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Taser first, ask questions at the autopsy.

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 17 years ago, in 2007, on the World Wide Web.

Here is what I said a few days ago about the widespread use of tasers by American cops, in response to a recent case in Alabama:

Tasers were originally introduced for police use as an alternative to using lethal force; the hope was that, in many situations where cops might otherwise feel forced to go for their guns, they might be able to use the taser instead, to immobilize a person who posed a threat to them or to others, without killing anybody in the process.

In practice, of course, cops and police culture being what they are, any notion of limiting tasers to those situations very quickly went out the window. Cops armed with tasers now freely use them to end arguments by intimidation or actual violence, to coerce people who pose no real threat to anyone into complying with their bellowed orders, and to hurt uppity civilians who dare to give them lip. They often do so even when the supposed offense that they’re responding to is completely trivial; they often start tasering, or keep on tasering, after their victims have already been rendered helpless by the circumstances or by an earlier use of force. Since any complaints of excessive force are always handled by their fellow cops, the investigations almost always end up concluding that Official Procedures were followed, as if that made everything O.K., and throwing the complaint into the rubbish bin without doing anything at all. So shock-happy Peace Officers can now go around using their tasers as 50,000-volt human prods in just about any situation, with more or less complete impunity.

— GT 2007-11-11: Taser first, ask questions later

Meanwhile, in Canada, a gang of four cops in the RCMP has killed a man by electrocution. The victim was Polish immigrant named Robert Dziekanski, who had been detained in a secure area in the Vancouver International Airport. He became agitated and could not communicate with the employees, since he did not speak English. When the cops showed up to try to talk to him, he was is standing with his back to a counter and with his arms lowered by his sides. That didn’t stop them from whipping out their tasers and shooting him within 25 seconds of arriving on the scene. They shot him at least three, and possibly four times, including at least once while he was convulsing on the ground while offiicers were kneeling on him and handcuffing him:

An eyewitness’s video recording of a man dying after being stunned with a Taser by police on Oct. 14 at Vancouver International Airport has been released to the public.

The 10-minute video recording clearly shows four RCMP officers talking to Robert Dziekanski while he is standing with his back to a counter and with his arms lowered by his sides, but his hands are not visible.

About 25 seconds after police enter the secure area where he is, there is a loud crack that sounds like a Taser shot, followed by Dziekanski screaming and convulsing as he stumbles and falls to the floor.

Another loud crack can be heard as an officer appears to fire one more Taser shot into Dziekanski.

As the officers kneel on top of Dziekanski and handcuff him, he continues to scream and convulse on the floor.

One officer is heard to say, Hit him again. Hit him again, and there is another loud cracking sound.

Police have said only two Taser shots were fired, but a witness said she heard up to four Taser shots.

Robert Dziekanski falls to the floor as an RCMP officer looks on.Robert Dziekanski falls to the floor as an RCMP officer looks on.

A minute and half after the first Taser shot was fired Dziekanski stops moaning and convulsing and becomes still and silent.

Shortly after, the officers appear to be checking his condition and one officer is heard to say, code red.

[R]etired superintendent Ron Foyle, a 33-year veteran of the Vancouver police who saw the video tape, said he didn’t know why it ever became a police incident.

It didn’t seem that he made any threatening gestures towards them, Foyle said.

The video was recorded in three segments. The first segment shows Dziekanski before police arrive.

He is clearly agitated, yelling in Polish, and appears to be sweating. He can be seen taking office chairs and putting them in front of the security doors. He then picks up a small table, which he holds, while a woman in the arrivals lounge calmly speaks to him in apparent effort to calm him down.

… In the second segment, Dziekanski picks up a computer and throws it to the ground. Three airport personnel arrive and block the exit from the secure area, but Dziekanski retreats inside and does not threaten them.

Then four RCMP officers arrive in the lounge. Someone can be heard mentioning the word Tasers.

Someone replies, Yes, as the officers approach the security doors.

… People in the lounge can be heard clearly telling the police Dziekanski speaks no English, only Russian. His mother later said he only spoke Polish.

Police enter the secure area with no problems and can be seen with Dziekanski standing calmly talking with officers. They appear to direct him to stand against a wall, which he does.

As he is standing there, one of the officers shoots him with a Taser.

