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UN Says Tasers Are a Form of Torture 816

Posted by kdawson
from the just-don't-bro dept.
The use of Tasers "causes acute pain, constituting a form of torture," the UN's Committee Against Torture said. "In certain cases, they can even cause death, as has been shown by reliable studies and recent real-life events." Three men — all in their early 20s — died from after tasering in the United States this week, days after a Polish man died at Vancouver airport after being tasered by Canadian police. There have been 17 deaths in Canada following the use of Tasers since they were approved for use, and 275 deaths in the US. "According to Amnesty International, coroners have listed the Taser jolt as a contributing factor in more than 30 of those deaths."
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UN Says Tasers Are a Form of Torture

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  • "Excited Delirium" (Score:4, Informative)

    by sageres (561626) on Saturday November 24, 2007 @10:02PM (#21467019)
    Wtf is Excited Delirium? The Taser company and police department seem to be always quick to blame any deaths associated with tasers on this supposed condition, while APA nor any other medical body recognizes this as any type of medical condition.
    • by chinodelosmuertos (805584) on Saturday November 24, 2007 @11:45PM (#21467813)
      Excitation delerium is a very commonly used term that refers to anyone in such a state of excitement, usually due to stimulatns like cocaine or methamphetamine. I'm too lazy to find you a wikipedia link or anything but if you go to pubmed and search for it, you'll see results such as this one: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?Db=pubmed&Cmd=ShowDetailView&TermToSearch=15900873&ordinalpos=6&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum [nih.gov]

      What usually happens is that these people are in such an agitated state that when approached by law enforcement (or a security guard, or some shopkeeper who is trying to get them out of the store, or some passerby trying to get them out of running down the middle of the road in heavy traffic) tend to get even more aggressive and attack, and don't respond to the usual methods of being subdued like pepper spray or threat of arrest or being shot or anything. It can and and often does take 4 or 5 heavily trained policemen to get these guys out of danger. What has happened in the past is that these people continue to fight even when restrained in handcuffs, and then die of a sudden cardiac event most likely due to all the excitement and inability to calm down due to whatever drugs they are on. Over the years this has been well recognized and most sensible jurisdictions have rules such as "once handcuffed do not place in prone position" due to higher chances of these people dying from positional asphyxia.

      Anyways, back to the Taser thing. Taser for years and years have been saying that since these deaths can happen WITHOUT the use of a Taser, then it's reasonable to assume that their use had no bearing on whether or not the guy lived or died and he probably woulda died anyways because documented causes of people with excited delirium have and will continue to die under these circumstances. And what they are saying is true to a certain extent: If people die without it, then why would you expect its use specifically to be the sole cause of their death? This guy in this most recent case most certainly was in a crazed state and very well could have died without the use of the Taser: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2007/11/24/custody-death.html [www.cbc.ca]. But that doesn't mean that the use of the Taser even in these cases wasn't contributory in some way. That recent Vancouver airport case had negative toxicology as far as I know, so we can't blame drugs on that guy's death, though he was clearly agitated. But it's just very difficult to prove, even with this video evidence, that the death was caused directly by the taser. It's electrical current. It doesn't leave any pathology.

      Two jurisdictions in the States (Ohio and Chicago) have both attempted to certify deaths with "due to Taser" in the death certificate and both have been sued into submission. Taser has a huge lobby and has hired a number of physicists (not doctors) including this guy http://www.andcor.com/page/1/news_032206.jsp [andcor.com] to go around the country giving lectures on how Tasers won't cause death and certifying them otherwise will land you a big fat lawsuit.

      Anyways, it's a complicated issue, but in reference to your original question, excitation delirium is a state of agitation and occasionally extreme violence and paranoia usually brought on by stimulants and can commonly cause death in a mechanism not yet completely understood. Taser has been using it as an explanation for why people who have been Tasered go on to die for years. Hope that helps. The issue is extremely contentious and and very political at the moment.

