Concerns over liability cause chief to end program
Stallings police have holstered their tasers for the last time. During the town council’s Monday, Jan. 24, meeting, Stallings Chief of Police Michael Dummett announced he is shelving the weapons because of concerns about liability coverage.
In the past, taser companies had supported police departments in any lawsuit that questioned officers’ use of the weapon. Now, however, the companies have watered down their support. In future law suits, police departments may have to defend themselves if the taser manufacturer isn’t satisfied with steps law enforcement officers took to prepare.
“While it is unlikely based on the research, the (use) of the electronic control device can cause cardiac arrest,” the memo from Taser International states. “Law enforcement must heed this warning.” If not, the memo says, then the departments would “stand alone” in any court of law.
“That sounds like I’m standing by myself” in a court case, Dummett said. “If we’re getting sued, I don’t want to be standing by myself when using a device that may kill someone.”
The town paid $15,000 to purchase 10 tasers in September 2008. The weapons use electroshocks to temporarily disable a suspect and provide a “less than lethal” option. The North Carolina Taser Safety Project only has data through March 2008, showing from 2006 to 2008, officials recorded 11 deaths from the device in the state.
“The problem with this device is when it was first (introduced), they sold it as this Batman gun, that you never have to fight anybody,” Dummett said. “Unfortunately, police have to fight. It’s a violent business. I’ve been punched, kicked, spit on. It’s just part of the gig.”
Council members authorized Town Manager Brian Matthews to sell the tasers and try to recoup some of the money.
“You might recoup five grand,” Dummett said. “You bought high. You’re gonna sell low but get out now.”
When he explained to Stallings officers that the department could face a lawsuit alone if a tasered suspect happens to die, they understood, Dummett said.
“We’re pulling ‘em,” Dummett said. “The liability to carry them outweighs” the benefit.