More Than Just a Few Volts?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

They say cocaine doesn't mix well with alcohol and other drugs. Now we can add tasers to the list:

A forensic pathologist says she couldn't tell whether police use of a Taser contributed to the death of 44-year-old Robert Bagnell in Vancouver more than two years ago.

Bagnell died after he was restrained and Tasered by police as they tried to remove him from a bathroom at a Granville Street hotel in June 2004.

Dr. Laurel Gray told a coroner's inquest on Tuesday that Bagnell had four times the lethal level of cocaine in his blood, and had also taken amphetamines.

She also told the inquest that she found a series of 13 red marks on Bagnell's body - most of them in pairs about two centimetres apart.

The pathologist said she could not tell whether the marks were caused by a police Taser.
A police account of the fatal incident states that officers applied a Taser twice, and that Bagnell continued to struggle after being hit by the Taser.

Gray said if the Taser caused the cardiac arrest, Bagnell's heart would have stopped immediately after the 50,000 volts of electricity were applied.

The Bagnell family has launched a lawsuit against the Vancouver Police Department, the officers involved and the maker and distributor of the Taser, with the hope of getting the device banned in British Columbia.
The debate concerning the use of tasers by police is continuing to intensify now that another suspect has died after receiving the nasty jolt. Advocates for the use of tasers maintain that they are non-lethal devices that help officers subdue unruly suspects who would otherwise be subjected to greater injury with a more punishing weapon.

Human Rights groups such as Amnesty International opposes such devices and claims that they have been responsible for more than 90 deaths in the United States and Canada alone. Surely they will be following this particular story and fuel the anti-taser movement.

If tasers alone are in fact brining out fatal results, its use by police needs to be seriously questioned. However all too often those killed after being tased were found with lethal amounts of drugs in their system. After all, it's only logical that someone who needs to be tased in order to be subdued was under a chemical influence.

Cocaine, a stimulant that can make users aggressive and uncharacteristically strong, puts an unhealthy amount of a stress on the heart that is only worsened when accompanied by 50,000 volts of electricity.

Supporters of the device would say consuming illegal drugs is something you do at your own risk and the threat such users face should not outweigh the positive effects of tasers. Agencies worldwide tout the success of the device, and one study found that the presence of a taser alone is enough to convince a criminal to surrender for fear of getting shocked.

I have yet to draw my own conclusion on the use of tasers. I've never been confronted by a belligerent thug set on causing my great harm - and well, if a taser can be used instead of a gun, I think they serve a vital purpose.