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Taser Death Autopsy Overdue

By       Message William Boardman       (Page 2 of 3 pages) Become a premium member to see this article and all articles as one long page.     Permalink

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In fact, in three different cases in Ohio in 2005-06, when the Chief Medical examiner's office in Summit County, Ohio, made exactly that determination, Taser International took the county to court.  After a four-day trial in 2008, Ohio Judge Ted Schneiderman found for Taser on every item in the company's complaint, as well as some items it had not requested, and ordered the medical examiner to re-write three separate death certificates. 


The judge's 13-page decision in May 2008 described three events that unambiguously included tasers and fatalities, as well other factors like extreme drug use, a badly slashed wrist, serious mental impairment, and obesity.  These descriptions alone raise doubts about the taser use directly causing any of the three deaths, but tasers were indeed deployed just a matter of minutes before each of three men died, belying the judge's conclusion that: "The Taser device had nothing to do with their deaths."  [emphasis added] 


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In Arizona, where Taser International is based in Scottsdale, the Arizona Republic newspaper of Phoenix covered the decision in a story that starts: "Taser International has fired a warning shot at medical examiners across the country.  The Scottsdale-based stun gun manufacturer increasingly is targeting state and county medical examiners with lawsuits and lobbying efforts to reverse and prevent medical rulings that Tasers contributed to someone's death." 


The medical examiner appealed the decision on seven separate issues, getting upheld on one and denied on the rest.  In April 2009, the three-judge appeals court denied the medical examiner's constitutional due process argument on the ground that it had not been raised in the original trial.  The appeals court also reversed the trial judge for granting Taser items it had not requested. 

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In a pointed dissent, Judge Donna J. Carr argued that Taser International had no basis for bringing the suit in the first place "because it has not suffered an actual injury and because the interests it seeks to protect do not fall within the zone of interest to be protected by the statute."  The statute in question is concerned with preserving the integrity and finality of cause-of-death determinations. 


Judge Carr went on to say that the cases the majority cited to support its position "involved persons with direct interests in the cause of death of the decedent, such as persons accused in the death, not corporations seeking to make a preemptive strike to preclude lawsuits from being filed against it." 


In Ohio, at least, "the controversy of medical examiners and Taser-related deaths" continued to make news in 2012 when WCPO-TV in Cincinnati looked into the taser-related death of a teenager that was ruled "unknown/undetermined" after he was tasered by a police officer.   That ruling was challenged by the family's attorney who said, "He's a very clean and upstanding kid, very healthy kid...and the only thing that happened that night is he was Tased and then he died and she's saying this doesn't matter, the Taser doesn't matter...I don't think so." 

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WCPO also reported on a 2003 study by the Dept. of Defense that discussed the difficulty of assessing tasers as a cause-of-death, since electric shock leaves no tracks.   Without direct evidence, medical examiners must rely on inference to assess the elements of a death, the same inferences that seemed so obvious to the Summit County medical examiner until Taser took her to court. 


Asked if she had an opinion of the courts' rulings, medical examiner Dr. Lisa J. Kohler said, "Yes."  She declined to say what that opinion was. 

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Vermonter living in Woodstock: elected to five terms (served 20 years) as side judge (sitting in Superior, Family, and Small Claims Courts); public radio producer, "The Panther Program" -- nationally distributed, three albums (at CD Baby), some (more...)

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