Category Archives: Police State

Amazon Ring Is Selling Home Surveillance Access to Police Departments.

Ring_doorbell-800x415

Monday, 05 August 2019

Source: .TheNewAmerican.com

Written by Joe Wolverton, II, J.D.

Amazon’s Ring home security service has entered into contracts with over 200 police departments, giving law enforcement expansive access to the video and audio collected by the service’s surveillance devices.

An e-mail obtained by Motherboard included notes written by the Waynesboro, Virginia, chief of police taken during a webinar he participated in that featured a Ring representative explaining to law-enforcement officers the use of something the Ring spokesman called the “Law Enforcement Neighborhood Portal.”

The chief’s e-mailed notes, according to Motherboard, revealed the personal access Amazon was selling. “This portal allows local police to see a map with the approximate locations of all Ring cameras in a neighborhood, and request footage directly from camera owners. Owners need to consent, but police do not need a warrant to ask for footage,” the article reports.

The last few lines of the e-mail disclose the contact information of a Ring neighborhood’s training manager, who will train client police departments on the use of the “Law Enforcement Portal.”

A visit to Amazon’s Ring Security System’s product page reveals to possible customers — and those worreid about personal privacy — all the data that Amazon is making available — without prior permission or notice of Ring customers — to police departments.

Monitor your property in HD video, and check-in on home at anytime with Live View on-demand video and audio.

Hear and speak to people on your property from your mobile device with the built-in microphone and speakers.

Activate the siren from your phone, tablet and PC to scare away any suspicious people caught on camera.

Perhaps most troubling is the fact that the images and sounds recorded by Ring can be obtained from Ring customers without a warrant. Admittedly, the homeowner would need to give permission to police, but pressure would be there, As millions of Americans are fond of saying, “If you haven’t done anything wrong, you’ve got nothing to hide.” So complying with a request from police for access to their security camera footage would be regarded by many as their civic duty.

There is a central tenet of Anglo-America law that is overlooked by those over-zealous to please the police: A person is innocent until proven guilty.

Advertisements created by Amazon display disregard for this key constitutional principle, too.

In an ad promoting the Ring Community service, Amazon declares:

Ring’s Community Alerts help keep neighborhoods safe by encouraging the community to work directly with local police on active cases. Alerts are created using publicly posted content from the Neighbors app that has a verified police report case number. We get the explicit consent of the Ring customer before the content is posted, and utilize sponsored, geotargeted posts to limit the content to relevant communities. Community members can then directly share or post tips to help local police contact persons of interest or investigate crimes.

As part of this ad, Amazon published footage from a Ring surveillance camera provided by one of its customers. Along with the image of the unnamed woman was the caption, “This woman was caught on video breaking into a vehicle.”

Did you catch the problem with that promo?

Was the woman in video still found guilty of breaking into a car? Was she charged? Was she tried? Was she found guilty by a jury of her peers?

In other words, was she afforded due process, as required for over 800 years by English and American constitutional law?

I imagine some of you are rolling your eyes at my suggestion that Amazon should be more careful before advertising accusations of criminal activity.

Let me offer the following frightening use of user-provided surveillance video footage: Two neighbors are arguing for months over some matter and the disagreement has escalated to a heated exchange of words. Now imagine that one of the neighbors subscribes to Amazon’s Ring security system and he knows that he can give cops access to the images recorded by his Ring surveillance camera. He reviews the footage and finds an image of his neighbor trying to get into a car the neighbor owns, but accidentally locked himself out of. The car is parked on the street between the two houses.

Now, imagine you’re the neighbor trying to get into your own car and you see a picture of yourself on Twitter posted by Amazon carrying the caption: “This woman was caught on video breaking into a vehicle.”

Imagine that the neighbor’s employer sees the ad and decides that he doesn’t want to employ “a criminal.”

This, dear readers, is the reason the Fourth Amendment exists. This is the reason that centuries of Anglo-American legal protections have guaranteed that an accused man is innocent until proven guilty, that he cannot be punished for a crime without being afforded the due process of law.

Finally, should corporations be able to sell police departments access to the names and addresses of people who’ve purchased the corporation’s home security systems?

Should the police be able to bypass the constitutional mandate (and basic human right) that in order to keep people “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,” “no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized?”

