Criminal Justice

Taser use contributed to more than 20 inmate fatalities in US jails; UN official calls for probe

  • Print

Taser use contributed to or caused more than a quarter of 84 inmate deaths in U.S. jails, according to a Reuters investigation.

The publication reviewed the deaths of 104 inmates who died after being shocked with a Taser, and obtained autopsy findings in 84 cases.

Only two of the inmates who died were armed when they were shocked, while 18 inmates were assaulting guards or other inmates when Tasers were deployed, Reuters reports.

In 34 cases, the inmates were in handcuffs or other restraints when a Taser was used. In 49 of 70 cases in which Reuters gathered full details, the inmate was either pinned to the ground or held by officers when shocked.

Wrongful death suits were filed in 68 percent of the 104 fatalities, resulting in payouts in 93 percent of the cases.

The U.S. federal prison system doesn’t use Tasers, but they are used by 27 state prison systems. Most of those systems issue Tasers only to corrections officers in high-risk roles. The weapons are prevalent, however, in local and county jails.

The publication obtained video of 22 incidents in jails in jails in Franklin County, Ohio; Cheatham County, Tennessee; Franklin County, Arkansas; and McCurtain County, Oklahoma.

The video led the U.N. special rapporteur on torture to urge U.S. authorities to investigate and consider charges against jail officials, Reuters reports in a second article.

“In my view, all of the incidents shown in this video require independent investigation and most of them are likely to merit prosecution,” special rapporteur Nils Melzer said. “Clearly gratuitous infliction of severe pain and suffering … constitutes a grave violation of human dignity and of the universal code of conduct for law enforcement officials.”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.