Taser to the Chest Capable of Causing Death

According to a study published in “Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association,” the amount of voltage produced by a stun gun or Taser when applied to the chest, is capable of causing cardiac arrest. These findings are the result of a small probe into eight cases involving the use of a stun gun which resulted in universal loss of consciousness and the death of all but one individual. Information used in the study was collected from law enforcement, data from Tasers and defibrillators, autopsy results and sworn testimony.

These findings come as a follow-up to speculative concerns over the use of Taser guns by law enforcement in light of their classification as “non-lethal” weapons exempting them from regulation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. According to Indiana University School of Medicine’s Douglas P. Zipes, M.D., the threshold capacity of external defibrillators used to stimulate an electrical response during a cardiac incident is equivalent to the voltage discharge of the Taser X26 used by police officers in the line of duty. Dr. Zipes’ study highlights concerns expressed earlier this year by Amnesty International, who released their own findings linking 500 American deaths since 2001 to the use of Tasers.

In a recent interview for Heartwire News, Ohio State University’s Dr. Michael Sayre substantiated the fact that Dr. Zipes’ study is the first to succinctly present considerable evidence that the voltage from a Taser is capable of inducing ventricular fibrillation resulting in death. This is particularly true when the voltage is applied within the thoracic area. Like Dr. Sayre, Dr. Zipes admits that not every death that occurs after a Taser shock can conclusively be linked to a cardiac event due solely to the effects of the stun gun. Other variables can certainly be involved. The overall health of the victim at the time of death and the presence of toxicity due to amphetamine abuse could both have an impact on how an individual’s body is affected by Taser voltage. Dr. Zipes does note, however, that all of the eight victims studied were in good health prior to being tased.

Dr. Zipes’ data was collected during the course of several litigations arising from the seven deaths which occurred after the victims had been tased. Combined with previous animal studies and the results of his own research, Zipes’ findings have been peer-reviewed, and found to reputably support the contention that stun guns are capable of causing ventricular fibrillation, which in some cases, can lead to death.

In response to Dr. Zipes ‘s published findings, Tazer International has issued a public statement decrying the reliability of his study because of a conflict of interest arising from the doctor’s monetary gain as an expert witness against the use of Tasers. However, the study’s credibility as a result of its peer review, together with Taser’s Vice President of Communications, Steve Tuttle’s carefully worded statement emphasizing the importance of Tasers being “deployed reasonably,” appears to open the door to closer scrutiny of their use.

While Dr. Zips emphasizes that his study is not intended to attack law enforcement, his findings suggest the importance of avoiding the use of stun guns aimed at the chest area as well as the consideration of employing an external defibrillator on individuals who may develop an arrhythmia and/or lose consciousness after being tased.