Taser Responds to New Times Investigation, Denies Blame for Abuse

This morning, New Times published a yearlong investigation into Taser abuse committed by local cops. Among our findings: Miami's three major police departments have tasered more than 3,000 people in less than eight years. Eleven men -- including teenager Israel "Reefa" Hernandez -- have died after being stunned. Local cops have tasered kids as young as six, as well as the mentally ill. In at least one instance, a Miami Police officer secretly tasered a homeless man and never reported it.

Taser International, however, argues that its stun-guns are safe and that the company is not to blame for such abuse.

"TASER does not determine when a TASER weapon is used as this is determined by use of force policies set forth by law enforcement agencies in which force must meet Constitutional standards for force," says Steve Tuttle, the company's vice president of strategic communications. "TASER weapons have proven to save lives and dramatically reduce injuries to suspects and officers."

See also: Miami Cops Misuse Tasers, With Deadly Results

Here is Taser's response to our request for comment. New Times questions are in bold.

How many American law enforcement agencies currently use Tasers?


Do any federal law enforcement agencies use Tasers?

Nearly all federal law enforcement agencies deploy TASER brand devices (one exception is the FBI).

How many times were Tasers used last year by American law enforcement agencies? Or, on average, how many times are they used per day by these agencies?

TASER devices are use approximately 904 times per day.

Field Use/Suspect Applications: 2,305,000 ± 2% (as of December 24, 2014)

Training/Voluntary Applications: 1,351,891 ± 7% (as of Dec 31, 2012)

Total: 3.6 million+ uses

More than 135,500 people have been saved from potential death or serious injury using TASER® devices.

How many foreign law enforcement agencies use Tasers?

TASER weapons are deployed in 107 countries.

According to my investigation, Miami's three main police departments - Miami Police, Miami-Dade Police and Miami Beach Police - have used their Tasers 3,060 times in less than eight years. That is a rate of more than once per day. Several civil rights experts and police watchdog groups argue that this rate is excessive. Are Miami police overusing their Tasers?

That is up to courts to decide and TASER as a company is not a use of force expert.

Tasers were introduced in Miami with the argument that they would reduce deadly shootouts and save lives -- a claim recited on your company's website. Yet, fatal police-involved shootings in Miami have risen since the introduction of Tasers (even as crime and violent crime have fallen).

TASER has never stated that TASER weapons are a replacement for firearms as deadly force is deadly force. TASER weapons are considered "intermediate weapons" by US courts. TASER weapons can stop uses of force in some cases from escalating to deadly force in some circumstances. Perhaps you can review what former Miami Chief Timoney said about their TASER experience.

According to Amnesty International, more than 540 people have died in the United States after being hit with a Taser. Amnesty International also says that in more than 60 of these deaths, a coroner has cited Taser as a cause of death or contributing factor. By my account, at least 11 Miami men have died in the past eight years after being Tasered. Five have died after being Tasered in the past 16 months.

How many were listed as caused or contributory to TASER use?

Is your company troubled by these deaths?

Any death is of concern but note that 90% of the 540 that Amnesty cites were not listed by coroners or medical examiners as contributed or caused by TASER weapons.

Taser International used to call its devices "non lethal." Does your company still consider its products "non lethal"?

We use the term "less lethal" as that is the term for "intermediate weapons" in the lexicon of law enforcement. We use non-lethal in the military community as that is the terminology used by the military for non-deadly force. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) uses the term non-lethal and that is still used by numerous college programs in the U.S. and U.K. to describe "Non-Lethal Weapons" studies. DOD policy defines non-lethal weapons as "weapon systems that are explicitly designed and primarily employed so as to incapacitate personnel or materiel, while minimizing fatalities, permanent injury to personnel, and undesired damage to property and the environment..."

It is important to note that Department of Defense policy does not require or expect non-lethal weapons "to have a zero probability of producing fatalities or permanent injuries." Rather, non-lethal weapons are intended to significantly reduce the probability of such fatalities or injuries as compared with traditional military weapons which achieve their effects through the physical destruction of targets -- Joint Concept for Non-lethal Weapons, United States Marine Corps

One case that I mention in my article is the Aug. 6, 2013 death of 18-year-old Israel Hernandez in Miami Beach. Earlier this year, his death was the first in Florida to be officially attributed to Taser-use by a medical examiner. Does Taser admit that, in rare cases, its products can be lethal?

