Patrick Lee was having too good a time at the Mercy Lounge, a Nashville rock club. He'd commenced the September 2005 evening by dropping a few hits of acid. Before long, the 21-year-old was tripping and determined to climb onstage. A bouncer eighty-sixed him and called the cops, who, according to witnesses, found Lee outside the club, babbling incoherently. Things went downhill fast. Lee made a move toward an officer and was hit with pepper spray. He ran a few feet and stripped off his clothes. The cops deployed their Tasers, jolting Lee 19 times in all. By the time paramedics arrived, witnesses say, he was unresponsive. He died 39 hours later. The cause, a county medical examiner concluded, was "excited delirium."Cue taser fanboys with the "who cares about druggies, they deserve what they get" argument. First, not every post-taser death has been associated with drugs (Google Darryl Turner, for example.).
For the past five years, this has been a common conclusion in deadly incidents involving Tasers, and the nation's top seller of electric stun guns prefers it that way; Taser International Inc. has twice sued medical examiners who cited its products as a contributing factor in a subject's death. At the same time, the company aggressively promotes awareness of excited delirium, an ill-defined condition that helps it fend off lawsuits. Thanks partly to testimony from a cast of ED proponents, several with financial ties to the company, Taser has lost just one wrongful-death case at trial out of 33 filed against it since 2001. (Dozens more lawsuits are pending.) ...
"The bottom line is this," says Andrew Dennis, a Chicago surgeon, part-time police officer, and medical researcher who coauthored three studies of Taser's effects on swine. "You have a lot of people who are acting psychotic, and often law enforcement is asked to deal with them. Some subgroup of this population is going to die, and we don't know why. This potential at-risk group is the quote-unquote excited delirium group. But there are no common threads to identify this at-risk group. As far as I'm concerned, everything discussed about excited delirium is conjecture."
None of these concerns have stopped Taser from talking up ED in training sessions, literature, and court filings. The company attends conferences for police chiefs and medical examiners, where it distributes ED-related literature, and has doled out free copies of Di Maio's book. It also sends unsolicited materials to medical examiners when an in-custody death occurs in their jurisdiction. In 2002, Taser released a statement for police to use if someone died in a Taser-related incident. "We regret the unfortunate loss of life," it begins. "There are many cases where excited delirium caused by various mental disorders or medical conditions, that may or may not include drug use, can lead to a fatal conclusion."
Second, and again this is one of those "do I really have to write this out?" situations, if someone is suspected of having drugs in their system, is having to face a high tech game of Russian roulette really something people are ok with? Do our police really get to take a chance at killing us based things like us running away, mouthing off, acting strangely, taking an "aggressive stance" (whatever that is), or even already being in handcuffs? Really? People are going to argue for that? Personally, I'll never settle for that kind of police state.