Amnesty International report: Tasers kill 334 in last 7 years

12/16/08 Mitch E. Perry
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In September, 46-year-old Roney Wilson died after being zapped three times with a Taser by Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputies in Plant City.

According to a new report released Tuesday by Amnesty International, 334 people died after being stunned by such guns by law enforcement in the United States during a seven-year period ending in August.

Dalia Hashad is director of the USA Program at Amnesty International USA. She said the organization has a research team in London which works with media reports to learn of such fatalities. After that, they try to obtain the autopsy report to investigate further. She said her organization has found Tasers to be more dangerous than the manufacturer suggests.

Hashad said local law enforcement needs to be informed about how lethal Tasers are. She says it’s not their fault that they’re not told about the risks of using them.

Still, existing studies have downplayed risks. And in fact, the Tampa Tribune reported earlier this year that Arizona-based Taser International has a 74-1 record in product liability cases.

But critics have said some of those studies have been paid for by Taser International, and others only have studied simulated guns, and not Tasers themselves.

Hashad said those studies can be misleading because they are testing "normal" healthy people and not those under the influence of drugs or the mentally ill.

In the case of Wilson, the man who died after being Tasered by Hillsborough sheriff’s deputies, relatives told authorities he had not taken his medication.

Amnesty International USA’s study looked at the number of people who died in the United States after being struck by police Tasers between June 2001 and August of this year. Wilson is not part of the study, as his death occurred in September.

Locally, Wilson's death caused little controversy, but there was some concern voiced recently in Tampa after police stunned attorney Carl Hayes with a Taser after he allegedly becoming "agitated" at an Architectural Review Commission meeting. He was charged with trespassing, battery on a law enforcement officer and obstructing an officer.

Hayes's attorney, Barry Cohen, said at the time it appeared an injustice had been done, and that he was reviewing the case to determine what action he might take.

A colleague of Cohen said the law firm is defending Hayes, and is still investigating the case in regards to taking action against the police department.

But until legislators demand action, can anything come out of Amnesty’s report?

Hashad said there is hope in a study currently being conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice. Hashad said she hopes the study will help lead to more limits on the use of Tasers.

In the report, Florida had the second highest number of deaths from Tasers during the past seven years, with 52. California led the nation with 55 deaths

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