Local News

Police: Tasers Safest Option For Officers

Posted November 15, 2006

— Two men have been killed in the past four months after being stunned by law enforcement officers with a Taser.

Timothy Wayne Newton, 43, died early Wednesday after being Tasered by a Rocky Mount police officer during an encounter at a Nash County convenience store.

In July, Chatham County deputies used a Taser on Shannon Johnson, 37, after a high-speed chase. Johnson died after the incident, but authorities recently determined that a cocaine overdose was the cause of his death.

Both cases raise medical questions about Tasers and their effect on the body. Law enforcement officers describe the stun guns as the safest tool on their belts, but critics say delivering at least 1,200 volts to a person to momentarily lock the voluntary muscles can be a harmful shock to the system.

Every uniformed officer in the Cary Police Department carries a Taser gun. In the last two years, officers have used them eight times.

"The Taser is safer than the other tools we have available," Cary Police Chief Scott Cunningham said, citing pepper spray and batons as other options. "At most, people have muscle stress. It's like a workout -- muscles contract. The vast majority have no side effects."

In a national study earlier this year, The Arizona Republic found that 167 people had died in the U.S. and Canada in the last seven years after being stunned with a Taser gun.

Taser International is based in Scottsdale, Ariz.

According to the newspaper, medical examiners said Tasers were a cause or couldn't be ruled out as a factor in 27 of the deaths. But the paper's research also showed a majority of the cases involved victims who had been using drugs.

About 9,000 law enforcement departments around the world use Tasers, and the manufacturer claims lawmen have used the stun guns more than 71,000 times since 2000.

Cunningham said Tasers aren't the problem, noting that any tool officers use could cause death.

"The one thing they have found is that, in almost every case of in-custody death, handcuffs have been used," he said.

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