Consider this statement made by James Otis, in his attack on the Writs of Assistance — unwarranted police intrusions into the homes of Americans that lit the fuse of the War for Independence: “Now, one of the most essential branches of English liberty is the freedom of one’s house. A man’s house is his castle; and whilst he is quiet, he is as well guarded as a prince in his castle.”

The bottom line is, regardless of Amazon’s sale to police departments of access to home surveillance video, the citizens who use the surveillance system and agree to law-enforcement access to their video footage cannot give the police permission to search or surveil the homes, papers, effects, or anything else of another person. This is a vital principle in the history of America and of the liberty her people should enjoy.

Massive Checkpoint Operation in Tennessee Violated Posse Comitatus, Fourth Amendment

Kurt Nimmo
Infowars
April 6, 2009

 

On April 3, Infowars reported on the decision of the Tennessee Governor’s office to call off an illegal seat belt checkpoint operation that was scheduled to be conducted by the Whiteville police with DHS and military participation on April 4.

Earlier today on the Alex Jones Show, Tennessee Representative Johhny Shaw admitted he was unaware of the planned operation. He also said Governor Phil Bredesen did not know the DHS and military planned to collaborate with local police in Shaw’s district in violation of the Posse Comitatus Act.

http://www.infowars.com/wp-content/plugins/audio-player/player.swf

Alex talks with Tennessee Representative Johhny Shaw

Shaw’s admission state government was unaware of the scheduled checkpoint is more evidence the feds are contacting local police agencies directly without going through the state or informing them of operations that are in violation of the law.

 

 

 

It appears this is not the case in regard to another illegal operation. Last month, DHS, federal and state agencies, the Air Force, and local law enforcement worked together to violate the law in Tennessee.

On March 31, 2009, the Marion County News reported on a truck checkpoint set-up by the Tennessee Highway Patrol, Homeland Security, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the Tennessee Department of Health, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, the Tennessee Department of Transportation, the Tennessee Department of Revenue, the Marion County Sheriff’s Department, the Monteagle Police Department, the Tennessee National Guard, the Arnold Air Force Base Police, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms, the Department of Commerce and Insurance and the FBI.

“Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers led explosive and drug sniffing dogs around the bases of trucks while National Guardsmen circled overseas containers with explosive and radiation detecting hand held devices in a scene reminiscent of ‘24’. Dozens of law enforcement vehicles, lights flashing, lined the brake inspection station, as trucks, both private and commercial, queued in the far right lane of 24 for what seemed like miles,” reports a Marion County News reporter.

According to a Tennessee Department of Safety press release, the object if the Homeland Security type checkpoints is to stop, evaluate and inspect as many commercial vehicles as possible, focusing in commercial vehicles, rental trucks and cargo tanks. Furthermore, these checkpoints will be held randomly throughout the year.

“The object (of the checkpoint) is to look at as many trucks as possible. I want to find something,” Sergeant John Harmon told law enforcement officials during the pre-checkpoint briefing. “I want to prevent something from happening.”

Harmon didn’t discover anything one might find in an episode of 24. However, over a span of ten hours, cops issued dozens of tickets on 285 eastbound for everything from safety defects to DUI.

Posse Comitatus was violated during the massive operation held on March 24 due to the fact the Arnold Air Force Base Police participated.

As noted above, DHS and the military intend to participate in additional sweeps — not simply in violation of Posse Comitatus but also the Fourth Amendment — randomly throughout the year. Tennessee residents need to contact local and state officials and demand the Constitution and Posse Comitatus be respected.

Virginia Fusion Center Releases “Homegrown Terrorism” Document

InfowarsApril 8, 2009

featured stories   Virginia Fusion Center Releases Homegrown Terrorism Document
Terrorism

 

 

 

Spanning 39,598 square miles, Virginia has a population of almost 7.5 million residents. Roughly half of these residents are concentrated in the northern Virginia, central Virginia, and Hampton Roads regions. All three of these regions feature ethnically diverse populations with cultural ties to the Middle East, the horn of Africa, Southeast Asia, and other areas heavily impacted by terrorist activities.

Virginia’s network of colleges and universities also represent a potential avenue of entry for terrorist operatives and a possible forum for recruitment of sympathizers.

