Prestige for Sale

UPDATE: August 2017: The mounting toll of stun guns

UPDATE: November 2016: Man Dies after Police Taser Him

UDPATE: June 2016: A Shot to the Heart

UPDATE: May 2016 Georgia Taser Death Recorded on Police Body Cameras

UPDATE: Nov 2015 TASERED to Death

UPDATE: Sept 2015  Jail deputies who used a stun gun on a restrained inmate who later died.


TASER International was making A LOT of money a few years back, selling their “non-lethal” devices to police departments and governments around the world.

When company executives saw that TASER stock was about to tumble because people were dying from their “advanced non-lethal devices” — and they were facing a wave of lawsuits — they recruited high-profile cardiologists Richard Luceri from the University of Miami and Hugh Calkins from Johns Hopkins. TASER needed some big names to vouch for the safety of the weapon so they went out and bought them, along with the prestige of Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Excerpts from a TASER International press release which was published on

Commenting on the study, Dr. Hugh Calkins, advisor to TASER International and Professor of Medicine and Director of the Arrhythmia Service at Johns Hopkins Hospital, said “After viewing the CBS report on TASER safety based on the Air Force study on pigs, I am appalled at the direct implication that TASER use causes cardiac damage.

Further commenting on the study, Dr. Richard Luceri, MD, advisor to TASER International commented, “During a heart attack the level of Troponin T and Troponin I will increase typically by more than 20 fold their baseline value … Not only was no statistically significant difference in these biomarkers observed following TASER application in the Air Force study, but there is also no gradual and marked increase in these biomarkers … The slight, and statistically insignificant fluctuations in these biomarkers observed in this study appear to be noise rather than evidence of any cardiac damage.”

TASER also needed to get the backing of law enforcement:

Taser stock fell 78 percent in 2005 because of the S.E.C. investigation and four consecutive quarters of declining sales.The company is trying to regain the confidence of police departments after more than 40 lawsuits stemmed demand for its product.

The TASER press release carrying news of their vindication by two unimpeachable sources says that “Dr. Calkins’ letter and supporting documents are available at for persons interested in learning more about this topic.” (Click the link and you’ll find that the page can’t be found. Here is one supporting document: )

TASER is also suing medical examiners who implicate their product when someone dies after a zapping: “Taser win in court puts chill on doctors,” says a story in Canada’s National Post. The National Association of Medical Examiners say TASER’s actions are “dangerously close to intimidation.”

The triple-pronged campaign to restore its image is having the desired effect.

“I’m personally convinced that this device is saving lives everyday,” says Hugh Calkins (on the above missing link). The editorial staff of the Journal of the Canadian Medical Association takes a different view:

TASER International appears to attract loyalty. The scientific literature bears witness to a small group of dedicated researchers who diligently write letters to journals pointing out flaws in studies reporting harm from tasers. Unfortunately, some of these researchers occasionally neglect to mention their participation on TASER International’s medical advisory board or board of directors…

… we are used to thinking like physicians and scientists concerned about health, preferring to gather and analyze the facts rather than succumbing to the bald assertions of a large corporate entity that has demonstrated a willingness to squelch any messages that could hurt its bottom line.


Update: “Medical examiner determines that Mr. Hernandez-Llach’s heart stopped because of the Taser”

Update: Death of man stunned by Florida police last year continues to mystify  ORLANDO, Fla. — Adam Johnson is one of seven men who died after being shocked by stun guns wielded by Orange County law enforcement in the past decade…

Update: Tasers Pose Risks to Heart, a Study Warns

Heart experts warn Tasers deadly

Suzanne Fournier, The Province

Published: Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tasers can cause fatal cardiac arrest and are even more dangerous if the subject is agitated, stressed and experiencing pain from the high-voltage device, two top Vancouver heart specialists said Tuesday.

Dr. Michael Janusz, a heart surgeon at Vancouver General Hospital and UBC told the Braidwood Inquiry into Taser use Tuesday that “Tasers almost certainly can cause cardiac arrest in humans, particularly in people with underlying heart disease.”

Janusz told retired judge Tom Braidwood that the risk of dying after being Tasered is similar to the chances of dying after major heart surgery….

UPDATE: An article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology asserts Hugh Calkins’s pig studies won’t fly:

Taser Research in Pigs Not Helpful

“Efforts to study the human effects of Taser shocks by substituting pigs appear to have little rationale or necessity. Important anatomical and electrophysiological differences between humans and pigs make pigs poor surrogates for human responses to cardiac drugs and electrical discharges. Additional confounders include the use of anesthesia, controlled laboratory conditions, repetitive shocks in animals smaller than humans, and inability to interview the subjects about symptoms caused by their Taser exposures.”

