March 28, 2005
Robert Anglen, The Arizona Republic
A council member who pushed to make Phoenix the first major city in the country to arm all of its police officers with Tasers was paid $3,500 last year to help Taser sell stun guns to another city.
Law and Public Safety Committee Chairman Dave Siebert, who has voted to spend more than $1.2 million in taxpayer money on the electric stun guns since 2001, was hired by Taser last summer to make a sales presentation to the San Francisco Police Department.
State law prohibits city council members from receiving compensation for services rendered as a public official. The city's ethics policy warns officials "to be wary of accepting gifts or benefits from individuals doing business with the city."
Siebert said he believes in the stun gun and did everything he could to make sure his involvement with Taser was aboveboard. He got approval from the City Attorney's Office, excused himself from any future votes on Taser and declared the payment in a January financial disclosure.
"I did everything in my power, except say 'no.' If I didn't believe in the product, I wouldn't have gone there," he said. "I would like to think that it has saved lives in the city of Phoenix."
Siebert's relationship with Taser was disclosed as questions are raised in Arizona and nationally over Taser's financial influence on municipal employees who are involved with purchases of the stun guns. In Chandler and Minneapolis, police officers have been criticized for their ties to the company.
Taser spokesman Steve Tuttle said Siebert is the only council member the company has paid as a consultant.
"The city of San Francisco desired the input of a major city council member's experience with a large deployment of (Tasers)," he said.
The company has paid hundreds of police officers to be instructors and given stock options to some officers in return for their support of the gun.
Taser Chief Executive Officer Rick Smith has said that training program has been responsible for the company's success in sales to police departments.
Critics say payments to city employees have created a conflict of interest, with officers promoting the stun gun and repeating Taser's assurances of safety while minimizing risks.
The potential conflicts "have the direct consequence of shielding the company from scrutiny," said John Crew, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union in northern California who specializes in police practices.
"A major problem with these stun guns has been the exaggerated claims of safety coming from Taser . . . And they have been using police officers and other public officials to tout the safety of their stun guns."
Scottsdale-based Taser International has armed nearly a third of America's 18,000 law enforcement agencies with stun guns. For years, Taser claimed its weapon never caused a death or serious injury. But an ongoing investigation by The Arizona Republic has linked the stun gun to at least 12 deaths nationwide and to the injuries of several police officers.
Those deaths have left cities nationwide rethinking Taser purchases and deployments as police departments, city council members and state legislators raise concerns about how the gun is used and the need for independent medical information on the stun gun.
Smith maintains that Tasers have never caused a death or serious injury and cites more than 90 studies by universities, the military and police departments that he says support Taser's safety claim.
San Francisco effort
When the San Francisco Police Commission considered buying the stun guns in 2004, Siebert was hired by Taser to promote the weapon and address any concerns based on his experience with the stun guns in Phoenix.
"In the middle of last year, (Taser) asked me to tell our story to the San Francisco police," Siebert said.
He said he did not tell the commission during public meetings that he was being paid by Taser, but, "it was no secret that I was helping Taser. That was very clear."
Siebert said he made two trips to San Francisco with Taser officials that involved meeting privately with some commissioners and participating in a public sales presentation. He said he agreed to take the job only if Taser agreed to let him talk about the safeguards Phoenix put in place to control the gun's use.
"We were cautious," he said, citing the department's extensive training and review procedures. "We weren't following someone else's lead. We were the leader."
San Francisco Police Commissioner Peter Keane said Siebert and other Taser officials emphasized the stun gun's safety while minimizing deaths and injuries.
"Their position was that the device was completely safe," said Keane, a law professor and former dean at Golden Gate University. "We found it a little bit curious that a sitting city official was being brought along as part of the sales pitch."
Keane and others at the meeting said Siebert emphasized his position as a Phoenix City Council member.
San Francisco did not buy any stun guns as the result of the presentation.
Siebert said that he was paid on an hourly basis and that his financial relationship with Taser began in June and ended in October. He said he did not receive stock options and has not worked for Taser since.
Acting City Attorney Gary Verburg said Siebert's position with Taser did not violate any state statutes or city policies. "He has done everything in compliance with the statute," Verburg said. "He has declared a conflict and refused to participate in any decision involving Taser."
