A 15-year-old boy died after he was shocked with a Taser gun in Michigan on Sunday. Amnesty International has said this shows the imperative need for further tests on the safety of the electro-shock weapon.
"This case shows, once again, police use of a Taser in what appears to have been a non-life threatening situation," said Angela Wright, US researcher at Amnesty International. "There have to be ways of restraining an unarmed teenager other than using electro-shock weapons.
"Taser guns are not the safe weapons they are portrayed to be. A full investigation into their safety needs to be carried out before more people suffer the consequences of their misuse."
A police news release stated that the boy – who has not been named – was shocked when he "attempted to fight" Bay City officers responding to reports of an argument between two males in an apartment. The boy was reported to have been in medical distress immediately after being shocked and was pronounced dead in hospital.
He is the second minor to have died in the USA this year after being shocked with a Taser, according to information gathered by Amnesty International. The total number of deaths after the use of Taser guns in the US has risen to 351 since June 2001.
Last December, Amnesty International issued a report reiterating its concerns about the safety of stun weapons in law enforcement. The study cited medical concerns suggesting that their use can kill individuals already compromised by drugs, exertion or ill-health. The report also cited cases of apparently healthy individuals dying after being shocked.
In January, an unarmed 17-year-old boy in Virginia died after police responding to a minor street incident shocked him in his apartment.
In March last year, Darryl Turner, also aged 17, died when police used a Taser on him after an argument in the store where he worked in North Carolina.
A video tape showed an officer fire Taser darts into Darryl Turner's chest as the unarmed teenager stood with his arms by his side. The coroner ruled his cause of death to be a fatal disturbance of the heart rhythm due to stress and the Taser shocks. His death is one of at least 50 nationwide where coroners have ruled that Tasers were a cause or contributory factor.
"It's disturbing to see any deaths resulting from unnecessary levels of police force, or from weapons which have not been rigorously tested or controlled," said Angela Wright.
Amnesty International has called on US law enforcement departments to cease using Tasers, pending further safety studies, or to strictly limit their use to situations where they are necessary to protect life and avoid the use of police firearms.