Guest Commentary: Taser Use Resulting In Unnecessary Deaths

Police-Taser-Suspectby Antoinnette Borbon

Back a couple of weeks ago, the Vanguard sat in on a case where Woodland police officers had responded to a domestic violence call. During the call, dispatch made it abundantly clear the suspect had no weapons on his person. Deputy Public Defender Joseph Gocke was defending the man, who faced felony charges involving great bodily injury and child endangerment.

Despite the information passed via dispatch radio that the suspect did not have a weapon on his person, officers entered the home believing he did. The suspect was holding his one-and-one-half-year-old baby on his right hip. He and his girlfriend had an argument and he had attempted to take the baby with him as he tried to leave the residence.

When a police sergeant arrived on the scene, he pled with the suspect to give the baby to his mother. The suspect stated he would give him to anyone but her. After warning him a few times to give the toddler to his mother, the Woodland police sergeant advised the suspect that he was going to Taser him.

Still, officers could not get the man to comply, so the sergeant decided to Taser him. He immediately fell to the ground and the toddler was taken out of his grip.

Thankfully, the child was not hurt in this incident.

It raises yet another concern of safety for human life, both the suspect’s and his child.

Many times an officer has no idea of a person’s mental health or level of intoxication from drugs and alcohol. What about a person’s medical conditions? How is it safe to assume those answers?

Critics have argued that Tasers and other high-voltage devices can cause cardiac arrhythmia in susceptible subjects, possibly leading to heart attack or death within minutes of being Tased.

Even though Tasing may not be the entire cause of death in a person being Tased, it may be a contributing factor that significantly heightens the risk of death. In most fatal cases, a person dies within minutes of Tasing but reports have revealed death can occur a day later, up to a few days later after Tasing.

In several noted cases resulting in death, police officers had repeatedly Tased a suspect even after they had gained control of him/her.

Supporters of the Taser device claim it is a more effective way of controlling a person than a baton, hand-gun or pepper spray. However, supporters state that it is a “less-lethal,” not “non-lethal,” means of use.

By 2006, 180 deaths were reported from the use of Tasers.

The U.S. Justice Department claimed the majority of those Tased were not injured, however the head of Amnesty International, Jared Feuer, reported that 277 people had died after being Tased.

The most troubling part is, “80% of those were unarmed.”

One of law enforcement’s own, in Las Vegas, suffered serious injury during a training course with Tasers. Another 70 reported deaths occurred in 2004 and in 2005, including a man who was Tased while in a hyperglycemic shock. Police officers claimed he was a security threat.

In 2006, an elderly woman, wheelchair-bound, died after 10 Taser shocks.

Probably most disturbing was to learn about a visiting judge in a lawsuit against Summit County Ohio Medical Examiner Lisa J. Kohler, who had cited three deaths due to Tasering. Lisa was ordered by the judge to remove all Taser words from her autopsy reports on the three men, and to rule the deaths “undetermined” rather than “homicide.”

Unbelievable, right? But, as the years pass, the number of deaths by Taser increase.

Although the Woodland police sergeant testified in the preliminary hearing that he felt the man holding his child may have had a weapon, no such statement was ever made during the dispatch radio communications.

Some argue it to be the safest way to gain control of a suspect. But what if a person happens to be ill, medically or mentally, and on medications?

How can an officer assume the welfare of an individual? The reality is, it is often too late to think about the consequences of his/her Tasing a suspect. And often the police officers’ excessive use of a Taser goes without reprimand.

Adding to the grave danger of Tasing is the inhumane factor. Electric shock prods have been used to get sheep and cattle moving again, as herders move a flock or herd from one place to another, not on humans. It bears a strong likeness to torture on both humans and animals.

Amnesty International has had an ongoing battle trying to make the use of Tasing banned in Canada and the quest is spreading with other supporters.

The Vanguard spoke with a Woodland police officer who stated, “I agree Tasing can be dangerous but you just have to use good judgment, caution when you arrive on scene. I would rather use a form of wrestling in order to gain control – it has been most effective and completely safe. If more officers used these techniques instead of reaching for the Taser gun, situations would be less dangerous for all of us.”

Although, he added, “there is also the what if’s, what if you didn’t use it and a suspect got away and hurt someone, killed people, it’s just a tough call all around.”

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  1. Tia Will

    When a police sergeant arrived on the scene, he pled with the suspect to give the baby to his mother. The suspect stated he would give him to anyone but her. After warning him a few times to give the toddler to his mother, the Woodland police sergeant advised the suspect that he was going to Taser him.”

    Thanks for the article Antoinette.

    Incredible if accurate as presented. A police officer demands that the baby be handed to the mother in a domestic disturbance call without finding out the full circumstances, so presumably without knowing who is the endangering party, the mother, or the father. And this demand is being maintained despite the presence of a clearly safe adult on site to care for the infant, namely the officer himself and the expressed willingness of the man to hand the infant over to “anyone but the mother”. Or how about the obviously safe alternative of asking the father to place the infant on a safe surface and step away ? So the officer renders the individual holding the infant incapacitated without regard to the safety of the infant during the time of incapacitation ?