He said the law doesn't dictate where you can work.
The city's ethics policy cautions public officials about conflicts: "You should not be involved in any activity which might be seen as conflicting with the responsibilities of your position. The people of Phoenix have a right to expect that you act with independence and fairness toward all groups and not favor a few individuals or yourself."
The state Attorney General's Office and the Maricopa County Attorney's Office investigate allegations of conflicts, which can carry criminal penalties.
Tim Delaney, director of the non-profit Center for Leadership, Ethics and Public Service in Phoenix, said there are gray areas in the state's conflict-of-interest laws.
Delaney, who has served as Arizona solicitor general and a chief deputy attorney general, says officials have a right to make a living while in public office. But, "you don't want them to make a living off of public service," he said.
Siebert publicly disclosed his financial relationship with Taser in a January filing that requires city officials to document assets, property, business interests and any compensation over $1,000 during the previous year.
Siebert, 43, was elected to the City Council in 1995 and represents District 1, which includes most of northwest Phoenix.
Siebert's long-time support of Taser is a matter of public record. He took credit for bringing the stun gun to Phoenix in a 2003 newsletter to constituents: "At my request, the Police Department introduced the (Taser) in a pilot program as a less-lethal weapon. During a nine-month period, when the Taser was used, the number of officers and suspects injured from use of force decreased dramatically."
Siebert's newsletter borrowed language verbatim from Taser's sales brochures and described the stun gun as "a non-injury-causing weapon."
At the time, Siebert was running for re-election and Taser executives and their spouses contributed at least $1,750 to his campaign, according to campaignreports for 2003.
Public records show that Siebert first asked the Police Department to look into Tasers in 2001. Ultimately, the city purchased 1,348 stun guns, making Phoenix the nation's largest police department to arm all of its officers with the gun.
Taser officials have highlighted Phoenix as a role model for other departments considering purchasing the stun gun. They point to Phoenix in sales presentations, press releases and interviews, citing the reduction in police shootings and officer and suspect injuries after the Taser deployment.
Taser defends its payment to Siebert and police officers across the country. Active duty officers are often paid to act as trainers for companies that sell weapons to police departments.
"It is an industry standard and an officer safety issue that police equipment providers utilize active duty police trainers as consultants to provide training," Tuttle said, adding that such trainers "do not attempt to sell or market the stun gun."
The officers, called "master instructors," are paid as much as $450 to host a two-day training session for other law enforcement agencies. In some cases, those master instructors have been given stock options.
In December, Minneapolis Sgt. Ron Bellendier quit his department after questions were raised about his role in Taser purchases while moonlighting as one of Taser's master instructors. The police chief said Bellendier, now a sales manager for Taser in the Midwest, did not have permission to work for Taser.
In Arizona, a former Chandler police officer was the subject of a conflict-of-interest investigation after the City Council spent $193,000 on Tasers based on his recommendation two years ago.
The officer, Jim Halsted, now is a regional sales manager for Taser. Minutes from the March 27, 2003, Chandler City Council meeting show that Halsted made a presentation and urged purchase of the stun guns.
"Sergeant Halsted also commented on the medical safety aspects of the equipment and reported that the Tasers will not result in any physical injury . . . (Halsted) reported that not one death has been attributed to the use of this equipment."
Halsted received stock options, payments and a trip to Hawaii from Taser. The city's investigation cleared him of any wrongdoing.
Siebert said he did not know about the Chandler or Minneapolis cases. But he said his situation is different.
He said he has no doubts that Tasers have been involved in deaths and injuries and thinks Taser should make all of that public. He also said the police have benefited from the stun gun and his job as a councilman is to protect the public and officers. "It is good and healthy to have a debate. I still believe, with the proper training . . . it is an effective tool."
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Monday, March 28, 2005
March 28, 2005
Friday, March 18, 2005
March 18, 2005
Beth DeFalco, Associated Press
By Beth DeFalco, AP
CHANDLER, Ariz. - Taser International Inc. openly credits its use of active-duty police officers as trainers as a major ingredient in the company's meteoric rise to become the No. 1 seller of stun guns.
And like a lot of other cash-strapped startups, early on Taser offered some of those officers stock options as an incentive.