TASER International is always concerned when a death tragically occurs in custody and mourns the loss of a life. We do not comment, however, on an unfortunate death without having been provided any factual documentation by the medical examiner or the opportunity to review the autopsy report.

Given Taser-related deaths such as Hernandez's, several national civil rights groups have called for police departments to limit their use of Tasers to life-threatening situations. Is Taser in favor of that limitation?

Courts recognize that TASER weapons are "intermediate force." Deadly forced is deadly force as well in courts. Limiting the use of TASER above intermediate force will endanger officers and suspects alike to more injuries by going back to the Stone Age with baton strikes and K-9s. TASER weapons have proven to save lives and dramatically reduce injuries to suspects and officers.

In other words, given documented cases of Taser use resulting in the deaths of otherwise healthy, normal adults, does your company believe that uses of these weapons should be curtailed? If so, how? Should Tasers be used to stop people fleeing from police if they are suspected of misdemeanors, for instance?

In what document do you have that any death involving a TASER weapon was used upon occurred "in the deaths of otherwise healthy, normal adults?"

Should they be used on suspects who resist arrest without violence?

TASER does not determine when a TASER weapon is used as this is determined by use of force policies set forth by law enforcement agencies in which force must meet Constitutional standards for force.

Is Taser in favor of national guidelines regulating the use of its products?

If a national guideline for force is introduced it should include all uses of force including batons, K-9s, chemical/pepper sprays, impact munitions are included.

My investigation has uncovered at least one instance in which a Miami cop used his Taser (in its drive-stun setting) on a homeless man in a secretive and vindictive fashion. The homeless man was stunned four times but never arrested. In fact, the officer did not fill out a report or tell his supervisors of the use of force. The only reason the incident was reported at all was because a civilian witnessed it.

All TASER weapons sold are about safety, effectiveness and accountability including a dataport microchip that records at minimum the date, time and duration of its deployments to serve as a neutral observer in the event of a he said/she said incident.

Obviously, Taser has transparency systems in place such as the electronic data stored on each device. Given that this incident was so easily covered up by the officer in question -- his superiors never reviewed his Taser log -- does Taser International have concerns over its weapons being secretly abused by police officers?

Any misuse of force is concern which is on reason we built so much accountability into our TASER weapons including the option of a TASER Cam recorder as well as providing body-worn cameras to be proactive in transparency.

Is your company aware of any other instances in which an American police officer has been caught secretly using his or her Taser?

Not that I can recall off the top of my head and given your deadline.

Are there are any further measures that Taser is taking or could take to prevent such secret police taserings?

TASER is at the forefront in providing accountability and no other law enforcement weapon system provides a camera option or our built-in capability to record the time, date and duration of its uses.

Does your company share blame for such instances of Taser abuse?


Finally, Taser has recently been at the forefront of efforts to equip American law enforcement officers with body cameras. Although this effort is applauded by civil rights groups, the families of some killed by Tasers are upset. They claim that Taser International is now, in effect, profiting of the abuse of its own products. Please comment.

We revolutionized law enforcement by putting cameras on TASER weapons in 2005 and creating body-worn cameras in 2009. Our efforts have resulted in better policing with a drop in complaints by up to 88% and reducing use of force up to 59% (see attached Cambridge University study and others) which has made communities safer while providing a return on the investment for the cities.

Based on a blind study by Cambridge University at the Rialto Police Department in California, and a white paper from one of the largest law firms in California, the savings from complaint reductions alone paid for the entire Rialto program's first year cost within 90 days. Put another way, the complaint reductions alone saved $4 for every $1 spent on the AXON program, including EVIDENCE.com costs. This return on investment will grow even higher in the next phase of the study when they start to take account of the 59% reduction in use of force injuries, the related savings in officers being injured in those incidents, and the reductions in overtime for officers appearing in court (video is causing more suspects to accept a plea bargain rather than litigating).

Send your tips to the author, or follow him on Twitter @MikeMillerMiami.

Follow Miami New Times on Facebook and Twitter @MiamiNewTimes.

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.