The numbers of deaths associated with police usage of Tasers continues to skyrocket. Of those, the numbers deemed unnecessary due to the misunderstanding over the level of force that it represents also is outrageously high. The San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is calling on city legislators to implement a ban on officers from using them except as a last alternative to firing a gun. “Although a stun gun that delivers an electric jolt is "less deadly than a traditional firearm, it is hardly the non-lethal weapon its manufacturer promotes under the slogan, 'Saving Lives Everyday,' " said the ACLU's Mark Schlosberg, author of a 25-page report that criticizes police departments for having few regulations on the use of such weapons.

This realignment of deployment parameters would fly in the face of Patrick W. Smith, President of Taser International and his continuing attempt to get his product used as “early and often” as possible in a majority of police / public confrontations. The report harshly claims that most Taser deploying departments have relied too heavily on what they were informed through advertising and marketing by Mr. Smith. The ACLU said it would take its report to the state Legislature, which narrowly defeated a proposal to restrict stun-gun usage last year. The group also said it planned to pressure local governments to let police use stun guns only in life-threatening situations. “At a minimum,” Schlosberg said, “there should be laws limiting whom police can shoot with stun guns and how many times one suspect can be jolted.”

Several lawsuits have been filed around the country over use of the devices, including a $10 million wrongful death suit filed recently in Las Vegas against police and the manufacturer, Taser International Inc. The Nevada factory authorized Taser Law Enforcement Distributor who transacted that sale may also be added as a defendant in that lawsuit. Questions have arisen among several holders of Taser Law enforcement Sales Territories over whether they too could be liable for a huge settlement in a wrongful death or civil rights violation case. One former distributor in New York was terminated and told that he was not protected from civil or criminal litigations.

A source within one insurance industry giant familiar with Taser has said that the excess liability policy that Taser once touted as a bonus to departments, who bought Tasers, was worthless and its covenants provided payouts only under the most stringent of circumstances.

Without fail, Steve Tuttle, the Taser front-man, responding to reporters questions called Taser brand stun guns "a more humane and safer alternative" than firearms, batons or chemical sprays. "Or do citizens want to go back to the cave man days of using batons as clubs?" he said. "There are thousands of documented cases where Taser systems were successfully deployed by officers confronted with dangerous or deadly force situations by extremely violent, emotionally disturbed or suicidal subjects," Tuttle said.

While most deaths cited in the ACLU's report could not be attributed to Taser brand stun guns alone, 21 of 47 autopsy reports that the group studied showed that Taser stun guns could not be ruled out as a cause, Schlosberg said. Schlosberg cited Andrew Washington, a 21-year-old Vallejo hit-and-run suspect who died a year ago after police shot him with a Taser stun gun 17 times in a three-minute period. An autopsy report ruled that Washington's death was an accident, caused by "cardiac arrest associated with excitement during (a) police chase and cocaine and alcohol intoxication, occurring shortly after Tasering." His family has filed a product liability suit against Taser. The factory authorized Taser Law Enforcement Distributor who transacted the department’s Taser purchase, may be added as a defendant too.

Schlosberg also cited the case of Tommy Gutierrez, whom Sacramento County sheriff's deputies shot twice in July after he was discovered in a gas station bathroom bleeding from slitting his wrists. The sheriff's office said Gutierrez had been jolted after he tried to bite through the officer's boot. He died at the hospital 50 minutes later. "Why the need for such force from a man that was bleeding to death?" Gutierrez's sister, Cindy Ingland, said at a press conference called by the ACLU. "He was 38 years old, the father to a beautiful 5-year-old little girl, a son, a friend and my beloved brother. My life, my parents' life and his daughter's life will forever be changed because of a decision by one officer to use a Taser gun." In light of recent attempts by Taser to appease the Arizona Attorney General’ well documented concerns over their use of “key” words and phrases in its advertising and promotional material. Taser has offered to discontinue usage of several words that “could cause confusion regarding the actual level of safety” of the devices.

“At a minimum,” Schlosberg said, “police should be limited to the number of times they can fire a stun gun at one person, and be prohibited from shooting pregnant women, juveniles, the elderly, and people who may appear to be mentally ill or on drugs.” Others have called for restricting usage only to circumstances where lethal force would be justified and for no other reasons. The ACLU said it had queried 79 law enforcement agencies in California that have more than 100 officers apiece about their stun-gun policies. Of 54 that provided written policies, fewer than 10 percent had any restrictions on multiple firings, the ACLU said. A few advanced thinking departments have scraped entirely the original Standard Operating Procedures for Taser deployment that instructors for Taser had suggested as a baseline. Those departments place their Taser Deployment Parameters farther up the Use of Force Continuum, a universal guideline that police officers relate to in determining what level of response to apply in confrontations with the public.

About one in five California agencies restricted the use of stun guns on juveniles, and one in seven limited their use when a suspect is unconscious.
Among the police departments that Schlosberg singled out for criticism was San Jose's, which he said had no limits on the use of stun guns. The department is the largest in the state to provide a stun gun to every officer, the ACLU said.

Meanwhile, lawyers Dan Alexander and David Brandon of Nashville have formally requested the Tennessee U.S. Attorney Jim Vines to request a federal inquiry into the death of a Nashville man after he was stunned 19 times by Metro police using Tasers. The Police Department has begun two internal investigations into the September arrest of 21 year old Patrick Lee on September 22nd, but critics are saying an independent probe is needed. He died two days later at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Agents of the Nashville office of the FBI spoke to a police deputy chief last week about the department's two investigations, one by the Homicide Division and the other through the Office of Professional Responsibility. Police spokesman Don Aaron said the department would work with federal officials if an external investigation begins. When asked by reporters, Metro police spokesman Eric Holland said the department itself has not opened a case on Lee's death.

An official Medical Examiner autopsy report is pending awaiting toxicology results. Overton said a private autopsy showed the shocks contributed to his death.

"I just don't think that inquiries into police conduct can be left to the (police) department," Alexander said.

Tommy Overton, an attorney representing Lee's family, said they plan to request a separate investigation by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

"(The officers) just lost control and, in my opinion, committed homicide," Brandon said. "And I've not encountered anybody that thought what the police department did was anything less than a homicide." Last week, in reaction to a highly charged atmosphere, the department formally restricted the use of the Tasers to supervisors only.

Taser International sent all their police customers a warning letter a few months ago against repeatedly shocking suspects with their Advanced Taser stun guns, especially if they were agitated from taking drugs. In defense of Metro police, a spokesman stated that Lee told police he had taken drugs, and they found five doses of LSD and some marijuana in his belongings.

Several medical experts are questioning Taser’s published medical findings regarding their product’s effects on the human body, as they were produced by Dr. Robert Stratbucker, Taser’s resident Medical Director. Dr. Stratbucker has been under fire over a perception of a conflict of interest because of his employment by Taser International and his positioning as a self-proclaimed leading expert in electrical effects on humans.