Are Tasers Really Non-Lethal? Miami Skater Death Raises Questions

There have been 500 Taser-related deaths in the U.S between 2001 and 2012.

August 8, 2013— -- Seventeen year-old Israel Hernández-Llach of Miami died after a Miami Beach police officer shot him in the chest with a Taser on Tuesday morning. According to police reports, the teen was shot after he ran away from police who had caught him tagging a shuttered McDonald’s wall.

“The officers were forced to use the Taser to avoid a physical incident,’’ said Miami Beach Police Chief Ray Martinez, according the Miami Herald. The chief went on to say the department “would like to extend its condolences to the family of Israel Hernández.”

Tasers, made by Taser International in Arizona, have been promoted as a non-lethal weapon that helps law enforcement officials subdue suspects. It’s legal for consumers to own and carry Tasers in 43 states, and they are not considered firearms by the government. But there have been dozens of individuals in the U.S. who have died after being tasered by the gun that delivers powerful jolts of electricity through the human body.

Amnesty International counted 500 Taser-related deaths in the United States between 2001 and 2012.

The Miami medical examiner didn't rule on the cause of Hernández-Llach’s death after an autopsy Wednesday.

“Law enforcement’s tactics should reflect the level of danger in a situation,” read a statement from the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida sent to Fusion.

“The medical safety of allegedly-‘less-than-lethal’ Tasers is still being questioned, and without clear training and limitations, officers may use Tasers not because it is appropriate in a specific situation, but because it is the weapon available to them,” the ACLU of Florida statement continued. “ It’s unclear whether the use of a Taser was a justified response to a teen’s attempt to flee after being caught doing graffiti on an abandoned building, especially given that multiple officers were present and other techniques may have been sufficient in the situation.”

A study conducted by Douglas P. Zipes, a cardiologist at Indiana University, found Tasers can provoke heart problems after the initial shock of 50,000 volts of electricity.

"This study doesn't say that we should abandon using Taser devices, but it does show that users should exercise caution, avoid chest shocks and monitor the person after shock to ensure there are no adverse reactions," Zipes said in a university news release. "Taser users need to be prepared for the possibility of inducing sudden cardiac arrest in those stunned and have adequate medical knowledge in such situations.”

Still many city and state governments do not have strong regulations on how police use the weapon or how they collect data on incidents where a Taser was fired.

Some states lack basic regulations, in Connecticut for example legislation has been introduced to require the state to develop an internal policy would only issue Tasers to officers who receive standardized initial training and regular review training.

House Bill 6628, co-sponsored by Rep. Minnie Gonzalez that represents Hartford Connecticut, would also mandate that police document the use of Tasers in use-of-force reports, including the name of the officer, the race and gender of the person against whom the weapon was deployed, any injuries suffered by that subject and the number of times the weapon was activated.

Twelve people have died after being stunned by Tasers in Connecticut since 2005. Nine of them were black or Latino, according to the ACLU of Connecticut.

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