Civil Liberties  
comments_image Comments

A Recipe for Disaster: School Cops Are Being Armed with 50,000-Volt Tasers

Tasers aren't 'nonlethal'; they've killed hundreds. With younger people being especially vulnerable to the Taser's shock, the risks could be very deadly.

Continued from previous page


For the JSO, the main value of the Taser is that "it enables the officer to bring someone under control."

This apparently includes students and other hard-to-handle populations. Not only are the devices deployed in all the middle and senior high schools in Jacksonville, according to the sheriff's office, "we've also had many incidents where a mentally impaired person was brought under control through the use of the ECD."

The model used in Jacksonville schools is the TASER X26, which, unlike those used by the detention officer who tased the kids at the prison field trip, can be fired remotely, hitting targets as far as 35 feet away with 50,000 volts of electricity. Taser International describes the X26 model as "our premier law enforcement electronic control device."

A 'Nonlethal' Weapon That Has Killed Hundreds

In December 2008, Amnesty International released a 130-page report, "Less Than Lethal? The Use of Stun Weapons in U.S. Law Enforcement," which found that since 2001, 334 people had died after being tased. (This figure is already obsolete.) The vast majority of these deaths were due to cardiac or respiratory arrest. Of the 334 victims, 299 of them were unarmed.

The state with the most recorded Taser deaths was California, with 55. Florida ranked second, with 52.

The victims were mostly adults, but they also included teenagers, like 17-year-old Darryl Turner, who "collapsed shortly after being shocked for 37 seconds in the chest." According to the autopsy, a "lethal disturbance" of his heart rhythm was "precipitated by the agitated state and associated stress, as well as the use of the conducted-energy weapon."

According to Amnesty, "the coroner also noted that there were no anatomic findings indicating a pre-existing cardiac abnormality or disease, and no illegal drugs in his system."

The first three reported deaths by Taser in 2009 all involved teenage victims. In January, 17-year-old Derick Jones of Martinsville, Va., died after a police officer responded to a complaint about public urination by chasing him into a house and tasing him when the boy "moved rapidly" toward him.

In the spring, two teenage boys in Michigan, 15-year-old Brett Elder and 16-year-old Robert Mitchell, died within weeks of one another after being tased by police officers. In both cases, police accused the teens of resisting arrest.

Brett's father, Eugene Elder, acknowledged that his son, who was days away from his 16th birthday, might have been confrontational. Still, he told the Bay City Times. "There's no reason to kill my boy."

"[The police] are here to protect us," Renea Mitchell, Robert's mother told CNN. "There's no reason for what they've done. There's no reason, no excuse."

Taser critics have long pointed out that the devices are marketed as nonlethal despite a lack of independent data -- and considerable anecdotal evidence to the contrary.

According to Amnesty International, "the only medical safety studies prior to the marketing of the Advanced M26 Taser in late 1999 were animal tests conducted for Taser International to see whether the device could cause ventricular fibrillation in a pig and three dogs."

Even those conclusions have been challenged in recent years. In a study carried out by a team of doctors and scientists at Chicago's Cook County hospital in 2006, 11 unfortunate pigs were shocked with Taser guns -- researchers tased them multiple times, in 40-second increments -- to devastating effect.

"When the jolts ended, every animal was left with heart-rhythm problems, the researchers said. Two of the animals died from cardiac arrest, one three minutes after receiving a shock."