Amnesty International has said that industry claims that Taser stun guns are safe and non-lethal do not stand up to scrutiny. The organization called on governments to limit their deployment to life-threatening situations or to suspend their use.
The call came as the organization released one of the most detailed reports to date on the safety of the stun gun. The report "USA: Less than lethal?" is being published as the number of people who died after being struck by Tasers in the USA reached 334 between 2001 and August 2008.
"Tasers are not the 'non-lethal' weapons they are portrayed to be," said Angela Wright, US researcher at Amnesty International and author of the report. "They can kill and should only be used as a last resort.
"The problem with Tasers is that they are inherently open to abuse, as they are easy to carry and easy to use and can inflict severe pain at the push of a button, without leaving substantial marks."
Amnesty International’s study – which includes information from 98 autopsies – found that 90 per cent of those who died after being struck with a Taser were unarmed and many did not appear to present a serious threat.
Many were subjected to repeated or prolonged shocks – far more than the five-second "standard" cycle – or by more than one officer at a time. Some people were even shocked for failing to comply with police commands after they had been incapacitated by a first shock.
In at least six of the cases where people died, Tasers were used on individuals suffering from medical conditions such as seizures – including a doctor who had crashed his car when he suffered an epileptic seizure. He died after being repeatedly shocked at the side of the highway when, dazed and confused, he failed to comply with an officer's commands.
Police officers also used Tasers on schoolchildren, pregnant women and even an elderly person with dementia.
In March 2008, an 11-year-old girl with a learning disability was shocked with a Taser after she punched a police officer in the face. The officer had been called to the school in Orange County, Florida, after the child had become disturbed, pushing desks and chairs and spitting at staff.
Existing studies – many of them funded by the industry – have found the risk of these weapons to be generally low in healthy adults. However, these studies are limited in scope and have pointed to the need for more understanding of the effects of such devices on vulnerable people, including those under the influence of stimulant drugs or in poor health.
Recent independently-funded animal studies have found that the use of these kinds of electro-shock weapons can cause fatal arrhythmias in pigs, raising further questions about their safety on human subjects. It was also recently reported that nearly ten per cent of 41 Tasers tested in a study commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, delivered significantly more current than the manufacturer said was possible, underscoring the need for independent verification and testing of such devices.
Although most of the 334 deaths nationwide have been attributed to factors such as drug intoxication, medical examiners and coroners have concluded that Taser shocks caused or contributed to at least 50 of these deaths.
"We are very concerned that electro-shock weapons such as Tasers have been rolled out for general use before rigorous, independent testing of their effects," said Angela Wright.
Police slammed over Taser death
In a particularly worrying finding, the report states that one person died of a heart attack 12 days after being shocked by NSW Police.
Guns a jolt from boys in blue
POLICE have already shocked five people with Tasers in the first fortnight of use of the controversial weapon, despite their assurances the stun guns would be a "less-than-lethal alternative" to police pistols.
Brother, sister Tasered 'after vandalism spree'
Police say they had to use a Taser gun on a brother and sister after they allegedly assaulted officers in the Sydney CBD early this morning.
Officers to adopt lethal shock tactics
"The camera-fitted Tasers will protect officers from spurious claims that a weapon was fired inappropriately, while also providing even greater accountability for police.
USA: RENEWED CALL FOR SUSPENSION AS TASER-RELATED DEATHS PASS 150 MARK Amnesty 2006
USA / CANADA: PATTERN OF ABUSE -- SUSPEND USE OF TASER GUNS Amnesty 2004
USA: Amnesty International concerned at use of tasers in Florida Amnesty 2007
Indonesia tells bombers families get ready
8 years ago