a firearm or has immediate access to a firearm, or is otherwise so dangerous that the officer's use of a firearm may be necessary". (Operational Guidance on use of Taser, ACPO, 13 August 2004, p 3)

(162) During the year-long pilot study, Tasers were deployed by UK police in 60 incidents but fired on only 13 occasions, resulting in minimal injury.