      • by DancesWithBlowTorch (809750) on Sunday November 25, 2007 @05:26AM (#21469681)

        The issue is extremely contentious and and very political at the moment.
        You are right, but in this case it is not a bad thing for the discussion to be political. The question at hand is that, given we have seen several deadly uses of Tasers (i.e. uses where the subject died subsequently, without any other obvious causes, such as a drug overdose), and given the numerous leaked videos showing Tasers being used on already restrained victims, many people (including me) start to think that it was and is a bad idea to give Police the right to use Tasers.

        I think it's a psychological thing. There's no strong negative feedback to the person using the taser, there are no obvious marks being left on the victim, it is difficult for the victim to communicate just how painful the taser drive was to him, and the policemen consider the taser to be non-lethal. All that makes them highly likely to use tasers in situations where their use is entirely unnecessary.

        Working as an EMT several years ago, I have personally had to restrain people suffering from hypoglycaemia -- a state very similar to what might be called "excited delirium". In one case, it took five men to hold down a homeless woman so that we could give her the live-saving glucose injection. Nevertheless, we managed to do so without hurting or even bruising her. For us her behaviour was easily explained by her blood-sugar levels, but I imagine a policeman without medical training would have taken her to be aggressive and might have thought it a good idea to taser her -- which certainly wouldn't have helped, given that she was already horribly agitated. The situations where I think Tasers are justified get fewer every day. I think it's about time we take this things out of our police officers' hands.
  • by Silverlancer (786390) on Saturday November 24, 2007 @10:02PM (#21467023)
    Originally, tasers as used in law enforcement were conceived as an alternative to lethal force--why shoot someone when you can use nonlethal weaponry?

    Yet it has been proven over and over throughout history that whenever you give someone a nonlethal weapon, they're more likely to use them than a lethal weapon, even though its supposed to be a replacement for the lethal weapon.

    And not surprisingly, this has happened with tasers, too; police are using them in absurd circumstances, even in some cases when the subject did nothing beyond verbal defiance, and worse, in cases where someone was "acting suspicious", such as in a recent case where an Egyptian man was tasered on a bus without any provocation--yet these were supposed to be used as replacements for guns, not as general-purpose weapons to put down anyone who looks suspicious!
    • by steelfood (895457) on Saturday November 24, 2007 @10:19PM (#21467171)
      This will continue until tasers are given the same respect firearms have.

      Power is power, no matter the instrument. If you gave the same people nightsticks, they'd be just as likely to bludgeon someone to death. Give these people training, and they'll only bludgeon their victims to near-death or to whatever limits they're given within the law.

      What makes tasers particularly bad is that its range of effects are politicized; the desirable effects are emphasized, and the undesirable ones get swept under the rug. We know what a gun can do, and will likely do. We know what a club or knife or sword of flail can and will likely do. But not everyone knows that tasers can kill. This results in lax regulation of its use and the circumstances under which it can be used, which results in overuse, to sometimes very bad results.

      Regardless, even if tasers are acknowledged to be potentially fatal (though less so than a firearm), the human element of recklessly using power remains.
    • by owlstead (636356) on Saturday November 24, 2007 @10:23PM (#21467197)
      Just today, I saw someone attack a few police officers on TV. He was pretty strong, but he was hold to the ground by three police officers and was already starting to be out of breath. The fourth officer did not hold him back but got a taser. After tasering the guy everybody stood back, while the mad man was clearly reacting to the taser in a rather awfull way. Okay, so maybe at that time the police would have gotten away with it.

      Then before getting him in the vehicle, while he was still on the ground, the police tasered him *again*. Now that's just right of the scale. Completely unnecessary, just a knee-jerk rejection from somebody who is supposed to be a professional. Guys (and girls), don't get suckered into believing things like these do not constitute torture. Leaving somebody in the sun of 35C or more for longer periods of time is torture. Sleep derivation is torture. Loud music for long periods of time is torture.

