Taser warning: Stun-gun maker suggests avoiding chest shots
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The Hurricane police officer who deployed a Taser on 32-year-old Brian Cardall before Cardall collapsed and died this summer aimed for the spot officers are instructed to target: the chest.

But now the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based manufacturer of the 50,000-volt stun guns used by departments across the country suggests police should avoid shooting suspects in the chest.

Taser International Vice President of Training Rick Guilbault said in an Oct. 12 bulletin the decision was based on best practices research and will help police avoid lawsuits from those who claim the devices cause injuries and other health problems.

Critics of Tasers across the country say the training bulletin is the company's first admission that the weapons pose a risk of cardiac arrest -- an allegation the company denies.

Salt Lake City attorney Bob Sykes called the bulletin a "good sign" that Taser acknowledged potential problems that come from using the device.

"Regardless of whether or not [people] sue, you don't want to inflict unnecessary injury," said Sykes, who in 2008 represented Vernal resident Jared Massey in a lawsuit against the Utah Highway Patrol. Massey was taunted by a trooper who deployed a Taser on him during a traffic stop. He received a $40,000 settlement from the state after filing a lawsuit against UHP for excessive force.

"I think the Taser is overused by law enforcement and should be scaled back. It should be a last resort after using other devices to gain compliance," Sykes said.

Taser's bulletin states that the risk of someone going into cardiac arrest when a Taser is deployed on them is low, but notes people's reactions can't be predicted, particularly when other underlying medical conditions or drugs are added to the equation.

"We have not stated that Taser causes [cardiac] events in this bulletin, only that the refined target zones avoid any potential controversy on this topic," Steve Tuttle, vice president of communications for Taser, said in a prepared statement.

Taser officials say lowering of a Taser from the chest will incapacitate someone more effectively. The bulletin notes police can still shoot a suspect's chest if there isn't a better option.

Doug Burgoyne, brother-in-law of Cardall, said the latest bulletin from Taser is a sign police officers should more carefully scrutinize a situation before deploying the weapons.

Cardall, who was in the middle of a bipolar episode, died June 9 after he was shocked twice with a Taser on State Road 59 near Hurricane. One of the shocks was to Cardall's chest, police said.

The latest Taser bulletin adds to the family's list of still unanswered questions about Cardall's death.

"We agree that based on what happened with Brian, Tasers should not be used in the chest area," Burgoyne said Wednesday. "We're very interested to see around the globe with the reaction from municipalities and police enforcement agencies that are using Taser today."

Several law enforcement agencies in the Salt Lake Valley hadn't yet heard about the training bulletin when contacted by The Salt Lake Tribune Wednesday afternoon, but said they would look into the new recommendations released by Taser.

Ogden Police Lt. Marcy Korgenski said her department would "definitely investigate the information and certainly try to follow the recommendations of Taser International."

West Valley City Police Capt. Tom McLachlan said the idea of encouraging officers to avoid shooting at the chest is a departure from what officers are typically taught, which is to aim for "center mass."

"You're trained to stay away the face, head, groin," McLachlan said. "The chest and the back are the two largest target areas you've got."

Salt Lake City Police Sgt. Robin Snyder couldn't immediately comment Wednesday on the department's opinion on the bulletin.

The Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office has reviewed the bulletin and the county will begin implementing the new guidelines, said Rangemaster Nick Roberts, who administers Taser training to Salt Lake County deputies.

Roberts said Tasers are an important tool for officers and said he is puzzled by what he called an "attack" on Taser International in the wake of the latest bulletin sent out.

Salt Lake County officers generally deploy Tasers six to eight times a month without any reported injuries or problems. He said the weapons save the lives of suspects, victims and police officers alike.

"Twenty years ago officers had their hands and their guns. Is it better to shoot somebody? We don't want to do that, Roberts said. "It is a tool that has saved lives."

mrogers@sltrib.com

What happened June 9?

