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Friday, December 19, 2008

Sick And Tasered

by digby

Tasers are so harmless cops can even use them on people in hospitals. It might be a good idea to determine if they are patients first or figure out if they are having a human reaction to grief and loss, but in the end, it's their own fault if they get upset in public. Americans are now subject to being tasered no matter where they are and the police have no obligation to determine what the problem might be before they just start shooting you with electricity. That's because they are so safe:

A 26-year-old San Jose man died early today after he was zapped with a Taser by a Campbell police officer who was helping quell a disturbance at Valley Medical Center.

Santa Clara County Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Don Morrissey did not identify the man, saying that the coroner had not yet given permission because his next of kin had not been properly notified.

Morrissey said about 11:20 p.m. Thursday a woman called 911 from Valley Medical Center saying that one of her relatives was involved in a "disturbance.'' Sheriff's deputies arrived to help and were able to "locate the parties involved,'' Morrissey said.

Moments after they arrived, Morrissey said, the deputies began to struggle with the 26-year-old man who was causing the disturbance.

Deputies called for backup.

A Campbell officer was at the hospital saw the man fighting with deputies outside the hospital and went to help, said Campbell Police Capt. David Dehaan. He said Campbell Agent Gary Berg fired his Taser, an electric stun gun.

The man was taken into custody, but deputies soon realized he was "unresponsive,'' Morrissey said.

Officers started CPR on the man, who was whisked into the hospital's emergency room. Efforts to revive the man failed, and he died at 12:11 a.m. today.

The way the law is developing, the authorities aren't held liable if the person had health problems:
Six people have died in San Jose since 2004 after being stunned with a Taser.

Three of these cases highlights the complicated nature of the argument.

In May, the daughter of a Mongol motorcycle club member who died after being zapped with a Taser during a naked, drug-fueled struggle with San Jose police in a motel room sued Police Chief Rob Davis, the city and the company that makes the electric stun guns for $20 million. The lawsuit claims that police excessively beat and stunned Steve Salinas, 47, to death on March 25, 2007.

But the Santa Clara County coroner's office concluded Salinas -- who was under the influence of a toxic, if not lethal, dose of PCP and had heart disease -- died of cardiopulmonary arrest during a violent physical struggle. The medical examiner noted that Taser use was an ''other significant condition,'' but did not conclude that it contributed to his death.

Just this month, in an unprecedented settlement over Tasers, the city of San Jose agreed to pay the family of Jose Angel Rios $70,000. Rios died in November 2005 after being struck with batons and Tased by police who were trying to calm him down during a domestic dispute. In that case, the coroner determined the primary cause of death on obesity, heart disease and drugs.

And yet a another lawsuit was thrown out against the city of San Jose, because the coroner determined that the Taser was not a factor in the August 2005 death of Brian Patrick O'Neal, whom San Jose police were trying to subdue during a fight.

Of course, coroners have good reason to "lean" in the direction of law enforcement on these things:

Taser International has fired a warning shot at medical examiners across the country.

The Scottsdale-based stun gun manufacturer increasingly is targeting state and county medical examiners with lawsuits and lobbying efforts to reverse and prevent medical rulings that Tasers contributed to someone's death.

That effort on Friday helped lead an Ohio judge's order to remove Taser's name from three Summit County Medical Examiner autopsies that had ruled the stun gun contributed to three men's deaths.

"We will hold people accountable and responsible for untrue statements," Taser spokesman Steve Tuttle said earlier this week. "If that includes medical examiners, it includes medical examiners."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, the judge said the county offered no medical, scientific or electrical evidence to justify finding the stun gun was a factor in the deaths of two men in 2005 and another in 2006. Taser and the City of Akron sued the medical examiner, saying examiners in the case lacked the proper training to evaluate Tasers. [Taser International is happy to help with that --- ed]

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.

The judge's order could have an immediate impact on criminal cases against five Summit County sheriff's deputies who were charged in the 2006 "homicide" of a jail inmate. Instead of homicide, the judge ordered the cause of death changed to "undetermined."

Before Friday's verdict, legal experts said Taser's victory could lay the foundation for other cases against dozens of medical examiners who have ruled that shocks from the 50,000-volt stun gun can be fatal.

Medical examiners say they're concerned that Taser's aggressive moves could have a chilling effect on doctors, preventing them from blaming Tasers for deaths even when evidence exists.

Ya think?

h/t to trevor and AER