      In the Netherlands, the guy who killed Pim Fortuin was kept into a cell with very bright lights and continuous camera surveillance. It was pretty clear what he had done, and he was in custody already. Of course he needed to get punished. But, as there was no intent by himself to commit suicide, and since he was not convicted yet, this simply amounts to torture. Unfortunately the current government likes to copy the US, so we are already waiting for the introduction of the taser. This in a country that has a rather low crime ratio compared to other western countries.
  • by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Saturday November 24, 2007 @10:04PM (#21467057) Homepage Journal
    That's a form of torture too and the kind of "non-lethal force" the police used to turn to. The only difference between beating someone with a baton and tasering them is that the officer using a taser doesn't have to be physically stronger than the victim (err, suspect), and suspects don't think they can fight back like they do against police using batons.
    • by NMerriam (15122) <NMerriam@artboy.org> on Saturday November 24, 2007 @10:16PM (#21467143) Homepage
      That's a form of torture too and the kind of "non-lethal force" the police used to turn to. The only difference between beating someone with a baton and tasering them is that the officer using a taser doesn't have to be physically stronger than the victim (err, suspect), and suspects don't think they can fight back like they do against police using batons.

      The critical difference is that when you beat someone with a baton, you leave bruises and other evidence of abuse. The reason police and militaries love tasers (and microwave radiation, electrical shocks, waterboarding, etc) is that they can go to town on anyone and it is the suspects' word against the cops' about how harshly they were treated. Perfectly healthy looking people are a lot less interesting to show on the news than folks with black eyes and broken arms.
  • Tin foil (Score:5, Funny)

    by Harmonious Botch (921977) * on Saturday November 24, 2007 @10:05PM (#21467065) Homepage Journal
    A hat is not enough; I'm going for full body coverage.
  • Good (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nexeruza (954362) on Saturday November 24, 2007 @10:05PM (#21467069)
    Good now maybe it will affect police department policy reguarding them. Remember back when tasers were first issued they were praised as being a non lethal way to stop a dangerous person. Instead of having to shoot a rake wielding drunk you could tase them instead. Now look at it's use today, if you even look at a cop wrong his hand travels towards it. So far removed from its initial purpose I hope this helps bring it back toward it's proper applications.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Jesus_666 (702802)
      The only way to introduce something as an alternative to a lethal weapon is to make the rules for lethal weapons apply to the thing. When a cop fires a gun at someone he should be in for some unpleasant paperwork even if the shot didn't hit (it does work like that in Germany). Likewise with a taser: When you tase someone you better be able to give a good reason for it or risk trouble over using unwarranted violence.
  • Corpral Punishment (Score:4, Insightful)

    by king-manic (409855) on Saturday November 24, 2007 @10:10PM (#21467097)
    It seems that police use it as a extra form or untraceable corporal punishment. It's meant to be used as a next to lethal last resort but increasingly it's just replaced "couple punches to the face with a phone book in between". Stories vary but often after a person has put up a fight the police subdue him and then taser them. or use the taser to subdue him but then give a couple of extra shock to show whose boss etc... I find the people to gravitate to or are allowed to be policemen in my city aren't much different then the thugs that watch the exit at bars nor the bullies on the play ground. Anecdotally, a athletic friend of mine who had a black belt was turned down for enrollment into the police academy because he "lack life experience" while an acquaintance who spent a year as a bouncer at a strip club got accepted.
  • by pcgamez (40751) on Saturday November 24, 2007 @10:24PM (#21467217)
    I find it very interesting that Taser International claims that the 150+ deaths that have occurred immediately after the person is shot with the Taser are not caused by the Taser. At the same time their website has pages (see below) of warnings about all the medical risks associated with being shot by a Taser (such as an increased risk of heart attack).