But with the Scottsdale-based company now under state and federal investigation over safety claims and accounting issues, questions have arisen about whether the officers' moonlighting represented a conflict of interest, particularly when their own departments were buying stun guns.
Jim Halsted is one example.
Halsted was a police sergeant in this town southeast of Phoenix when the police chief tapped him to make a presentation to the city council on March 27, 2003.
During the meeting, and as Taser's president looked on, Halsted touted the benefits of arming Chandler's entire patrol squad with Taser stun guns.
"No deaths are attributed to the (Taser model) M26 at all. That's absolutely incredible," Halsted is seen saying in a video of the presentation. "We put a Band-Aid on that person. There is no injury."
The council approved the $193,000 purchase of an additional 300 Taser guns and related equipment that same day, adding to a small number of stun guns it had already bought.
At the time, Halsted was one of four active-duty police officers granted stock options for serving on Taser's Master Instructor Board, which oversees Taser training programs.
In May, after 17 1/2 years with the Chandler police, Halsted quit to become Taser's Southwest regional sales manager.
A city councilwoman who set in motion a conflict-of-interest investigation the day after Halsted's sales pitch said it wasn't clear to her from the presentation that he got a paycheck from the company. And Halsted never mentioned the stock options to the acting police chief or when he went before the council.
The inquiry ultimately found that Halsted hadn't violated any conflict of interest laws. But just because no laws were broken doesn't mean Halsted acted ethically, said Marianne Jennings, a business ethics professor at Arizona State University.
Chandler's City Council should have known about the stock options, she said. "They might have made the same decision anyway, but they deserved to know."
Halsted told The Associated Press that he wasn't trying to hide anything: "They knew I was compensated as a trainer," he said of the City Council. "I clearly stated it (during the meeting) because I didn't want there to be any controversy or question. The extent of the compensation was irrelevant."
The investigation looked into Halsted's holdings and found that at the time of the presentation, his wife and children owned 462 shares of Taser stock. After three stock splits, those shares are now worth more than $70,000.
Halsted had also personally been granted options for 750 shares of Taser stock. After the splits, that stock would have been worth about $300,000 when Taser shares were trading at their 52-week high of $33.45 on Dec. 30. The stock now trades around $13 a share.
Taser had also given Halsted a five-day trip for two to Hawaii valued at $3,770 as a reward for training more officers to become Taser instructors than anyone else in 2001.
Taser defends the use of off-duty police officers as trainers, noting that police are allowed to moonlight for security companies and other private corporations as long as they follow their department's disclosure rules.
"Utilizing off-duty law enforcement officers to train other officers is standard industry practice," said Taser spokesman Steve Tuttle. He mentioned Armor Holdings _ which makes police batons and body armor _ as a company that also uses off-duty police as trainers.
But Taser is unique in that it pretty much has a lock on the stun gun market.
Since Taser began marketing police stun guns in 1998 as a way to subdue combative people in high-risk situations, more than 7,000 law enforcement agencies worldwide as well as the U.S. military have bought them.
But the safety of the weapons, which shoot darts 25 feet that deliver 50,000-volt jolts for about 5 seconds, has increasingly been questioned. According to Amnesty International, some 93 people have died after being shocked with the weapons, which can also be used like cattle prods.
In recent weeks, after several deaths that followed Taser shocks, some police departments have suspended Taser use to re-examine guidelines on their handling and/or await better data on health risks.
Tuttle says the company has roughly 300 "Master Instructors" worldwide who train other officers to become instructors and who conduct demonstrations at interested police departments. He said Taser pays about 35 of them on a per-session basis.
Tuttle said the company has not granted stock options to training board members since 2003. Citing privacy concerns, Taser declined to identify the other active-duty officers who were granted stock options.
Halsted isn't the only master instructor to leave his department and join Taser after accusations of a possible conflict of interest.
Sgt. Ron Bellendier quit the Minneapolis police department _ he's now Midwest regional sales manager for Taser _ in December after questions surfaced about his relationship to Taser.
Bellendier was the point man on Tasers for his department, which said he was involved in stun gun purchasing decisions even as he worked for Taser as a master instructor.
Bellendier told the AP that his decision to leave the department had nothing to do with the Taser flap, and that he submitted retirement paperwork before the controversy.
