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Taser trouble
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The autopsy results are in. But, despite the definitive findings the verdict is still out on the weapon that killed Brian Cardall.

Cardall, a promising research scientist and Utah native, died from "ventricular fibrillation following conducted energy weapon deployment ... ." In other words, death by Taser.

Here's what happened. In June, Cardall, 32, was returning to Arizona after visiting Utah when he experienced a manic episode brought on by his bipolar disorder. He pulled his car to the side of the road, got out, removed his clothes, and began flagging down vehicles on State Road 59 outside Hurricane.

Cardall's wife gave him medication, called the police, informed the dispatcher of her husband's psychotic condition and the fact that it would take a while for the medicine to take effect. But Cardall ran out of time.

Just 42 seconds after Hurricane Chief of Police Lynn Excell and officer Ken Thompson arrived at the scene, Thompson claims, a confused Cardall, who refused to get on the ground as ordered, stepped toward the officers. Thompson fired his Taser, striking a naked and unarmed Cardall in the chest over the heart. When the Flagstaff resident attempted to rise, Thompson gave him a second jolt. Within minutes, Cardall was dead, one of about 350 Americans to die after a Taser deployment since 2001.

Had the incident occurred 20 years ago, before Tasers came on the market, Cardall, who weighed just 156 pounds, would have been physically taken to the ground and handcuffed. He may have suffered bumps and bruises, cuts and scrapes. The police officers would have risked same. But nobody would have died.

Cardall's family says the officer used excessive force, a claim rejected by investigators, who determined that Thompson adhered to both his department's use-of-force policy and Utah law. No charges were filed. And, because the policy and not the officer was at fault, none was deserved.

Thompson certainly didn't mean to kill Cardall. In fact, along with officers in 14,200 police, military and corrections agencies in 44 countries, Thompson had been taught that the Taser can prevent physical altercations that cause injury, and negate the need for deadly force. That it saves lives. As a result, Tasers have become the "nonlethal" weapon of choice in law enforcement circles. But that could change.

In the months since Cardall's death, Taser International, which manufactures the stun guns, lost a wrongful-death lawsuit, a first. A California jury determined that the company failed to adequately educate police about the risk of cardiac arrest from using the weapon.

Plus, the Arizona-based company recanted its long-standing advice to aim at center body mass, and advised police not to shoot suspects in the chest.

And, the American Medical Association determined that Tasers can do more harm than good. In a report issued the same month Cardall died, the AMA said "Tasers are used too frequently ... and may contribute to the death of suspects directly or indirectly." The group said more research is needed to determine if Tasers are safe for use on suspects in altered states, like Cardall.

The next move belongs to police departments, which should change their policies regarding Taser use. Tasers should be used sparingly, a weapon of next-to-last resort, until all of the evidence is in.

Stun guns are taking a toll
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