    http://www.taser.com/SiteCollectionDocuments/Controlled%20Documents/Warnings/LG-INST-CTZWARN-001%20REV%20E%20Citizen%20Warnings.pdf [taser.com]

    As other posters have already commented, it is not the Taser itself that is the problem, it is the use of it. If these were being used only in cases where a firearm would normally be used it is one thing. In that situation a small risk of death by Taser is acceptable when compared to the near certainty after being shot multiple times. But that is not what we are seeing. People are dying in situations where without the Taser they would not be seriously harmed....and that is what I have a problem with.
  • by 4D6963 (933028) on Saturday November 24, 2007 @10:29PM (#21467255)

    Things are going downhill with the UN calling tasering "torture". Because we don't torture, therefore, we don't taser. So let's call it something cooler, hipper, like "waterboarding". I'm waiting for suggestions.

  • 275? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Eddi3 (1046882) on Saturday November 24, 2007 @10:37PM (#21467335) Homepage Journal
    How do they figure 275 people being killed by tasers, when only 30 have been reported as such by the coroners? Where does this figure come from?
    • Re:275? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by pcgamez (40751) on Sunday November 25, 2007 @12:15AM (#21468021)
      IIRC, 275 have died immediately following being shot with a Taser. In at least 30 cases the coroner has stated that the Tasering was the cause. The problem is that there is almost no way to absolutely prove the Taser was the cause. If a person has a heart weakness that has been with them their entire lives and has never caused problems yet kills them after being hit with the Taser, what is the cause?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Eddi3 (1046882)
      I hate to reply to myself; However, I thought I'd also point out that, given the US' population is almost 10 times that of Canada [1], one would expect the US to have at least 10 times as many deaths from any specific cause, statistically. The article is trying to make the US sound so bad with 275 (unconfirmed) deaths, when even this number is still around the same percent of the general populace as Canada's 17 (confirmed) deaths.*

      * Also, keep in mind: There are only 30 confirmed reports of it in the US. 30
  • Why tasers are bad (Score:4, Interesting)

    by realdodgeman (1113225) on Saturday November 24, 2007 @10:56PM (#21467487) Homepage
    Tasers are supposed to be a replacement for guns. Instead is has become a replacement for "Stop!". I have seen videos of people been tased several times for not being able to show a drivers license. The US has become a weapon-loving country. Both the public and the police love guns. Here in Norway police don't even carry guns unless there is a case where the suspect has a gun or other equally dangerous weapon. We can keep it like this because most people don't have access to guns, and if they do it is mostly shotguns or rifles for hunting. We also have the lowest crime rate in the world here. Now don't come complaining about how we are a smaller country, because it doesn't matter (you could enforce it at a state level in the US). The biggest problem in the US now is that people are so used to having weapons, and of course that it is in the constitution (though people seem to have given up that anyway). Back on topic: Tasers would be okay if they are only used in dangerous situations (where people can get killed or seriously injured). But since they are not, it should be regulated if not banned.
  • Taser abuse (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JustNiz (692889) on Saturday November 24, 2007 @11:00PM (#21467511)
    While I think that using tasers can be a better idea than guns or nightsticks, you've only got to watch youtube videos and TV shows like Cops to see how much American police abuse their use.
    They seem far too quick to reach for the taser, and often use it as an immediate punishment for verbal non-compliance rather than to disable someone who is actually a physical threat.
    So much for free speech.
    They also regularly seem to shock the target continuously or multiple times sometimes rather than just administer enough to disable them.
    I think the US cops could learn a lot by working with the UK cops who often don't even carry weapons. They know how to deal with the same problems the US cops deal with, but by talking and using their heads instead of escalating the violence by attacking first.
  • Shocking! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ngarrang (1023425) on Saturday November 24, 2007 @11:02PM (#21467539) Journal
    So, let me get this straight. Incurring a sudden electrical shock in the human body, a system that is a delicate balance of electric current, can harm the body. Got it.
  • by Hangtime (19526) on Saturday November 24, 2007 @11:33PM (#21467737) Homepage
    a former deputy sheriff. Don't point a gun at something you don't mean to kill. In this case, a Taser is a GUN. The lack of regulation and procedures regarding their use is troubling. If the paperwork involved was half of what was needed after pulling a gun then the incidents of their use would go down.