"I was only being paid when I instructed other officers," Bellendier told The AP. "It wouldn't have mattered if the department bought 5,000 Tasers, I wouldn't have gotten anything out of it."
Other master instructors, including several who served on the training board, have gone on to work for Taser in officer training and sales positions.
Taser has said that a total of 11 "consultants," which include master instructors and members of the training board, were granted stock options as part of their compensation package.
In addition to Halsted and Bellendier, former Sacramento police SWAT team member Sgt. Rick Guilbault went to work as Taser's director of training.
Guilbault served on the master instructor board with Halsted, although it is unclear whether he also received stock options. He did not return calls seeking comment and Taser would not disclose whether he was offered the options.
Louie Marquez, a retired Austin, Texas, police officer is a master instructor. Marquez said he still serves on the board but declined to answer questions about stock options.
Saturday, March 05, 2005
Expert says stun gun can kill hours later; firm calls claim 'ludicrous'
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 5, 2005 12:00 AM
A growing number of deaths involving Tasers is fueling a debate among law enforcement officers, legislators, and state and federal regulators, who are asking if the electric stun gun is as safe as they were led to believe.
Now, a forensic engineer who has written safety standards for the most respected electrical laboratories and commissions in the world is warning police departments that shocks from Tasers could cause a delayed cardiac arrest and that injuries to officers and suspects who are zapped could be going undetected.
"Police should be informed that the Taser can kill," James Ruggieri told the American Academy of Forensic Examiners last week at its annual meeting. "The Taser can serve a useful role in law enforcement. However, it should not be touted as a harmless device."
Taser officials call Ruggieri's warning "ludicrous" and say their safety record is bolstered by the number of departments, including every major police agency in the Valley, that still use the stun gun.
Law enforcement agencies in California, Georgia, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Florida and North Carolina have backed off Taser deployments, citing safety concerns. Agencies also have expressed concern about officers shocking children as young as 6 and senior citizens as old as 82 over incidents such as refusing to pay for a salad at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant.
"Those administrations who have transitioned to Tasers feel more caught in the middle," said Fort Wayne, Ind., Police Chief Rusty York, who vetoed the planned purchase of 83 stun guns last month.
"I am a little skeptical about the assertion that no one has been killed or injured by Tasers," he said. "But (other) police departments were taking the advice from Taser and running with it. I agree that the stun gun is a useful tool, but until we can have more objective information about Tasers . . . I'm not going (forward)."
Ruggieri, who has served as a forensic investigator for the Fairfax County Police Department in Virginia and has consulted with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board on electrical accidents, said his research cuts to the heart of Taser's safety claims and represents one of the first scientific and medical reviews that is critical of the stun gun.
His recommendation: Police should stop shocking officers during training exercises and use the stun gun on suspects only when no other non-lethal option is available.
Rick Smith, chief executive officer of Scottsdale-based Taser International, maintains that Tasers have never caused a death or serious injury, and he cites more than 90 studies by universities, the military and police departments that support Taser's safety claim. He challenged Ruggieri's presentation to the forensic academy and questioned his ability to cite medical findings because Ruggieri is not a doctor.
"His misapplication of the safety standards, coupled with the misstatement of Taser incidents . . . make us question his motivation," Smith said. "He has never touched a Taser, never seen a Taser, never used a Taser. . . . How can he make scientific judgments on the technology?"
Ruggieri said that his findings come from research of medical data and that he has never claimed to be a doctor. He said he has extensive knowledge of stun guns and has handled dozens of them, including Taser's signature weapon, the M26. He owns two stun guns, made by different manufacturers.
A Taser looks and operates like a plastic gun. It fires two steel barbs up to 21 feet and delivers a 50,000-volt burst of electricity that causes involuntary muscle contractions. It works by momentarily incapacitating suspects, who usually recover once the power is cut. Taser officials say the gun cannot cause heart attacks.
More than 7,000 of the nation's 18,000 law enforcement agencies have armed officers with Tasers. Police credit Tasers with reducing injuries to officers and suspects, lowering the number of police shootings and shrinking the number of liability claims. They say the stun gun is an invaluable tool.