    Is this the kind of reasoning, de escalation and determination of safe alternatives that we expect of our police officers ?

    1. Biddlin

      “? So the officer renders the individual holding the infant incapacitated without regard to the safety of the infant during the time of incapacitation ?

      Is this the kind of reasoning, de escalation and determination of safe alternatives that we expect of our police officers ?”

      That’s the caliber of officers we get, when we require more physical than mental prowess of candidates. A G.E.D. and military training qualify one to serve on most police departments and candidates who test too high intellectually are eliminated in the first cut, leaving  officers with  90-110 IQs.

      Sorry to say that I see this sort of stupid meanness play out almost daily, because cops are allowed to operate with virtual impunity, leaving civilians to be victims of the cops’ personality disorders.

      1. hpierce

        Well, in Wisconsin, 90-110 puts you in the uber-genius category… just kidding… but seriously, the cite looks to me to be a master’s thesis, written by someone whose “creds” are unknown to me, so I discount it as any sort of evidence.

        Oh, and there is little/no correlation between IQ and personality disorders, except, perhaps, at the very highest or very lowest IQ’s…

        1. Biddlin

          Laugh, until some over-zealous low brow decides you don’t respect his “authority” and tases you, or worse, to get “compliance.” . Giving these “less than gifted” officers’ tendency to be “action” oriented, as opposed to “reasoning,” that possibility is all too real. With at least 48 deaths from tasing, many times applied while suspects are in restraints and in cells, and cops claiming to “mistake” their guns for their tasers, I think the weapon’s non-lethal label  is questionable, at best, in the hands of the obviously unskilled and possibly under-trained cops.

          83 year-old tased multiple times. A Brooklyn family is suing the city after an 86-year-old man claims he was wrongfully tased by police.

          Police came to John Antoine’s Crown Heights home after receiving a 911 call regarding a potentially suicidal 23-year old believed to the boyfriend of Antoine’s granddaughter.


          It brought officers up the three flights and to Antoine’s front door, which was wide open because he thought his wife was coming up, CBS2’s Dave Carlin reported. According to Antoine, officers came to the kitchen where he was making soup and used a taser on him.


          “He tased me twice first here and on my leg,” Antoine said. Antoine also said he was kicked in the stomach.


          Police said Antoine refused to drop a “large kitchen knife,” that he was holding at the time, and commended the officer for using what the department calls “intelligent restraint.”


          Antoine was charged with criminal possession of a weapon, menacing and harassment.


          “To think that police are just breaking into an individual’s area of residence, and not knowing a description, not knowing an age,”” Scott Rynecki, Antoine’s attorney .said


          Antoine, a retired pipe-fitter, said he has never had any contact with police before, and he only had a knife because he was cutting onions for the soup he was making.


          “I cannot sleep at night, all the time thinking of what was done to me,” he said.


          The initial call made by an officer who was contacted by a third party about a potentially suicidal young man states:


          DISPATCHER: “Any idea how old he is?


          OFFICER: “He’s 23 years old.”


          The call was for a man believed to be the boyfriend of Antoine’s granddaughter.


          There was no comment made on the alleged mistaken identity. Antoine’s family is also pushing for the Brooklyn District Attorney to investigate the incident as a civil rights violation.


          Thought It Was My Taser. An unarmed man, Eric Harris, ran from the police in Tulsa Oklahoma on April 2, 2015. After he was shot in the back by a Taser by one officer and was on the ground, another 73 year old volunteer reserve officer shot and killed him. The police said the officer thought he was shooting his Taser and “inadvertently discharged his service weapon.”

          Sorry, but stupid cops with high-tech weapons is the formula to produce the wholesale mayhem we are witnessing, now.

        2. hpierce

          To be clear, I question/disagree with:

          That there is rampant use of selection processes that select for “mediocre” police officers.

          That IQ tests are an appropriate measure of judgement/”smarts”.  Hell, we no longer use those for assessing whether someone is qualified for “GATE”.

          That TASER’s are inherently non-lethal.

          That a police sergeant used good judgement in not exploring taking the apparent offer to give the child over to anyone other than the mother… that was “ill-considered”, in my opinion… assuming the account given is in fact true, my gut would tell me that the right answer, in the moment, would have to have the ‘perp’ hand the child over to one of the other officers, and then ‘sort out’ the other issues.

          I thought the first rule, even in military ops is to separate combatants from non-combatants.  But, I’ve never been in the military, so I may be wrong…

          Biddlin, I wasn’t “laughing” at the situation… there is a gene that runs in my family, to defuse controversy, discount blanket statements with a dollop of humor.  Apparently, that tended to incense you.  Je suis desolee.