— CBC News (2007-11-15): Taser video shows RCMP shocked immigrant within 25 seconds of their arrival

Meanwhile, the cops responded by confiscating the eyewitness’s digital camera, refusing to return it as they’d promised, and then issuing blatant lies about the number of officers on the scene, the number of times they tasered their victim, and whether or not there were bystanders nearby at the time of the attack. The video, which directly contradicts police statements, has only been released to the public since the eyewitness, Paul Pritchard, retained a lawyer and threatened to sue.

Since they have been forced to release the video of the killing, the Mounties have promised that The Matter Will Be Investigated, of course. But the official excuses are already being manufactured as we speak.

RCMP spokesman Cpl. Dale Carr said no one can judge what happened to Dziekanski by just watching the video.

It’s just one piece of evidence, one person’s view. There are many people that we have spoken to, RCMP spokesman Cpl. Dale Carr said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

What I urge is that those watching the video, take note of that. Put what they’ve seen aside for the time being. And wait to hear the totality of the evidence at the time of the inquest, Carr said.

— CBC News (2007-11-15): Taser video shows RCMP shocked immigrant within 25 seconds of their arrival

What ought to happen after the inquest is that these four Mounties end up in the dock on a charge of murder, in light of their reckless use of violence and their depraved indifference to human life. What will probably happen, instead, is a collective shrug of the shoulders from the Federalis and some sanctimonious official lectures on how important it is to cooperate with airport security.

(Story thanks to Elinor, in comments.)

12 replies to Taser first, ask questions at the autopsy. Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. Nathan Anderson

    9mm 147-grain slugs tore apart the heart of William Matix as he and his partner in crime, Michael Platt lived long enough to kill more FBI Special Agents. Accoding to Mr. Steve Tuddle, Taser mouthpiece, Electricity kills instantly. Well, stopping a human heart does not stop the human instantly. Just tak alook at the DoJ report on Electric Chair death results and the length of time after the jolt it took for the criminal to die.

    Rick Smith, Tom Smith, Philips Smith, and all the rest of Taser’s supposed Medical Review Board should be criminally charged!

  2. m0nkyman

    It’s easy to just blame the cops, but the guy had been in the secure zone for ten hours, after a twenty hour flight. Ten hours during which the entire security apparatus of a modern north american airport failed to help him. Depraved indifference from the airport staff who completely failed to help him through the steps needed to reunite him with his mother who spent six hours less than a hundred feet from him.

    His death is more the result of our crazed anti-terrorist paranoia and security precuations than it is about tazers.

  3. Rad Geek


    I agree that the airport security creeps treated him terribly, and also that the problems here have much more to do with institutions and practices than they do with equipment.

    However, it is pretty clear that the Mounties, in particular, bear quite a bit of the blame for killing him; they were the ones who decided to confront, escalate the level of violence, and repeatedly shocked an innocent man, even after he was lying on the ground helpless. The rest of airport security deserves to be condemned for being callous, stupid, and unhelpful. The cops deserve to be indicted on a charge of murder.

  4. Codeblue

    Well, being a taser instructor I can say a Taser did not kill him. They do not produce enough amperage to kill anyone. More than 200,000 people have been hit in testing purposes alone, me being one of them and it is an incapacitating form of compliance. A taser will only produce .0036 joules of power where an AED produces 360 joules to restart a heart. 50,000 volts with 6.8 amps will flow along the nerves only and will not penetrate the body cavity. Remember power goes the path of least resistance – which is around the cavity via the muscles and nerves. Someone with severe erratic behaviour or an emotional disturbed person can have detrimental chemical reactions causing nonreversible destruction even prior to the police be called. Unfortunately the police usually arrive when the person is acting out as their emotional via chemical state is all ready at the point of collapse. The Taser did not kill that person a chemical and or physical aspect of the guy was all ready in effect at the time of the incident.

    Sorry to ramble that is my thought on that matter.

  5. Rad Geek


    As I understand it, there is still considerable debate as to Taser Inc.’s claims that Tasers cannot kill. The fact that there has so far been only one study of the effects of taser shocks which was not funded by Taser Inc. doesn’t help matters. Neither does the fact that Taser representatives have apparently made calls leaning on local coroners to exclude the electric shocks from the cause of death in cases where victims died of cardiac arrest after being shocked. Cf., for example, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (2004-12-01): Is non-lethal Taser deadly? for a discussion of several different cases, and the paucity of controlled research in general, and independent controlled research in particular. Cf. also New York Times (2004-11-26): Claims Over Tasers’ Safety Are Challenged, concerning Taser Inc.’s misrepresentation of the findings of a federal study on taser safety. The first independent controlled study found that taser shocks won’t significantly affect heart operation or blood chemistry in healthy adults, but the study by design did not consider the effects on people with heart conditions, under the influence of drugs that affect the blood chemistry or operation of the heart, etc. You also need to consider that the level of electric shock is not the only factor that you need to consider in determining cause of death. Extreme pain and paralysis from the repeated shocks can cause its own physiological reactions independently of the effects of the electricity.