Hurricane police officer Ken Thompson twice deployed a Taser on Brian Cardall on the side of State Road 59 near Hurricane after Anna Cardall called 911 to report her husband behaving erratically while having a bipolar episode on June 9.

Cardall, 32, was shocked once when he failed to respond to an officers' commands to get down on the ground, according to 911 call recordings of the incident. Cardall was shocked a second time when he was on the ground.

The incident happened in front of a pregnant Anna Cardall, who had her 2-year-old daughter with her.

Anna Cardall had told dispatchers her husband was unarmed, bipolar and had taken Seroquel, medicine used to treat manic episodes associated with bipolar disorder. Brian Cardall was naked and had been trying to direct traffic, the recording shows.

After the Taser was used on Cardall a second time, he quit breathing and had no pulse, officers state on the recording.

The Cardall family has been critical of the officer's handling of the situation, saying a Taser never should have been deployed.

Peter Stirba, a Salt Lake City attorney representing the Hurricane Police Department during the investigation into whether police acted appropriately in deploying a Taser on Cardall, maintains the officers involved were warranted in using a stun gun.

Cardall's case remains under investigation as the Washington County Critical Incident Task Force waits for the Utah Medical Examiner to release Cardall's autopsy results. The task force will then issue findings of its investigation and pass the case along to the Washington County Attorney's Office for any potential charges related to misuse of force.

Source » Washington County 911 recordings, Salt Lake Tribune

Are Tasers lethal?

Amnesty International USA reports that 290 people have died after being struck by Tasers since 2001, but can't determine whether those deaths were directly related to the shock. In some cases the Taser use has been listed as a contributing factor, the organization reported.

Taser International says 99.7 percent of people who have been shocked were only scraped and bruised, if injured at all.

In Utah, two people besides Brian Cardall have died after an encounter: once in 2004 and once in 2006. The state medical examiner ruled both deaths were linked to other factors.

The state's largest police department, Salt Lake City, recently reported a rise in Taser use among officers from 2005 to 2006.

Salt Lake City police introduced Tasers to about 20 of its 400 officers in 2003. Three Taser deployments were reported that year.

By the end of 2005, all of the department's officers were equipped with Tasers, a department spokesman said. Tasers were used eight times in 2005. In 2006, Taser use increased to 51 deployments, followed by 43 deployments in 2007.

New Taser target guide

Taser International released new guidelines for a "preferred target zone" when using a Taser on a person. The company recommends police aim for "lower-center of mass" instead of "center of mass," or the chest area. According to Taser, the changes are recommended for three reasons:

To create a uniform set of guidelines when using Tasers, in the wake of the introduction of new Taser products.

Avoiding chest shots will minimize controversy about whether Tasers do or do not affect the human heart.

Close-spread Taser discharges to the front of the body are more effective when at least one probe is in the major muscles of the pelvic triangle or thigh region.

Source: Taser International

New Taser target guide

Taser International released new guidelines for a "preferred target zone" when using a Taser on a person. The company recommends police aim for "lower-center of mass" instead of "center of mass," or the chest area. According to Taser, the changes are recommended for three reasons:

To create a uniform set of guidelines when using Tasers, in the wake of the introduction of new Taser products.

Avoiding chest shots will minimize controversy about whether Tasers do or do not affect the human heart.

Close-spread Taser discharges to the front of the body are more effective when at least one probe is in the major muscles of the pelvic triangle or thigh region.

Source: Taser International

What is next in the Cardall case?

Family of Brian Cardall as well as authorities in the Washington County Sheriff's Office are waiting for the Utah Medical Examiner to finish Cardall's autopsy.

Doug Burgoyne, Brian Cardall's brother-in-law who is serving as the family's spokesperson, said Wednesday he has been told the autopsy may be completed in two to four weeks.

Investigators are waiting for additional reports on testing done on the Taser used on Cardall before they complete autopsy results.

Learn more about the life of Brian Cardall at www.briancardall.com