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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Taserific!

Posted by Matt Davis on Wed, Nov 26, 2008 at 1:39 PM

I've written a lengthy feature for this week's upcoming issue about Taser use by Portland Police. While I'm not going to spoil the read for you by puking its guts out, prematurely, here on Blogtown, I did want to whet your appetite with a few fun-ish facts about Tasers that I gathered in the course of my research.

1.Taser is a stupid name. The weapons were named in 1974 by their NASA geek inventor, Jack Cover, after a science-fiction whiz kid, Tom Swift, who starred in novels by Victor Appelton. The word "Taser" actually stands for "Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle." Why not name the weapon the Luke A.Skywalker Electric Rifle (LASER) or, sheesh, the Hal (from Space Odyssey) Ass Protection Pointy Ye-ouch (HAPPY)? No? Okay. Point taken. But it's named after an adolescent boy who never existed. Next...

2.Opinion is divided on the safety of Tasers. In June this year, Taser lost its first lawsuit in California, with a jury ordering it to pay just over $6m in damages to the family of Robert C. Heston, ruling that Taser should have warned people of the dangers of acidosis--a drop in blood pH to a degree which poses a risk of cardiac arrest--associated with prolonged exposure to the weapons (Heston died of cardiac arrest after being Tasered 25 times by three separate weapons over the course of a minute and seven seconds, according to his lawyer, John Burton). Download the court verdict here.

3.Likewise, there is controversy around the existence, or otherwise, of "Excited Delirium," a cause of death often associated with Taser deployment, but not recognized by the American Medical Association. Oregon State Medical Examiner Karen Gunson tells the Mercury "I don't actually think the term is controversial," meanwhile Dalia Hashad, director of the USA program for Amnesty International, says "we need to ask why the person died, not make up the term to explain the situation."

4.Taser conducted safety studies on one pig in 1996 and five dogs in 1999 (although a 50lb Pitbull actually died in North Portland after being Tasered multiple times in 2005...nowadays this strategy appears to be fading out...)

5.In July, Amnesty International estimated more than 320 people have died in this country following the application of Tasers in police custody. Taser is currently defending itself against 34 wrongful death lawsuits in the US, according to a recent report by the company to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

6.This is what's happened to Taser's stock price from its high of $31.65 in December 2004 to last Tuesday, November 18, the day the city's Independent Police Review reconvened its Use of Force Task Force to look at force use by Portland police over the last two years. A drop of 87% from $31.65 to $3.56...

taserstock.jpg

None of this is mentioned in the feature per se, which you can read when the new issue of the Mercury hits the streets tonight. But I'm hoping it will make you curious to pick up a copy of the paper and find out more. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. And remember, those things hurt...

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