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Published: Friday, 6/16/2006

'Nonlethal' Tasers under federal scrutiny

FROM BLADE STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS

WASHINGTON - With more than 180 deaths in recent years among suspects subdued with stun guns, the government is taking a closer look at this law enforcement technique.

The review by the Justice Department, which will initially involve 30 such cases, follows the rapid growth in deployment of stun guns as a "nonlethal" alternative to bullet-firing weapons. The concern is about people who died after being shocked by the electronic control devices.

The department's research arm, the National Institute of Justice, said there have been 184 such deaths since 1986, the overwhelming majority since 2000. Amnesty International, which has called for a moratorium on stun gun use, says there have been roughly 160 deaths in the past five years.

The study will not look at whether the use of stun guns was appropriate, John Morgan, the institute's assistant director, said Wednesday.

Instead, researchers will make medical assessments of the 30 cases, which include deaths that were attributed to a stun gun and some in which authorities could not determine whether a stun gun caused or contributed to a death, he said.

Two deaths occurred in 1986, one in 1990, and the rest since 2000, Mr. Morgan added.

In the remaining 154 cases, stun guns were ruled out as a factor in the deaths, but the study could eventually include those deaths as well, he said.

"We hope this will help improve less-lethal technology generally," Mr. Morgan said.

A man died in Lucas County in January, 2005, after he was shocked with Tasers nine times over a three-hour period.

Jeffrey Turner was shocked five times outside the Toledo Museum of Art after Toledo police investigating a loitering complaint said he refused to identify himself or comply with officers' instructions.

Several hours later, he was shocked four more times after deputies said he became violent in the county jail.

Mr. Turner had a pre-existing heart condition, but Dr. James Patrick, the Lucas County coroner, ruled the Tasers contributed to his death, which was ruled a homicide.

The Toledo police officers and county sheriff's deputies who were involved were sued in January by the man's mother, Betty Turner.

Lucas County Sheriff James Telb said that since that incident deputies and jail employees no longer carry Tasers, and any people arriving at the county jail are taken to a hospital for examination if they have been shot with a stun gun.

"Yes, I think that the Taser use should be reviewed," Sheriff Telb said of the recent federal government decision to examine the matter.



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