Last Updated: Monday, May 12, 2008
The chair of Taser International is expected to defend the safety record of his company’s stun guns on Monday, when he appears at a public inquiry examining police use of the weapons.
Tom Smith, who will testify before Justice Thomas Braidwood in Vancouver, has insisted publicly that Tasers have been tested on 600,000 police officers and more than 400,000 ordinary citizens like himself, and no serious health complications arose.
The inquiry was called after the Oct. 14 death of Robert Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant who was shocked by a Taser used by RCMP officers at the Vancouver airport. Dziekanski’s ordeal, caught on videotape by a civilian witness, unleashed international outrage.
Monday’s testimony comes after a San Francisco cardiologist and electrophysiologist brought forward damning evidence against Tasers at the inquiry on Friday, testifying that the stun guns pose potentially fatal heart risks by inducing cardiac arrhythmia.
Dr. Zian Tseng said any normal, healthy person could die from a Taser jolt if the shock was given in the right area of the chest and during the vulnerable point in the beating of the heart. He said the number of jolts a person receives increases the likelihood he or she will suffer serious health problems.
He stressed the risk of death is far greater if there is adrenaline or illicit drugs coursing through the body, or if the person has a history of heart or other medical issues, and he stressed that there needs to be more real-world studies on the use of the weapon, instead of using healthy police officers to test the device.
Tseng said that when he started researching Tasers three years ago and made his findings public, he was contacted by Taser International officials, who asked him to reconsider the statements he was making to the media.
“They even offered to support [my] research, to give me grant funding,” Tseng said, adding he declined the offer to remain independent.