The world's most popular maker of "electrical control devices" employs an aggressive strategy that has resulted in the company, Taser International, winning virtually every lawsuit launched against it.
A recent string of deaths in Canada after taser use has put several Canadian law-enforcement agencies under intense scrutiny. In both the United States and Canada, such deaths have resulted in myriad lawsuits against both Taser and individual police and security departments.
But police departments and other organizations that end up being sued can turn to the company for more than just moral support. The company will provide scientific information, statistics and guidance on defence experts. They'll also provide information on the experts that the plaintiffs have lined up.
In a 118-slide PowerPoint presentation created and presented at a law-enforcement and security conference earlier this year by Michael Brave, Taser's national litigation counsel, the lawyer contends that most of the lawsuits and negative sentiment toward tasers are actually based on ignorance, conspiracies and media bias. He also outlines such explanations as PDPCT: "plaintiffs' deep pocket causation theories," which he describes as the belief that "He who has the deep pockets caused the death."
In the presentation, Mr. Brave also criticizes several studies on tasers for being too conservative on when the devices should be used. Specific U.S. medical examiners are also criticized for their work on several cases.
Mr. Brave, a former intelligence chief with the U.S. Department of Justice, is also listed as a director for the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Deaths Inc., a private, Las Vegas-based company headed by a man named John Peters, who often acts as a course instructor for Taser International at the company's headquarters in Arizona.
The company bills itself as "the clearing house and training provider for sudden and in-custody deaths and related information" and was created in spring, 2005. That same year, Taser stock took a beating amid constant criticism and concerns over the safety of its products, including a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into the company's safety claims.
(In his presentation, Mr. Brave addresses the period of criticism in 2005, which he attributes to ignorance and bias, not scientifically reliable information. This portion of the presentation is titled: "2005 to present - The hysterical attacks !!!!!")
The Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Deaths does not publicize its link to Taser International officials. Mr. Brave is listed as a mere "adjunct faculty" member on the institute's website.
However, there seems to be a significant overlap between the two companies' philosophies. Some of the institute's most recent offerings feature lessons for police administrators on how to manage the fallout when officers are involved in an incident that results in death, including how to control media coverage.
Taser officials repeatedly say the company's products have never officially been confirmed as the cause of death.
"If you look at this history of this, not one of the deaths in Canada - not one - has ever been listed as caused by a taser," Steve Tuttle, a spokesman for the company, said in an interview last week. Mr. Tuttle did not return calls seeking comment about Taser's strategy yesterday.
However, in the United States, where deaths that have raised questions about a link to tasers far outnumber Canadian incidents, newspapers and civil- liberties groups have documented several cases where local medical examiners initially linked tasers to in-custody deaths.
In his presentation, Mr. Brave highlights some of these cases, showing in each one how, in later depositions, the doctors responsible backed away from linking tasers to those deaths.
Mr. Tuttle said Taser doesn't tell police where to place its product on the "use of force spectrum," which ranges from simply talking to a person, to using deadly force.
However, Mr. Tuttle said the taser is safer than many alternatives on the lower end of the spectrum.
"I don't see anybody asking for a ban of batons. But it's barbaric. It's a caveman tool. You're hitting somebody with something like a baseball bat as hard as you can in certain areas of the body. Then it doesn't work. Then you use a taser, which ends the situation instantly," he said. "If you compare this to a palm strike, hands down the taser is a winner."
Recently, there have been numerous calls for moratoriums on the use of electronic control devices. The use of tasers was singled out by the United Nations Committee Against Torture, which stated that "the use of these weapons causes acute pain, constituting a form of torture."
Mr. Tuttle said the calls for moratoriums are "absurd."
"It's a step backwards in law enforcement evolution that we've helped create," he said. "Ninety per cent of people you deploy this on have a quick reaction that you'll never read about in the paper.
"Has it saved lives? Absolutely. Is it the most effective non-lethal tool out there? Hands down. We've found the winning ingredient."
STUN GUN CASES
In his PowerPoint presentation on legal issues surrounding taser use, Taser International legal counsel Michael Brave highlights a number of cases involving stun guns.
In one case from 2005, a Sacramento police officer was sued for excessive force after he shot a man with a gun in the buttocks. The officer intended to draw his taser, but instead pulled out his firearm.
A similar incident from June of last year is also included. A man in Washington State had climbed a tree and remained there for several hours, according to the presentation.
"Deputies were unsure whether the man was intoxicated, on drugs, or possibly experiencing a psychotic episode," the presentation reads. "One deputy attempted to discharge a TASER device at the man, but when it did not work asked another deputy to fire a TASER device. Instead of grabbing the TASER device, the deputy grabbed and fired her gun."
The presentation also lists a couple of incidents of accidental taser and "Electronic Control Device" discharge. In one case from February of 2006, a Florida officer accidentally discharged a taser on his daughter.
The presentation also lists, without elaborating: "Recent incident of officer accidentally discharging ECD into daughter's eye."