In addition to reviewing information directly reported to the VFC, surveys were sent to all Virginia local law enforcement agencies to determine the extent of terrorism activities throughout the state. Information of interest included not only event-specific data, but also suspicious traffic stops or activities consistent with pre-operational attack planning. Assessments of the overall threat posed by specific terror and extremist groups or movements were completed utilizing the Project SLEIPNIR: Revised Long Matrix for Criminal Extremism utilized by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

OVERVIEW OF TERRORIST AND EXTREMIST DATA IN VIRGINIA

INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM THREAT

Al-Qa’ida

Al-Shabaab

HAMAS

Hizballah

Jama’at al-Tabligh

Jama’at ul Fuqra

Lashkar-e Tayyiba

Muslim Brotherhood

DOMESTIC TERRORISM THREAT

Anarchist Extremists

Black Separatist Extremists

Homegrown Islamic Extremism

Lone Wolf Extremists

Militia Extremists

Special Interest Extremism

White Nationalist Extremism

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The purpose of the 2009 Terrorism Threat Assessment is to convey potential terrorism threats affecting the Commonwealth of Virginia. Terrorism, for the purpose of this report, is defined as politically motivated violence or threat of violence designed to coerce action or to prevent others from taking intended actions. While there is no intelligence that indicates terrorists are currently planning attacks in Virginia, the presence of extremists, evidence of trends linked to terrorism, and the abundance of potential targets, suggests that the potential for Virginia to be targeted remains significant.

As with previous years, the threat from terrorist and extremist groups can be categorized as international or domestic threats. Each of these groups holds particular values and political goals and thus represents a different type of threat to Virginia and the U.S. The international terrorism threat to Virginia and the nation as a whole stems from several radical Islamic militant groups. The domestic terrorist threat is comprised of a wide variety of groups, to include special interest groups, anarchists, race-based groups, including black separatists and white supremacists, militias and sovereign citizens, and homegrown extremists.

In Virginia, identified activities have been limited primarily to non-violent acts and crimes committed to raise funds to finance group activities. Some activities also relate to criminal endeavors generally used by extremists to further operational planning. The Virginia Fusion Center monitors international, national, and regional trends relating to terrorism and criminal extremism for indicators of emerging activity in the Commonwealth. Terrorism trends of greatest concern in 2009 include terrorism tradecraft, recruitment, and radicalization, terrorist use of technology, and terrorism financing.

As terrorists adapt and evolve to offset existing counterterrorism measures, they have successfully exploited available technology and modified their tactics to ensure successful operations. While several of the trends noted are applicable to all terrorist and extremist groups, increasing linkages are noted to specific critical infrastructure and key resources. As such, this product highlights, where possible, connections noted between groups, their behaviors, and potentially targeted infrastructure.

Based on the information gathered, the Commonwealth of Virginia could be potentially targeted for terrorist attack due to its location and proximity to Washington, D.C., its concentration of critical infrastructure, and the amount of extremist activity documented in Virginia. In order to detect and deter terrorist attacks, it is essential that information regarding suspected terrorists and suspicious activity in Virginia be closely monitored and reported in a timely manner. Additionally, it remains important to determine the extent of existing trends and to collect, analyze, and disseminate this information to law enforcement partners in Virginia.

OVERVIEW

The 2009 Terrorism Threat Assessment, in keeping with the Virginia Fusion Center (VFC) mission of integrating threat information from public and private sector agencies to prevent terrorist attacks, is designed to afford law enforcement, homeland security, and policy making officials terrorism threat intelligence of relevance to Virginia. Included in this assessment is an overview of identified groups, individuals, or activities; known or suspected trends; and critical infrastructure or key resources with significant U.S. or Virginia reporting within the past five years. While there is no intelligence that indicates terrorists are planning attacks in Virginia, the abundance of potential targets provides terrorists with many possibilities and opportunities throughout the Commonwealth. Information contained in this Threat Assessment is current as of February 2009 and will be

reviewed and updated on an annual basis.

In addressing the terrorism threat to Virginia, it is important to define terrorism and the scope of activities included. Terrorism can be defined as politically motivated violence or threat of violence designed to coerce others into actions they would not otherwise undertake or to refrain from actions they desired to take. Terrorism is generally directed against civilian targets and is intended to produce effects beyond immediate physical damage, to produce long-term psychological repercussions, especially fear, on a particular target audience. For the purposes of this Threat Assessment, terrorism is divided into two categories: international and domestic terrorism. International terrorism involves threats emanating primarily from the international jihad movement, foreign terrorist organizations, and state sponsors of terrorism. Domestic terrorism includes threats from special interest groups, white supremacists, black separatists, and anti-government groups. Terrorism trends included in this assessment are activities, such as recruitment, financing, training, and planning, conducted in furtherance of terrorism.