Taser stock prices dropped this year after revelations that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Arizona attorney general had launched inquiries into the company's claims of safety and into an end-of-year sale that helped the company meet annual projections.
An ongoing investigation by The Arizona Republic has found that 101 people have died in the United States and Canada following police Taser strikes since 1999. Medical examiners have cited the Taser in 12 of those deaths, calling it a cause of death in three cases and a contributing factor in six others. In three other cases, examiners said they were unable to rule it out as a cause of death.
Deaths and safety concerns have prompted the International Association of Chiefs of Police to call for every police department to conduct a review of its Taser policies. And a California legislator last week introduced a bill that would require every department in the state to track each time an officer drew a Taser, so the data could be analyzed by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Wisconsin's attorney general said concerns about the way police use stun guns led her to call for a statewide standard. However, the Madison Police Department has praised the stun gun.
"The Taser is extraordinarily effective in controlling resistive subjects, while also being extraordinarily safe," the department reported last month. "There is no question that both the number and severity of injuries (to both officers and suspects) would have been far higher but for the Taser."
Other law enforcement agencies aren't so sure.
"The policy right now is that Tasers are not to be used in this building," said Rick Keller, administrator of the Lucas County Corrections Center in Toledo, Ohio, where an inmate died Jan. 31, moments after being shocked multiple times by deputies.
Not only have Tasers been suspended inside the jail, but any suspect who has been shocked by police before being booked will now be taken directly to the hospital for a medical examination.
"I don't think there is a good answer," Keller said. "If you have someone die, and it comes back that Tasers contributed to (the death), that is not good. But you have to do something to restrain him."
Keller said officers are concerned about the stun gun being taken away. But he said the Sheriff's Office, which runs the jail, wants to determine if Tasers are safe before allowing them back into circulation.
Taser expansion was halted in Chicago after police, in two separate incidents last month, shocked a 54-year-old man who later died and a 14-year-old boy who went into cardiac arrest.
"We have taken a very deliberate approach to these weapons," said Dave Bayless, a Chicago police spokesman. "We have had one death, and that has prompted us to slow down deployment."
Although the department did not recall existing Tasers, Bayless said, officials want to study the safety of the stun gun before deploying it in multiple police districts. Chicago police acknowledge concerns about the stun gun, but officials also say there are plenty of success stories.
"It is a good debate to have," Bayless said. "It holds police accountable. It also gives us an opportunity to explain to the public the very real dangers that police face every day."
David Murphy, criminal-justice assistant professor at Weber State University in Utah, has been contacted by several agencies about conducting a safety study of the weapon.
Some Utah police agencies have bought Tasers but not put them on the street for fear that the stun guns might not be as safe as the manufacturer claims.
Looking for a trend
The foundation of Taser safety is based on the assertion that shocks from Tasers cannot induce heart attacks. Taser officials insist that if Tasers were able to cause a heart attack, it would occur immediately upon being shocked.
Ruggieri said evidence shows that heart damage and fatal heart rhythms can develop hours after electrical shock occurs. He said suspects and police officers, who are routinely subjected to Taser shocks during training, "may have unknowingly incurred permanent heart damage."
Smith said that if Ruggieri was right, there would be hundreds, if not thousands, of cases in which Tasers would have caused either heart attacks or injured internal organs.
"Out of 200,000 (people) who have been shocked, we would have seen credible evidence of that," he said.
For years, Taser has encouraged officers to experience shocks during training. The company claims that more than 100,000 officers have been shocked during training without incident.
Last year, however, The Republic found that several officers have suffered career-ending injuries that they attribute to Taser shocks, including cardiac problems.
In one case, a doctor hired by Taser concluded that a one-second burst from a Taser was responsible for fracturing the back of a former Maricopa County sheriff's deputy. The deputy, Sam Powers, has filed the first private liability lawsuit against Taser. His case is expected to go to court in June.
Taser has blamed Powers' injuries on pre-existing conditions, including osteoporosis.
Phoenix lawyer John Dillingham, who represents Powers, said Ruggieri's presentation should be an alarm bell for police.
"We totally agree that law enforcement should never willingly be subjected to a shock," he said.
Medical examiners, who are at the forefront of the Taser debate and make rulings in cases of deaths following Taser strikes, said Ruggieri's presentation will induce further debate and more research.
