Officials Cite Taser as a Factor In 153 Deaths

Reuters obtained autopsy reports in 712 deaths involving Tasers since the early 2000s. One-fourth of those who died were suffering from a mental health breakdown or neurological disorder.

The family of Tom Schrock won a $500,000 settlement from the city of Ontario, Ca., after he died following a shot from a Taser. As thousands of police forces have embraced Tasers, the outlines of the case have grown familiar: a Taser shot, an unintended death, a damage claim. The episode’s nuances — a mentally ill victim, a complex death investigation, a debate over the weapon’s use — tell a deeper story, Reuters reports. Reuters documented 1,005 incidents in the U.S. in which people died after police stunned them with Tasers since the early 2000s.  A quarter of the people who died were suffering from a mental health breakdown or neurological disorder. In nine of every 10 incidents, the deceased was unarmed. More than 100 of the fatal encounters began with a 911 call for help during a medical emergency.

A review of more than 400 of the fatal encounters indicates Tasers were the only form of force allegedly used by police in about one in four of the cases. The rest involved both Tasers and other forms of force. Most independent researchers agree deaths are rare when Tasers are used properly. No government agency tracks fatalities in police incidents where Tasers are used. Autopsies are not public in some states. Coroners and medical examiners use varying standards to assess a Taser’s role in a death. Taser International has insisted for years that its weapons are almost never to blame when someone dies after being stunned. Almost always, the company says, those deaths result from drug use, underlying physiological conditions such as heart problems, or other police force used along with the Taser. Reuters obtained autopsy findings for 712 of the 1,005 deaths it documented. In 153 cases, or more than a fifth, the Taser was cited as a cause or contributing factor in the death.