A quelques jours de l’issue d’un appel d’offre en France sur le point d’équiper de 3000 à 6000 policiers de pistolets électriques en mesure d’infliger une décharge de 50000 volts, le ministère de la justice américaine émet de sérieux doutes sur le caractère non mortel de ces armes.
Un article paru le 13 juin 2006 du journal américain USA Today indique que le ministère entend instruire les cas de 180 personnes décédées après avoir été tasées par les forces de maintien de l’ordre.
"Justice Department looks into deaths of people subdued by stun guns"
By Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Justice Department is reviewing the deaths of up to 180 people who died after law enforcement officers used stun guns or other electro-shock devices to subdue them.
"These deaths raise a question in our mind that should be examined," said Glenn Schmitt, acting director of the department’s National Institute of Justice. He said the review will initially focus on 30 deaths, including one from two decades ago.
Most of the deaths occurred within the past four years, corresponding with the mass deployment of stun guns to police departments throughout the country. A number of departments have re-evaluated their use of the weapons because of the fatal incidents.
More than 80 deaths since 1999 were identified in a recent analysis by The Arizona Republic. Amnesty International has identified more than 150 deaths since 2001.
The devices, marketed as alternatives to lethal force, are designed to incapacitate unruly suspects through electric shock.
Taser International, the nation’s largest maker of stun guns, has supplied more than 130,000 devices to about 7,000 of the nation’s 16,000 police agencies.
The company has maintained that its products are safe and have saved the lives of police officers and suspects.
"As we know, in-custody deaths are part of policing," Taser spokesman Steve Tuttle said when asked about the Justice Department review. "The more we can study and understand the circumstances that lead to in-custody deaths, the more opportunities there are to develop law enforcement tactics and procedures that will help prevent these unfortunate events in the future."
According to Taser, the company is a named defendant in 49 lawsuits alleging either wrongful death or personal injury. An additional 20 lawsuits have been dismissed.
The Justice Department review, which could take up to two years, was proposed last year after law enforcement authorities expressed concern about the increasing numbers of deaths after stun guns were used to incapacitate suspects, Schmitt said.
Schmitt said the review will enlist the help of the National Association of Medical Examiners, the American College of Pathologists, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Teams of medical examiners will begin reviewing individual cases this fall.
Amnesty International called the Justice review a "good first step."
"The fact that the government is doing this is an important acknowledgement that there is a serious problem," said Dalia Hashad, director of Amnesty’s USA Program. "People are dying needlessly. It’s important that the federal government is taking this responsibility."
Last year, the IACP recommended that law enforcement agencies closely monitor use of the devices after noting safety concerns involving stun guns.
Schmitt said investigators are expected to examine a range of issues in each case, including ages, weight, possible physical impairments, evidence of drug use and other factors that could have contributed to the deaths.
In addition, Schmitt said, investigators will explore a phenomenon known as "excited delirium," in which a shutdown of bodily functions occurs after sensory overload.
Schmitt said the department is not urging any immediate change in the deployment of the devices.
"There is no reason to do anything different for now," he said. "We’ll let the research answer the questions."