        3. Biddlin

          No worries, I’m no more incensed than I was when I realized US cops are a bigger threat to a civilian’s life and limb than the “criminals” they allege to protect us from, that they are among the biggest gluttons at the public trough and that they lie as a matter of procedure. No more than when I discovered that they no longer respond to residential vandalism calls,”unless the suspects are still on scene.”, but come running code three to threaten the homeowner, with arrest for taking his  protection into his own hands,where the lazy first desponders have left it. That anyone believes the “few bad apples” nonsense is sadly comical. The “profession” is rotten, from “good men” looking the other way when brother officers crossed the line. Today they are all on the wrong side of the line, not just the blatant thugs, though there are plenty of those, but everyone who didn’t stop his partner from beating a suspect after a chase to “tune him up,” everyone who didn’t report a colleague’s abusive treatment of a spouse or cohabitant, everyone who didn’t report their partners drug/alcohol abuse. People think I’m joking when I say “fire ’em all and hire your own..” but I’m serious.

    2. Antoinnette

      I agree, Tia. Yes, this information  is accurate according to the death cases around the nation. There are so many tragic cases to list but hopefully more supporters against the device will speak out.


      Always appreciate your thoughts,  insight!


  2. Davis Progressive

    the biggest problem with tasers is that they have been billed an “non-lethal” weapons, and yet, they can be lethal.  because they are billed as such, cops are willing to use them in situations that they would never use a gun.  that’s a problem.

      1. Davis Progressive

        my point was in a lot of cases, they have been uses in situations where no one would ever dream of using a gun.  and so at times they are not simply a less-lethal alternative to a gun, they are a more lethal alternative to another tool.

    1. Davis Progressive

      i believe antoinnette has said she’s a republican, fyi.

      but regardless, i don’t want perfection.  there is no such thing.  i want to improve tactics and accountability when things go wrong.

    2. Biddlin

      How about accountability?

      How about expecting the “best” and accepting nothing less than “good?”

      How about training the recruits in basic civility, instead of “command voice?”

      Perfection? No, not nearly, just the criteria for keeping most jobs, though.

      Stupidity is the enemy of truth.



  3. Antoinnette

    Thsnks, DP..


    @Frankly, nothing to do with liberalism,  everything to do with the safety of human life. There are numerous deaths from this device.

    I felt it an extremely important issue to talk about on many levels.

    I believe it has not only proven to be deadly,  dangerous but inhumane.

    While I do share the concern of law officers. But as he put it,”using good judgment,” and other safer means may be best.

    Perhaps the fear and adrenaline when entering an unsafe situation causes some to react quickly, reaching for the taser, but it’s specific to the officer, I  imagine.

    I would like to see different techniques used and of course more training on assessment of the situation. Anything to stop or prevent misuse, injury and/or death.

    Btw…DP, I’m actually weighing towards Bernie




    1. Barack Palin

      A lot of young people are gravitating to Sanders.  I saw one report last night that stated 90% of young voters were voting for him.  I guess it’s all the free crap that attracts them.  What this tells me is that sometime in the future our country is headed to Socialism.  I never would’ve thought it after the downfall of Russia and all the poor Socialist states around the world.   The future doesn’t look too bright.

      1. Tia Will


        A lot of young people are gravitating to Sanders.  I saw one report last night that stated 90% of young voters were voting for him.  I guess it’s all the free crap that attracts them.”

        My son and daughter would certainly disagree with that. Both are Sanders supporters, and both are strongly believe in individual responsibility and obligation to care for themselves, but also to contribute to the well being of our society including a basic belief in equality.

        And it is not just the young folks. I do not believe that I could be honestly accused of taking advantage of “all the free crap”, and yet I also am leaning heavily towards Sanders since my preferred candidate, Elizabeth Warren, declined to run.

        What this tells me is that sometime in the future our country is headed to Socialism.”

        I certainly hope that you are correct in your assessment of the US heading towards democratic socialism. You do not seem to make any distinction between communism, socialism, and democratic socialism in your posts. I therefore do not know if you do not consider there to be a difference or if you simple do not acknowledge the difference and the differing implications for societies in your posts.

    2. Biddlin

      Hopefully you’re writing him in, with your usual attention to detail, though I believe the retired NHL right-winger, that should grab Frankly’s attention, was born in Quebec, Canada, making him ineligible, unless I’m mistaken, lol.

  4. Tia Will


    Liberals want perfection in law enforcement.”

    I am about as liberal as you are likely to find and along with DP, I do not believe in perfection. What I want is continuous improvement, and that I believe is possible.

  5. Tia Will


    I completely agree with you that this is an important issue. I see the use of a taser as a possible opportunity for harm reduction as compared to the use of a gun as BP pointed out. However, the availability of a taser should never be justification for the use of less adversarial approaches….. and I certainly see ( if the account is accurate) plenty of less dangerous alternatives that the police officer could have chosen…..I gave two examples and hpierce suggested a third assuming other officers were present.

  6. Tia Will


    The line of the second line of my 11:30 post should have read:

    “However, the availability of a taser should never be justification for the failure to use less adversarial approaches….”

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