Terrorism remains a threat to Virginia, not only because of its proximity to the nation’s capitol, but also due to the volume of significant infrastructure. Such infrastructure includes military installations such as the Pentagon; two nuclear power plants; and a major East Coast seaport. Virginia is also home to a wide range of transportation sector targets of interest, including interstate highways with high-traffic bridges and tunnels; railways and subways; and aviation and port facilities. While other infrastructure sectors, such as water, energy, and information technology could be targeted, it is also possible that terrorist attention could be directed toward law enforcement at the local, state, and federal levels.

Spanning 39,598 square miles, Virginia has a population of almost 7.5 million residents. Roughly half of these residents are concentrated in the northern Virginia, central Virginia, and Hampton Roads regions. All three of these regions feature ethnically diverse populations with cultural ties to the Middle East, the horn of Africa, Southeast Asia, and other areas heavily impacted by terrorist activities. While the vast majority of these individuals are law-abiding, this ethnic diversity also affords terrorist operatives the opportunity to assimilate easily into society, without arousing suspicion. Virginia’s network of colleges and universities also represent a potential avenue of entry for terrorist operatives and a possible forum for recruitment of sympathizers. Additionally, Virginia’s correctional system remains an attractive venue for recruitment and radicalization relating to terror organizations and hate groups.

The VFC has compiled information from local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, as well as open sources to create this Threat Assessment. In addition to reviewing information directly reported to the VFC, surveys were sent to all Virginia local law enforcement agencies to determine the extent of terrorism activities throughout the state. Information of interest included not only event-specific data, but also suspicious traffic stops or activities consistent with pre-operational attack planning. Assessments of the overall threat posed by specific terror and extremist groups or movements were completed utilizing the Project Sleipnir: Revised Long Matrix for Criminal Extremism utilized by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Although the primary objective of this report is to share valuable terrorism intelligence with public safety agencies in Virginia, a secondary goal is to highlight the types of data needed from local, state, and federal partners of the VFC. While every effort was made to ensure accurate, thorough reporting of the terrorist threat, it is expected that not every incident of possible terrorist activity will be reported or forwarded to the VFC.

Tasers Are Amerika’s Police State Weapon Of Choice

The untold story of Taser-related deaths

By Silja J.A. Talvi November 13, 2006


TASER International Inc. maintains that its stun-guns are “changing the world and saving lives everyday.” There is no question that they changed Jack Wilson’s life. On Aug. 4, in Lafayette, Colo., policemen on a stakeout approached Jack’s son Ryan as he entered a field of a dozen young marijuana plants. When Ryan took off running, officer John Harris pursued the 22-year-old for a half-mile and then shot him once with an X-26 Taser. Ryan fell to the ground and began to convulse. The officer attempted cardiopulmonary resuscitation, but Ryan died.

According to his family and friends, Ryan was in very good physical shape. The county coroner found no evidence of alcohol or drugs in his system and ruled that Ryan’s death could be attributed to the Taser shock, physical exertion from the chase and the fact that one of his heart arteries was unusually small.

In October, an internal investigation cleared Officer Harris of any wrongdoing and concluded that he had used appropriate force.

Wilson says that while his son had had brushes with the law as a juvenile and struggled financially, he was a gentle and sensitive young man who always looked out for his disabled younger brother’s welfare, and was trying to better his job prospects by becoming a plumber’s apprentice.

“Ryan was not a defiant kid,” says his father. “I don’t understand why the cop would chase him for a half-mile, and then ‘Tase’ him while he had an elevated heart rate. If [the officer] hadn’t done that, we know that he would still be alive today.”

Ryan is one of nearly 200 people who have died in the last five years after being shot by a Taser stun gun. In June, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it would review these deaths.

Over the same period, Taser has developed a near-monopoly in the market for non-lethal weaponry. Increasingly, law enforcement officials use such weapons to subdue society’s most vulnerable members: prisoners, drug addicts and the mentally ill, along with “passive resisters,” like the protesters demonstrating against Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s attendance of a Rick Santorum fundraiser in Pittsburgh on Oct. 9. (See sidebar, “Passive Resisters.”)

