Two Recent Taser Deaths Renew Excessive Force, Safety Debates | DC Metro Area Personal Injury Law Blog

A 35-year-old homeless shelter worker in Oklahoma City died recently after being shocked with a police Taser, renewing public debate about the appropriate use of non-lethal weapons by police officers.

According to a press account, Milisha Thompson was already handcuffed and lying on the ground when she was shot with the Taser.  Police reports indicate that officers attempted to shock her five times, succeeding only twice.  Her husband, who also worked at the homeless shelter, denies that report and claims that his wife was shocked more than 20 times prior to her death.   He also says that she was initially subdued by police while trying to alert them to a crime, rather than committing one herself.  He is suing the city for $1.5 million, accusing the police department of excessive force, and failure to train officers properly.

Recently, a 22 year-old Prince George’s County, Maryland resident, Marcus Skinner, died after being shot by police with Tasers.  Skinner was shocked at least twice — one time each by officers from both Fairmont Heights and Prince George’s County.  Skinner had also been handcuffed before the officers used Tasers to shock him.

In a separate incident in San Angelo, Texas, a man died of burn injuries after being subdued by a Taser.  According to a press report, the man threw gasoline at officers during an altercation in which no one was injured, and he later caught on fire after being shocked with a Taser during his arrest.  Police reports indicate that the man was holding a lighter at some point during the incident, and that one was later found at the scene.  Texas Rangers are investigating whether the fire might have been ignited by the suspect himself, and whether their Tasers are capable of causing fires.

According to an article published in the May 2005 edition of the Journal of Emergency Medical Services, although Tasers can’t ignite flammable materials used to make clothing, the devices do have a capacity to ignite flammable vapors emanating from clothing.  The article also states that officers trained in the use of Tasers are instructed not to use them in certain situations, such as in meth labs, or near gas stations, because of the fire hazard.  At the time of that publication, two other individuals had suffered burns because flammable liquids on their clothing ignited as they were being subdued with Tasers.

The DC Metro Area Personal Injury Law Blog previously posted the following taser reports:

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