This study from the American Journal of Cardiology – by cardiologists not being paid by TASER – also disputes Hopkins’s assertions of safety:

Update: NYT 5/17/2011

May 13, 2011

Safety: Report Questions Studies on Stun Guns


Advocates of electrical stun guns say they provide police officers with a nonlethal method of subduing suspects. But some experts believe the devices may have contributed to the deaths of suspects.

Scientific studies have produced mixed results, but a new report suggests that the conclusions of those studies are linked to their financing sources.

Cardiologists at the University of California, San Francisco, reviewed 50 published studies on Taser guns, including 23 financed by the manufacturer, Taser International, or written by someone affiliated with it, and 27 conducted by independent researchers.

Twenty-two of the 23 studies linked to the manufacturer concluded stun guns were either not harmful or not likely to be harmful. Seventy percent concluded they were not harmful at all.

In contrast, just over half of the independent studies found that Tasers were either not harmful or unlikely to be harmful. Twenty-six percent concluded they were not harmful at all.

“When you look at the research, you find out a lot of the articles that are touted by police departments are funded by the company, and it may be the research is being influenced and tainted,” said Dr. Byron Lee, an associate professor at the university and senior author of the study, which was presented this month to the Heart Rhythm Society.

Steve Tuttle, a Taser executive, said the device “is considered the most-tested less-lethal use of force technology today.”

18 Responses to Prestige for Sale

  1. danwalter says:

    Man dies after being shocked with a stun gun
    By the CNN Wire Staff
    April 22, 2011 6:03 a.m. EDT

  2. KRWood says:

    People have been killed almost every week by tasers over the last few months,.Police keep making excuses-even on open forum TV shows.There is an indiscriminate use of tasers here-some people tasered 20 times or more.Is there a taser proof vest available?

  3. “…they increased the electrical output of their devices in 1999…”

    What happened in 2003 was even more significant. The X26 taser waveform contains more dangerous low frequency spectral components and those waveform spectral components are 100% continuous duty cycle.

    Even their own in-pocket “expert” admitted that the risk is higher with the 2003-era X26, than with the 1999-era M26.

    And if you look at the taser-associated death rate per month, it step functions up to a much higher rate (x10) in, guess when?, 2003.

    It’s all documented on my blog. E-mail me if you need pointers. E-mail addy is on the blog, right hand column.

  4. Taser International has just issued new taser targeting guidelines that advise “avoiding the chest”, and that taser shots to the subject’s back or legs are preferred.


    What did I tell you? On my blog in May of 2008, I identified that virtually all taser training hits were to the idiot volunteers’ backs.

    Talk about vindication for me (and other critics), and furious back-pedaling by Taser International.

    • danwalter says:

      I think the doctors who approve the product ought to take one in the chest, just to be sure.

    • Anonymous says:

      What alternatives to the Taser do you suggest? Law enforcement managers are always considering all products from all vendors to avoid this critical piece of the problem, “How do you avoid your employee’s being hurt or killed by their own lethal weapon and/or a phyiscally out of control subject who refuses verbal commands?” The Taser’s biggest advantage is the person/offender is kept at a safe distance, preventing officers from being assaulted or being disarmed and possibly killed. Please tell me what device can do this. And are there any statistics as to deaths per Taser deployment? My question is aimed at what is more statistically dangerous, driving a car, riding in an airplane, giving birth to a child or being shocked by a Taser?My point is, instead of giving me opinion, give me statistical evidence.

  5. Part of the evidence submitted to the Canadian Braidwood Inquiry into taser was Prof Savard’s finding that, in the real world, increased exposure to taser (multiple and repeated taser hits) is linearly proportional to risk of death. This evidence was accepted by the Braidwood Inquiry.

    It’s a clear and indicative finding that is difficult to explain away without being silly.

  6. Please use Google to find the details of the taser’s “Curious Temporal Asymmetry”.

    It’s a simple little observation that appears to provide the long sought experimental control for the great real world taser experiment that’s being conducted on, and through, large numbers of citizens.

    Taser International claims ZERO taser / death causality via internal risk factors such as cardiac. But if there is zero cause-and-effect, then the rate of death per unit time should be precisely the same JUST BEFORE the taser hit as JUST AFTER. See the related post for details which already address the obvious rebuttal attempts.

    Given the overall ratio of total time slices (plenty of BEFORE time as compared to AFTER), Taser International owes many hundreds, or even thousands, of reports of people that dropped dead at the mere sight of a drawn taser.

  7. I assume that you’ve learned of the Braidwood Inquiry report, phase 1?

    Summary of some highlights:

    * Tasers can cause death.

    * Tasers can cause cardiac arrhythmia, even in healthy adults. Arrhythmia can lead to death.

    * Tasers can cause death through a variety of taser death mechanisms.

