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Taser: How it works — plus aftershocks in Federal Way

Mirror intern Josh
Mirror intern Josh 'No Flinch' Lynch takes a five-second Taser treatment from Det. Bill Skinner of the Federal Way Police Department.
— image credit: Jacinda Howard/The Mirror

Weapons such as extendable batons and pepper spray use pain as their motivator. But the Taser’s effectiveness, Federal Way Police Det. Bill Skinner said, is in how it actually debilitates a suspect.

The weapon fires two darts attached to insulated wires. Once both darts hit a target, a circuit is completed. The weapon then rapidly pulses up to 50,000 volts through a suspect for five seconds, disrupting their neuromuscular system and taking away control over movements.

As long as the darts are imbedded in the skin, the five-second shocks can be applied multiple times, as they were with Rickey Beaver (see accompanying article), with no lasting after-effects. Low amperage makes the high voltage charge non-lethal, although not pain-free. (Read Mirror reporter Jacinda Howard’s firsthand account of how it feels to be tased or watch it online at www.fedwaymirror.com.)

Taser International training documents instruct officers to use a Taser only to stop a suspect — not to physically coerce them.

Taser's aftershock

Increased use of Tasers at agencies around the world has led to claims of excessive use of force — and even wrongful death. Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union regularly decry the use of the weapons.

The blog called "Truth…Not Tasers" keeps a list of people it says have died in Canada and the U.S. since 2001 after being tased. Its count stands at more than 375, including William Jobe, a Federal Way man who died Nov. 9, 2006, after being tased by a FWPD officer. Jobe’s mother called police when he began having violent hallucinations after consuming alcohol and medication not prescribed for him. Jobe received severe lacerations on his arms after breaking a window. He was tased and then physically restrained by officers. Jobe died two days later.

While no lawsuit was filed in Jobe’s death, Taser International itself has faced 75 product liability cases in recent years. Up until summer 2008, the company had either won all of the cases in court, earned dismissals or settled with the plaintiffs.

But a jury in California attributed 15 percent of Robert Heston’s death to repeated Taser applications in a decision announced June 6. Heston’s wife was awarded more than $6 million in damages, marking the first time Taser International had lost in court.

Taser International’s in-house legal team has since filed several post-trial motions against the Heston decision. But the case isn’t the only one facing the company, which is currently named as a defendant in 38 more lawsuits.

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