"There hasn't been any real medical evidence on either side," said Lake County, Ind., Forensic Pathologist John Cavanough, who added that Ruggieri raised relevant issues, particularly in regards to the delayed cardiac arrest.
"It is a real phenomenon," Cavanough said. "As a matter of fact, that (the warning about delayed cardiac arrest) was his strongest point."
Ruggieri, whose presentation will go through a peer-review process before being published in the Journal of Forensic Science, said his findings could lead medical examiners to re-examine past cases of death following a Taser shock.
Thomas Parsons, a medical examiner from Daytona Beach, Fla., said that he believes Tasers are an important tool for police and that many deaths were likely not the fault of Taser.
"Tasers are an excellent less-than-lethal option for police who are properly trained to use them," he said, adding that many of the deaths following Taser shocks would have occurred with or without the stun gun.
"(Ruggieri's) research ideas were controversial, but his recommendations were reasonable," Parsons added.
Taser officials say they remain steadfast behind Taser technology. Smith said Tasers have strong support from law enforcement and the public.
"We have been taking a beating in the press," he said. "But at its core, our product is as safe as ever."
Friday, March 04, 2005
March 4, 2005
Robert Anglen, Arizona Republic
The issue: Electrical standards
RUGGIERI: Electrical standards and codes misapplied
Ruggieri says Taser has misapplied electrical codes and standards to suggest the Taser is safer than it really is. He says Taser uses a graphic chart to suggest that Underwriters Laboratories, a non-profit agency that certifies products for electrical safety, has certified Taser. Taser claims the graph shows the stun gun is far below the threshold of ventricular fibrillation.
He points out that a Consumer Product Safety Commission in 1976 studied a much weaker version of the stun gun than police use today and found that the threshold of ventricular fibrillation lowers with repeating pulses of electricity used by the stun gun.
Ruggieri says he was unable to replicate Taser's findings using any of the standards that Taser cites. Ruggieri says that rather than rely on the wrong standards, he has relied on scientific and medical research.
TASER'S POSITION: Expert's findings are "ludicrous"
Taser says Ruggieri's findings are "ludicrous," maintaining that there would be thousands of cases of ventricular fibrillation if his findings were accurate. Officials accuse Ruggieri of misapplying the electrical standards.
Taser points to the graph, saying the Taser pulse is 10 times below the threshold for ventricular fibrillation set by UL and by the Electro-technical Commission standards. The graph was developed by a private research firm and has been touted in Taser marketing material.
Taser says Ruggieri erred in considering the power of the stun gun, making it seem more powerful than it actually is.
Taser officials also say Ruggieri intentionally applied the wrong IEC standard to increase the negative findings against Taser.
INDEPENDENT ANALYSIS: Lab: Taser used wrong study
Underwriters Laboratories, which has certified billions of consumer goods for electrical safety, says the graph that Taser is using does not reflect any study of the stun gun's safety.
UL spokesman Paul Baker says the graph is supposed to apply to an electric fence. "We take issue with that data in relation to Taser," he said. "Underwriters Lab does not agree with Taser."
The graph is based on a decades-old study that measured how much current passing through an electric fence it would take to induce ventricular fibrillation.
Baker said he is surprised that Taser is still using the graph since the lab publicly stated last month that it has no bearing on the stun gun.
As for the IEC standards, Ruggieri sits on the committee charged with developing and maintaining those standards. He has also helped write standards for Underwriters Laboratories. He said the standards Taser cites do not address repeating pulses used by the stun gun.
Tuesday, March 01, 2005
Human Effectiveness and Risk Characterization of the Electromuscular Incapacitation Device - A Limited Analysis of the Taser
March 1, 2005
AKA the famous HECOE Report, which came to the conclusion that experimental data were too limited to evaluate probabilities for susceptible populations or for alternative patterns of exposure. Several data gaps were identified in the data evaluation. Limitations in the exposure and incidents data for some infrequent events and the need to rely on a database of case reports compiled by Taser International generate uncertainty in the results. Overall the results support the conclusion that Tasers are generally effective for their intended use. However, they may cause several unintended effects, albeit with estimated low probabilities of occurrence.
Not a fun read for anyone who thinks that pigs have feelings too.