Taser Deaths on the Rise, Forensic Nursing Expert Q & A

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After reviewing this article that indicates the rise in the number of deaths associated with Taser Use by Law Enforcement Authorities a question and answer session came to mind that may help to shed some light on this phenomena from a Forensic Nursing perspective:

Question:If you were a forensic nurse on duty in the ER, how would you determine and present evidence that indeed a cause of death or injury was due to Taser Use?

Answer:If Taser gun is misused or overused, it overrides the subject’s central nervous system, causing uncontrollable contraction of the muscle tissue and instant collapse. The Taser is a conducted-electrical weapon that incapacitates its target through involuntary muscle contraction. (Electro-muscular disruption device)

Tasers can cause fibrillation. Most people who die from being Tasered die immediately, or very shortly thereafter. It is important to determine the length of time between the application of the Taser and the time of death. The taser gun increased the risk of cardiac arrest in people with heart conditions.

Question: What sort of indications may alert you as a forensic nurse to the possiblity that Taser Use was the cause of death or injury?

Answer: The Taser delivers a substantial electrical shock, so immediate abnormal heart rhythm would be a symptom. The patient will have Taser wounds; contusions, abrasions, lacerations, mild rhabdomyolysis, and testicular torsion. Most victims have many or all of these, and some have complications due to a preexisting injury or toxic or psychiatric problem.

Question: If you are already employed as a nurse on staff, have you ever seen a case that may have indicated Taser Use as a contributory factor in injury or death? Please elaborate why you think this.

Answer: I have never seen a Taser used on a victim. The Taser gun is advertised “TASER devices are among the safest and most effective use of force choices available”. The Taser may be safer than using guns; however it is a bit misleading to hear the Taser pronounced “safest”.

There have been recent lawsuits and concern for safety, and many law enforcement agencies have held off ordering more Taser guns until their safety concerns have been abated. The taser guns can be lethal if not used properly.

On the other hand, the Taser’s weapons are still widely used by U.S. police departments. Taser weapons actually save lives when used by police officers as an alternative to guns, so they make sense when used correctly in the right situations.

A Taser gun can be appropriate in limited circumstances. However, a proper evaluation will need to be done on all Taser gun users. Many casualty deaths are in conjunction with drug use. Further research needs to be done for more understanding of the use of Taser guns and sensitive drug interaction.

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