by J. Pharoah Doss, For New Pittsburgh Courier
In 2015, a Black man, wielding a knife, was killed by San Francisco police officers. The incident started a Taser controversy. However, the San Francisco police officers didn’t use Tasers. They actually shot and killed the man.
Back in 2015, San Francisco police officers were restricted from carrying Tasers. The police chief and his three predecessors failed to get The San Francisco Police Commission to authorize the use of Tasers. The San Francisco Police Commission didn’t want officers carrying Tasers because the weapon could kill or maim suspects, especially those with heart conditions.
A 2012 study published in Circulation, The American Heart Association’s journal, confirmed Tasers, which deliver a 50,000-volt shock, can cause cardiac arrest and death. Cardiologists at the University of California, San Francisco explained Tasers were dangerous because a jolt of electricity, at just the right moment in the heartbeat cycle, can cause cardiac arrhythmia, leading to heart attack or death in minutes by ventricular fibrillation.
After the fatal shooting of the Black man with the knife, the police chief renewed his request for San Francisco police officers to carry Tasers.
The police chief stated that the shooting could have been avoided if the officers involved had been equipped with Taser stun guns. The Taser would have been an effective tool to disarm the man with the knife without gunfire.
Back in 2015, fatal police shootings were considered a national epidemic. Every law enforcement agency was under pressure to reduce police shootings. It was difficult to refuse the police chief’s request under the circumstances. (The police chief had a valid point concerning armed and dangerous people, but according to Amnesty International, Tasers are mostly used on unarmed suspects who committed minor offenses.)
By 2018 The San Francisco Police Commission approved arming officers with Tasers, but the approval came with 24-pages of regulations and accountability measures. Only officers with crisis intervention training were issued Tasers. Officers were only allowed to use Tasers when a person armed with a weapon, other than a firearm, resisted arrest violently or was injuring or intending to injure another person. Plus, a review board was established to oversee and investigate cases involving Tasers.
Apparently, the political pressure made The San Francisco Police Commission drop their concern about heart conditions.
(Reuters reported 49 people died in 2018 after being shocked by Tasers. The same year the number of unarmed Black men fatally shot by the police was 23.)
On October 13, 2021, in Pittsburgh, PA, Jim Rogers, a 54-year-old Black man, was confronted by police officers over a stolen bike. The police claimed Rogers refused to comply with their orders. Then Rogers was shocked with 50,000 volts. (A family friend of Rogers said Rogers begged for his life and pleaded for medical attention after being shocked four times, and neighbors said the bike was given away for free after they couldn’t sell it.) Rogers was arrested. During his transport to the county jail, Rogers had a “medical emergency”.
Rogers was taken to the hospital, and he died twenty-four hours later.
Pittsburgh’s Mayor Bill Peduto told the local media there needs to be a thorough review of the police department’s Taser guidelines. Reviewing guidelines, adding Taser regulations similar to the ones in San Francisco, even creating a review board won’t matter if officers are not prepared for the possibility of inducing sudden cardiac arrest and don’t have the adequate medical knowledge to handle the emergency.
Apparently, firing a police taser is like playing Russian roulette with the heartbeat cycle.
Back in 2012, when asked if Tasers provoked deadly heart problems, a cardiologist at the University of California, San Francisco said, “This is no longer arguable. This is a scientific fact. The national debate should now center on whether the risk of sudden death with Tasers is low enough to warrant widespread use by law enforcement.”