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Rick_Smith_Axon5662 karma

Great question.

First, there is a misperception that TASER sued medical examiners personally—that somehow we'd get monetary damages from them. This could not be further from the truth. The case you are referring to happened in Ohio, where a medical examiner listed the TASER as a cause of death in two different cases. As a result of that ruling, several officers were charged criminally, and many were sued in civil court.

Here's the problem: there was no supporting evidence that the TASER caused these deaths, and there was ample evidence of other causes of death. In Ohio, the procedure for challenging a medical opinion is to file a challenge in the court—which is exactly what we did. Far from being a spurious claim, we prevailed in court. The judge ruled that the medical examiner had no scientific evidence to support their findings, and the court ordered the TASER be stricken from the cause of death.

I want to be crystal clear: there was never any risk of that medical examiner, or any other, having to pay us a dime. What we wanted was a court to assess the truth of their findings—and that’s what happened. Medical examiners are public officials, and as with any public official, medical examiners have to be able to support their findings with scientific evidence, not personal or political beliefs. We stood up to help defend the officers involved in those incidents and to ensure that medical findings are accurate and supported by science.

Regarding your assertion that electrocution via a TASER is “obvious,” this is not accurate. Electrocution refers to when an electric current passes across the heart and causes it to go into ventricular fibrillation. This is an immediate phenomenon, and the person will lose consciousness within a few seconds. In most cases where there is a death in custody, electrocution can be ruled out by two facts: first, the electrical pathway would need to have the darts in the chest with a current pathway across the heart, and second, the collapse would be immediate. In the vast majority of cases, electrocution can be ruled out because these factors are not present.

We then need to look at other factors involved in these cases. Each year, over 325,000 people die of sudden cardiac death in the U.S. (the #1 cause of death), and another 70,000 people die of drug overdoses. A top trigger for sudden cardiac death is physical exertion and stress (one reason why you see cardiac defibrillators in health clubs). It is hard to imagine a more extreme physical stress and exertion than fighting with the police—and in many cases, people are also under the stress of toxic doses of stimulants like methamphetamines, PCP, or cocaine.

Of course, we continue to do extensive research into how to maximize both the safety and effectiveness of TASER devices. But we also will challenge unsupported claims to ensure the public record is based upon solid science.

Rick_Smith_Axon3142 karma

This is certainly a concern. It's one of the reasons we built a recording device called the “dataport” into the original TASER M26 in 1999 and every model since then. The dataport records every trigger pull, so we can determine how many times an officer used a TASER weapon and allow agencies to monitor for overuse. It's also why we developed the TASERCam (a camera mounted on the TASER), and ultimately why we developed body cameras.

Because a TASER weapon causes far less injury than a firearm, it is certainly more likely to be used. In most cases, this is a good thing, because the risk of injury from a TASER is about 3 injuries per 1,000 uses—which is far less than for other force options such as batons (about 780 injuries per 1,000 uses). So, generally speaking, if officers are using a TASER instead of a firearm, baton, punch, or other physical force, it's a move in the right direction because it reduces risk of injuries.

The risk is that officers use the TASER instead of patience and verbal skills. This is a phenomenon some call “TASER dependence," where officers over-rely on the TASER weapon and escalate to use force when they shouldn't. I believe this is where body cameras can play a huge role in ensuring that agencies can review the specifics of every TASER weapon use and deter overuse. It's also why we're using VR technology to build trainings specifically designed to help officers de-escalate tough situations.

Rick_Smith_Axon2515 karma

Yes, there have been cases where the effects of the TASER directly caused a death. There have been a number of fatal injuries related to falls (approximately 15-20) and a number of cases where the energy from a TASER discharge caused combustion of a flammable fluid (approximately 5 cases). So, I do not dispute that TASER weapons have caused deaths.

That said, much of the speculation about direct cardiac risks are not accurate. Our intuitions tend to make us believe that electricity is dangerous. So it's very difficult to believe that a TASER weapon didn't cause a death when it happens in an incident where one was used.

However, if you look at the timeline and fact patterns in cases where a subject dies in police custody and there was no TASER used, they tend to follow a similar pattern to the ones in which TASERs are used. In most cases, the fact patterns can rule out a direct cardiac stimulation of VF (see my other answer for details). We then need to look at how much the stress of the TASER contributed to the overall physiologic stress on the individual. We have done several studies in this space, measuring stress either by cortisol levels or by measuring the generation of lactic acid in the bloodstream.

In both cases, the level of physiologic stress caused by a TASER exposure was similar to or less than the pain and stress from pepper spray or physical exertion (such as running or wrestling). It is simply not possible to say that the TASER weapon had no impact, or that the situation would have ended differently if the TASER had not been used. But we can say that, based upon every measure of stress or injury I have seen to date, the risks associated with TASER weapon use are lower than just about every other use-of-force option available today.

I have been hit with a TASER seven times myself, and millions of police officers have been exposed to TASER hits in training with only limited reports of injuries, mostly related to falls. So, while I cannot assure that the TASER weapon is 100 percent safe, I can say I believe it is the safest force option available. And, if the police are ever called to an incident involving one of my family members who becomes violent, I hope they would use the TASER rather than any other force option (once force becomes necessary).

Rick_Smith_Axon2058 karma

Thank you! I set aside the day to do this, and if it's taking a little while to answer the questions, it's just because I'm taking some time with them.

Rick_Smith_Axon1730 karma

Thanks for both questions! Let's start with your first one...

What we saw in the Game Stop affair was that individual investors learned that hedge funds were trying to degrade / destroy a company that they loved. So, they came together to fight it with a crowd sourced short-squeeze. I fully support the sentiment, but as much as I wish it was, this isn’t a scalable long term solution. We can't hope that individual investors will identify the next time potentially abusive short behavior is occurring and then band together.

The long-term fix—the non-lethal weapon, to borrow your words—is actually pretty straight-forward regulation. Shareholders who buy a significant long position in a public company must make public filings and are monitored by the SEC. But someone could take a billion-dollar short position, then spend $100 million on private investigators, lobbyists and PR agencies to go after the company, and no one would know. Not the company, not the SEC, not law enforcement, no one.

A few years back, we drafted this basic and simple outline:

“An individual or company that takes a short position of $100,000.00 or more in a company must register with the Securities and Exchange Commission and provide quarterly reports that describes the individual or company’s investments made relative to the short position, which includes information and expenses on investigation firms, federal, state and/or local lobbying engagements, public affairs and public relation firms, any letters that the individual or company or third parties write on their behalf to federal or state regulatory bodies or elected officials, and coordination or relationships with litigation law firms.“

It's not a radical proposal, given that investors who go long are required to disclose their positions.