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AI: Death of 15-year-old raises further concern about safety of Tasers

from Amnesty International

The death of a 15-year-old boy in Michigan after he was shocked with a Taser gun shows the imperative need for further tests on the safety of the electro-shock weapon, said Amnesty International today.

“This case shows, once again, police use of a Taser in what appears to have been a non-life threatening situation,” said Angela Wright, US researcher at Amnesty International. “While we don’t have full details of what happened, there have to be ways of restraining an unarmed teenager other than using electro-shock weapons.”

According to information gathered by Amnesty International, this is the second minor to have died in the USA this year after being shocked with a Taser. The total number of deaths after the use of Taser guns in the US has risen to 351 since June 2001.

“Taser guns are not the safe weapons they are portrayed to be,” said Angela Wright. “A full investigation into their safety needs to be carried out before more people suffer the consequences of their misuse.”

While few details are available, a police news release stated that the boy — who has not been named — was shocked when he “attempted to fight” Bay City officers responding to reports of an argument between two males in an apartment. The boy reportedly went into medical distress immediately after being shocked and was pronounced dead in hospital.

Last December, Amnesty International issued a report about the problems attached to the use of stun weapons in law enforcement. The study cited medical data suggesting that their use may trigger a fatal reaction in individuals already compromised by drugs, exertion or ill-health. The report also cited cases in which apparently healthy individuals died after being shocked. 

In January, an unarmed 17-year-old boy in Virginia died after police, responding to a minor street incident, shocked him in his apartment. In March last year, Darryl Turner, also aged 17, died when police used a Taser on him after an argument in the store where he worked in North Carolina. A video-tape showed an officer fire Taser darts into Turner’s chest as the unarmed teenager stood with his arms by his side. The coroner ruled his cause of death to be a fatal disturbance of the heart rhythm due to stress and the Taser shocks. His death is one of at least 50 nationwide where coroners have ruled that Tasers were a cause or contributory factor.

“It’s disturbing to see any deaths resulting from unnecessary levels of police force or from weapons which have not been rigorously tested or controlled,” said Angela Wright.

Amnesty International is calling on US law enforcement departments to either cease using Tasers pending further safety studies or strictly limit their use to situations where they are necessary to protect life and avoid the use of police fire-arms.

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