    * If you have a taser-associated death with no postmortem clues, then it is ‘almost certainly’ a death from arrhythmia.

    * The ‘diagnosis’ of “excited delirium” is unhelpful as it allows the true cause of death to escape notice.

    In my view, this report represents a massive, possibly fatal, blow to taser International. It not only imposes tight restrictions on the use of tasers, but it also deflates all the junk science used to support their claims of safety. This can only provide ammunition to the plaintiffs’ lawyers everywhere.

    Their total liability for all the previous and future taser-associated deaths is practical unimaginable. Certainly enough to bankrupt them and their insurance carriers many times over (a guess).

    It might be worth reviewing the Braidwood report yourself and posting a new story about it.

  8. Ian Jones Says: “I consider the alternative of shooting someone as being a greatly worst option.”

    Taser are used about one-hundred times as often as the police have historically used guns. The official RCMP taser-use reports indicate that they would have been forced to use lethal force on about 600 people during 2008 – an insane claim and an obvious bald-faced lie.

    ‘Tasers replace guns’ is the original taser lie.

  9. danwalter says:

    Very interesting. Thanks Thom!

  10. Thomas Paine says:

    I wonder if anyone realizes that Dr. Huh Calkins the Professor of Medicine and Director of the Arrhythmia Service at Johns Hopkins Hospital . . . is not the lone member from the John Hopkins deeply involved in the safety “research” and claims of these devices. I guess it is just a coincidence that J. Patrick Reilly is a research scientist at John Hopkins that is involved in the safety “research” of these devices for the DOD and has been for years.

    Even Reilly admitted last year during an inquiry in Canada that, “”You could not rule out the possibility of affecting the heart and possibly even causing a fatal incident.” That was in may of 2008. This flies in the face of the claims of safety that were originally made by the manufacturer when they increased the electrical output of their devices in 1999 without releasing any of the raw data to support these claims or having their scientific research independently peer reviewed and published. And, not surprisingly, the manufacturer now claims that the original raw data has been “lost.” I wonder why? So, the research goes on and evidently even Reilly felt so uncomfortable after admitting last year that not enough information was available to answer all the questions regarding the safety of the technology that he went out and performed some of the basic research that should have been conducted prior to this technology going to market. You can see his latest research at:

    Well, if the manufacturer and researchers that claimed this technology is “safe” have not identified the impact or thresholds for safety using multiple or prolonged stuns . . . then how is a law enforcement officer? And if a law enforcement officer doesn’t know how many stuns are too many or how long of an exposure is too long . . . how can a law enforcement officer or law enforcement agency define appropriate use?

  11. N. CA Boondocks says:

    To Ian Jones,
    The fact you didn’t die means nothing. It was never said that everyone dies from it. It was also never said that shooting them is better. It was alluded that the company appears to go to great lengths to hide the complete truth. Had the told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and never tried so very hard to get it twisted, this page would not exist. You seem to have missed the point.

  12. Ian Jones says:

    I am a 50 year old police officer and during training I was tasered in the heart without any side affects except soreness and two small bruises. Our training in our state was conducted for two full days and most particpates were either tasered in the chest or back. It was not a great experience, and likely not great for the offender. However I consider the alternative of shooting someone as being a greatly worst option.

    • Anonymous says:

      When someone is dead they cannot suddenly make up stories so far from the truth that you could not have ever imagined that you would need to defend yourself against such claims. That person, once deceased, will not directly hurt/abuse/torture another living person, animal or even a corpse. I realize that I am making the assumption that the bullet strikes the guilty one. I also have a bias in thinking that gun control means hitting your target. The taser certainly is quiet, especially for indoor use, causes less pollution of the environment, saves the worry of exposure to HIV and whatever else may be in spattered blood, but it requires proximity which you might not always have. If I ever need immediate help from a law enforcement officer, I’d love it if the officer responding would be proficient with both weapons and willing to use whatever will most effectively protect me from harm and/or additional harm.

  13. Has anyone else noticed the ALL taser training and demos are applied to the trainee’s or volunteer’s BACK and NEVER to the chest (thereby avoiding areas near the heart)? And taser like to count these FAKE demos in their grand total. I call it ‘denominator washing’.

    Has anyone else noticed that there seems to be a statistical surplus of taser hits to the chest in those cases where the victim dies? Strange.

    Did you notice that Taser’s lawyer (Mr. Brave, Esq.) is the person that registered several domain names with the words Excited and Delirium in them? He redirects them to a ‘front’ organization.

    Once upon a time, the spec sheets for the various tasers mentioned the RMS current (around 150 to 160 mA). That information has been expunged from the later spec sheets and now they highlight the misleading and deceptive “average” values.

    Slippery folks, these guys that work at Taser.

    Tons more on my blog.

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