Taser Maker Says Device Has Been Law Enforcement 'Game Changer'

PHOTO: Rick Smith, who founded Taser International with his brother Tom Smith, takes "Nightline" through a tour of the companys Scottsdale, Ariz., manufacturing facility.
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The founders of Taser International Inc. say they developed their version of the Taser as a safe form of protection, but since the wide release of their product, the Arizona-based company has become a magnet for dozens of lawsuits and controversy.

"There have been years where our litigation budget has been higher than our research," said founder Rick Smith. "You hear about the cases, but what you don't hear about is all the cases it avoids."

Just this week, a lawsuit that includes Taser International was filed in Albemarle County, Va., and claimed a deputy was responsible for a man's death after shooting him with a Taser during a traffic stop last year.

Roughly every three minutes, someone somewhere in the world gets Tased -- and that's just by law enforcement. It doesn't include the countless numbers of people who shock their friends for kicks and post the videos on YouTube, or even the comedic scenes from the likes of "The Hangover," "South Park" and "Nurse Jackie."

"The whole reason we started this company is we wanted to get people to stop killing each other," Smith said. "In order to do that, you know, you have to take some steps that are sometimes not pleasant."

Smith and his brother, Tom Smith, founded Taser International in the early '90s, after two friends were shot to death in a road rage incident and their mother started to worry about her own safety.

"She tried pepper spray, she tried stun guns, ended up buying a Doberman pinscher," Tom Smith said. "We kind of looked at that and said, 'We can put man on the moon, but the way people fundamentally defend themselves is the way we fought the Revolutionary War.'"

The brothers tracked down an ex-NASA scientist, Jack Cover, who invented the first TASER or the "Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle," in the 1970s. Then, using parts from Ace Hardware, they modified it for a broader market.

The first time they tried to sell their device at a police convention, a tough-as-nails Marine named Hans Marrero volunteered to see what it could do.

"I shot him with an air Taser and he stood there and had a conversation with me," Rick Smith said. "He said, 'Sir, this is very painful, most people would be on the ground right now,' and the whole audience is laughing."

The duo worked out the bugs and invited Marrero back to try it a second time. That was when the laughing stopped.

"He stood up and he said, 'This is amazing. You know I have killed people in my career and it's because I had to, and this is a game changer,'" Rick Smith said.

The Taser uses compressed air to shoot out its electric panels, which send 50,000 volts of electricity down two wires and into the body through straightened fish hooks. With a good connection, the electricity painfully confuses the body's central nervous system until the trigger is released, causing those hit with it to lose all control of their motor functions.

When police departments started buying them, it only took about a decade for Taser International to grow from a garage-run operation into a multi-billion dollar company. The company now has retina scanners at its front door and an atrium inspired by "Star Wars" at its Scottsdale, Ariz., headquarters.

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