    All that said, I would only add that, whether or not the repeated taser shocks killed Robert Dziekanski, there was absolutely no excuse whatsoever for shocking him, and it is especially inexcusable that the cops shocked him 3-4 times, while he posed no significant threat to them, and continued to shock him while he was helpless on the ground. If the tasering did not kill him, I will retract my claim that the cops should be held responsible for murder; but they would nonetheless be guilty of assault and torture.

  6. Codeblue

    Rad Geek,

    I appreciate those sites you have posted and thank you for the opportunity for people to post comments on this web page. I do not deny that the officers used some questionable discretion. My only point was the Taser itself as an incapiciating tool was not the responsible item used to kill. Yes it will bring stress levels in people unaware of what the tool will do up to a degree, but that person was in the video was all ready in an emotional state of aggression (Emotionally disturbed person)as he was throwing items around, pacing, furtive movements etc- he was stressed and or agitated no doubt. We do not know the exact background (emotional or physical history) of the person in the video and neither did the officers that arrived – how would they. Could other tactful ways of handling the incident been a better way? We will never know. People can play what if questions all day, but they were not in the officer’s shoes. We cannot see exactly in the video of what the male was doing when he was on the ground. Was he making furtive moves to reach for a weapon (being in the airport I doubt it but…)- they were not going to wait and find out. What if they didn’t have the Taser would the officer’s have beat him senselessly? Its unknown.

    The Taser is in the news just as OC and Pepper Spray made the papers when they first came out and articles say they killed people. Officer’s on the road that work on the holidays, late night outs, are away from the family constantly, and our out dealing with a new generation of disrespectful people and want to go home safe every night. Most Companies use rigid testing for their tools and beofre they are placed on the street to assist officers and security so they can go home-safely.

    People die in planes, cars, motorcycles, from pharmaceutical products, you name it every day. The Taser is relatively new to peoples eyes because more agencies are starting to carry them. Because they are new to people and the lack of education its too easy to blame the item they know least about (just like the day they blamed Pepper spray or OC. Because of Tasers cities are seeing that Officer shootings are down, officer complaints of mis-use of force are down, and more people have been saved by using the Taser instead of deadly force.

    With that said I do not believe the Taser (itself) killed that man – I believe the persons chemical imbalance of being in an Emotional disturbed state was the factor. There has been forensic testing done on this subject, that no matter what one would do whether taser the person or just take them into custody these people die – that is quoted from the first article you linked. One of the forensic testing companies was done by CRT-Less Lethal, INC.

    Sorry once again to ramble on….I will leave the subject alone at this time and thanks for the open Forum Rad Geek I appreciated it!!!!

    Monkeyman, I agree with your comment!!

· December 2007 ·

  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2007-12-23 – Law and Orders #5: Daytona Beach cop takes control at Best Buy by shocking an unarmed, “retreating” woman:

    […] Not that it would matter much even if she died, as far as the Authorities are concerned, so long as those guidelines got followed. […]

— 2008 —

  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2008-01-14 – Non-Lethal Force:

    […] GT 2007-11-17: Taser first, ask questions at the autopsy […]

  2. carly

    This is to Codeblue, the taser instructor. Before Taser: Alive After Taser: Dead

    A lot of citizens think cops only taser people when the police officer is being threatened with bodily attack. Wrong! Lots of guidelines allow for tasers to be used for “pain compliance” . That means if you don’t do what do what they say, even if you aren’t being a threat to the cops or anyone else, they can zap you. REPEATEDLY.

    Never mind that many people can’t physically comply after they’ve been zapped. Well heck, then they just zap you again… and again… and again…


  3. carly

    More for Codeblue The guy was emotionally disturbed for 10 hours. Yet he still managed to remain alive. Amazing! The cops show up and light him up with 150,000 volts. Seconds later he’s dead. YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME CODEBLUE.

  4. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2008-05-10 – Cops are here to protect you. (#3):

    […] due to a medical condition, or can’t hear their bellowed orders because you’re deaf. It hardly even matters if you die. What cops can always count on is that, no matter how aggressively they escalate the confrontation […]

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