Taser Aftershock!

Turns out much-maligned stun guns are a good thing overall

It marked the first such lawsuit against Taser International that made it to trial, and the outcome was the start of a comeback for the beleaguered company.

In May 2006, the SEC said it wouldn't be taking any action against Taser International.

The company has continued to get good news inside the nation's courtrooms.

Nicholas Ivins
Phoenix police Officer Kevin Sakalas is a big fan of stun guns.
Laura Segall
Phoenix police Officer Kevin Sakalas is a big fan of stun guns.

It hasn't lost outright any of the 45 completed product-liability, excessive-use-of-force, and wrongful-death suits filed against it since 2000 (many more cases are pending).

"It's important to point out that plaintiffs have not been able to prove [in court] that the Taser device was defective or was the cause of any suspect injury or death," company vice president and general counsel Doug Klint told shareholders at an April 25 meeting.

Taser International has quietly settled a few cases in recent years. But the firm has paid much more in legal fees — about $8 million since 2004, according to its own accounts — than the relatively insignificant sum of about $200,000 it has paid to plaintiffs.

It also should be noted that cities and their police departments have doled out healthy sums to plaintiffs in a few Taser-involved cases.

In 2005, Mesa agreed to pay Glendale resident Bruce Bellemore $2.2 million, after a city police officer shocked him out of a citrus tree in February 2004. Bellemore became a quadriplegic after the 10-foot fall. Legally speaking, it didn't matter that he was fleeing four guard dogs after allegedly committing a house burglary with another man when the police caught up to him in the tree.

Taser International seems to have weathered these storms. First-quarter revenues this year were a record $15.3 million, a 10 percent increase over the same period last year.

This month, shares in Taser International rose more than 9 percent after a Wall Street analyst said it may receive up to $300 million in orders from France after the recent election of President Nicolas Sarkozy, a strong proponent of the stun guns.

But, as seems inevitable in the saga of this mercurial company, a new dark cloud is on the horizon.

On June 4, the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice announced it is "reviewing" the use of Tasers by the Orange County Sheriff's Office in Florida. The investigation is a first nationwide and is expected to take months. Deputies in that jurisdiction have shocked more than 2,000 people since 2000, according to accounts published in the Orlando Sentinel.

Four people on Amnesty International's oft-cited but debatable list are said to have died after Tasings in that central Florida county.

If Jesse Colter III had survived his altercation with Phoenix police, the shock from the Taser that stopped him may have been applauded as his savior.

But the 31-year-old Phoenix man died, and his demise has been added to the unofficial list of "Taser-related" fatalities that are the subject of continuing nationwide debate.

The scenario in which he was killed began when a woman called 911 at 4:34 a.m. on April 24, 2005, about a ruckus that possibly involved a gun at an apartment building near 25th Avenue and Ocotillo Road. Officers Wilson Manning and Scott Pavese arrived at the scene three minutes after the call.

In the police report he filed, Pavese said he'd seen a nude man hanging out of a broken third-floor window screaming that someone was shooting at him. At that point Jesse Colter III fell or jumped, landing on the hood of a Chevrolet Blazer below.

The officers approached Colter, who jumped up and sprinted west on Ocotillo toward 27th Avenue. The cops followed him, as they called in another unit.

Colter ran into a parking lot near 27th Avenue and found himself cornered next to an eight-foot wall. Muscular at 6-foot-3, shrieking and bleeding badly, Colter would have been a handful for a squad of cops.

This was a perfect situation for deployment of a Taser, as everyone around Colter, not to mention Colter himself, was in harm's way.

Pavese said he and his partner pulled out their stun guns as Colter assumed a fighting stance. Pavese fired but missed his moving target. Manning also fired his Taser, but only one of the two prongs stuck in Colter's back and had no apparent effect.

Then, Officer Jerome Paprocki arrived.

"Officers were trying to get near [Colter]," he told a detective later that morning. "He was making lunging moves toward them. He was obviously out of his wits [based on] his nature of actions and movements. They were just telling him to be still. Just stop moving around. I was waiting as long as I possibly could to see if he was going to comply. He was making erratic movements toward the officers."

Paprocki shot his Taser into Colter's chest from 12 to 15 feet away. Both probes hooked into Colter's body as the officer kept the electrical charge alive for five seconds.

Colter coiled up and dropped forward onto the ground.

The cops rushed in, but Colter kept his left arm locked under his chest in an apparent effort to keep from being handcuffed. It took cops more than a minute to subdue him.

Phoenix firefighters arrived about two minutes after police arrested Colter. But a routine examination of the bloody, naked man by paramedics took on a sudden urgency when Colter slipped into unconsciousness.

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My Voice Nation Help

good story! hot cop! :) protect me any day!

Frank Pinelander
Frank Pinelander

It appears the only reason a variety of "civil-rights groups" don't like the Taser is it takes money out of their pockets by minimizing "wrongful death" lawsuits.

Fred Luria
Fred Luria

Congratulations on a really great job on this story. As the brother of a police officer, I know what goes on out there and how many times that guns would be the right call over anything else. Tasers aren't perfect by any means as the story says, but they sure as hell are better than getting a bullet in the chest, or even better than getting the crap beat out of you because you won't stop. Everyone who trashes Taser should read this. You can use this as a letter or not, I just wanted to thank you.

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