    I believe a Taser is a safer and effective weapon, but should be respected just as much as a firearm when its drawn.
  • by tech10171968 (955149) on Saturday November 24, 2007 @11:43PM (#21467799)
    As someone who used to work in law enforcement (San Diego 1993-1997) I think I may be able to shed a little light on the subject. You see, in the academy you're taught a concept called "escalation of force" (some instructors may also call it "the force ladder"). What this means is that there exists different levels of force, starting with Vocal (basically shouting "Police! Stop what you are doing, NOW!") and ending with deadly force (your firearm). Between those extremes you have varying and increasing levels of force (baton/PR-24/Asp; pepper spay or mace; etc). Usually you want to step into a situation using a level of force sufficient enough to stop whatever situation you're facing, and in many (but not all) cases this usually means going one level above the force being used against you or the person you're protecting (I know what some of you are going to say about that but remember - it's not the officer's job to have a fair fight, it's his job to STOP the fight in its tracks). One of the issues is that not all agencies arm their officers with all the less-than-lethal options available to them. This can be a real problem because, for example, you can easily have an encounter where you come in using the lowest level of force but the situation escalates (thereby requiring the officer to also increase the level of force he's using). You can already see where this is headed - the fewer less-than-lethal alternatives an officer has at his disposal, the more quickly he ends up pointing a gun at someone. If anything, someone should tell the UN that actually BANNING tasers would be inhumane. Also, as some other posters have already pointed out, it's not that tasers themselves are that bad; the real problem is that now we have officers badly misusing tasers. I believe if academies did more to emphasize APPROPIATE usage of tasers (much like they do with firearms) then their usage wouldn't be so controversial.
  • by Mad-cat (134809) on Sunday November 25, 2007 @09:22AM (#21470547) Homepage
    Tasers have their proper use and proper place. Calling them torture is alarmist and absurd. They don't really hurt. I've been shot by my own Taser (in training), and while I would call it very unpleasant, I would not call it painful. It's like being sat on by a very heavy person and having all the air forcefully expelled out of your lungs. The itching afterwards is also very unpleasant.

    First, a Taser is not a non-lethal weapon. It's a less-lethal weapon, and should be treated as such. It cannot kill a normal person under normal circumstances, but people under the extreme influence of drugs (a state of excited delerium) can have their status exacerbated into one known as "aggravated delerium", which is almost 100% fatal.

    Using Tasers for "acting suspicious" is also absurd. They are designed and should be used as a weapon to stop imminent violence or flight. I have used mine three times in the line of duty.

    The first was a fighting suspect who had jabbed another officer in the stomach, and only had one handcuff on and was about to break loose. In this case, the wires broke and I had to chase him four blocks.

    The second was a 6'4" tall, very well built person, who had already broken my hold when I tried a non-violent handcuffing technique and took a swing at me. He promptly surrendered afterwards.

    The third bit me, kicked another officer, and broke the nose of my sergeant, a 24-year-veteran who has seen more street fights in real life than I've seen in movies. We tried everything before the use of the Taser, because of fears that the Taser could react with the drugs in his system. The only reason I used the Taser in this case is because if I had not, I would have had to shoot him. He successfully fought of six officers at once and was *attacking*, not trying to escape.

    If misused, the Taser can be torture. Properly used, it is a life-saver.

    Pepper spray, on the other hand, *is* torture. I flatly refuse to use it for any reason. It hurts like hell for hours, continues to burn for days, and lacks the stopping power of a less-lethal weapons like punching, using a baton weapon, or using a Taser.

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