Taser has built this monopoly through influence peddling, savvy public relations and by hiring former law enforcement and military officers—including one-time Homeland Security chief hopeful, Bernard Kerik. And now that questions are being raised about the safety of Taser weaponry, the company is fighting back with legal and marketing campaigns.

Birth of a Taser
In 1974, a NASA scientist named Jack Cover invented the first stun gun, which he named the TASER, or “Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle,” after Tom Swift, a fictional young inventor who was the hero of a series of early 20th century adventure novels. Because it relied on gunpowder, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms classified Tasers as registered firearms.

That changed in the early ’90s. According to Taser’s corporate creation story, co-founder Rick Smith became interested in the device after friends of his “were brutally murdered by an angry motorist.” Smith contacted Cover in the hopes of bringing the Taser as a self-defense weapon to a larger market. In 1993, with money from Smith’s brother Tom, they created Air Taser Inc., which would later become Taser International Inc. When Tasers were re-engineered to work with a nitrogen propellant rather than gunpowder, the weapon was no longer categorized as a firearm. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department adopted the guns, but they were not widely embraced by other departments.

Taser’s fortunes improved in 1998, after the company embarked on a new development program, named “Project Stealth.” The goal was to streamline stun gun design and deliver enough voltage to stop “extremely combative, violent individuals,” especially those who couldn’t be controlled by non-lethal chemicals like mace.

Out of Project Stealth, the Advanced Taser was born. When the weapon premiered in 2000—a model eventually redesigned as the M-26—the company brought on a cadre of active and retired military and law enforcement personnel to vouch for the weapon’s efficacy. The new spokespersons ranged from Arizona SWAT members to a former Chief Instructor of hand-to-hand combat for the U.S. Marine Corps.

Taser began to showcase the Advanced Taser at technology-related conventions throughout North America and Europe, billing it as a non-lethal weapon that could take down even the toughest adversary. Soon to be among those “dangerous” opponents were the protesters assembling in Philadelphia for the 2000 Republican National Convention.

By the following year, 750 law enforcement agencies had either tested or deployed the weapon. Today, more than 9,500 law enforcement, correctional and military agencies in 43 countries use Taser weaponry. In the past eight years, more than 184,000 Tasers have been sold to law enforcement agencies, with another 115,000 to citizens in the 43 states where it is legal to possess a stun gun.

When the electricity hits

Taser’s stun guns are designed to shoot a maximum of 50,000 volts into a person’s body through two compressed nitrogen-fueled probes, thereby disrupting the target’s electromuscular system. The probes are connected to the Taser gun by insulated wires, and can deliver repeat shocks in quick succession. The probes can pierce clothing and skin from a distance or be directly applied to a person’s body—a process known as “dry stunning”—for an ostensibly less-incapacitating, cattle-prod effect.

“The impetus for Tasers came from the often community-led search for ‘less-than-lethal’ police weapons,” explains Norm Stamper, former chief of the Seattle Police Department and author of Breaking Rank. “[There were] too many questionable or bad police shootings, and cops saying, correctly, that there are many ambiguous situations where a moment’s hesitation could lead to their own deaths or the death of an innocent other.”

According to Taser’s promotional materials, its stun guns are designed to “temporarily override the nervous system [and take] over muscular control.” People who have experienced the effect of a Taser typically liken it to a debilitating, full-body seizure, complete with mental disorientation and loss of control over bodily functions.

Many Taser-associated deaths have been written up by coroners as being attributable to “excited delirium,” a condition that includes frenzied or aggressive behavior, rapid heart rate and aggravating factors related to an acute mental state and/or drug-related psychosis. When such suspects are stunned, especially while already being held down or hogtied, deaths seem to occur after a period of “sudden tranquility,” as Taser explains in its CD-ROM training material entitled, “Sudden Custody Death: Who’s Right and Who’s Wrong.” In that same material, the company warns officers to “try to minimize the appearance of mishandling suspects.”

Taser did not respond to requests for an interview. But its press and business-related statements have consistently echoed the company’s official position: “TASER devices use proprietary technology to quickly incapacitate dangerous, combative or high-risk subjects who pose a risk to law enforcement officers, innocent citizens or themselves.” Another brochure, specifically designed for law enforcement, clearly states that the X26 has “no after effects.”

Ryan Wilson’s family can attest otherwise, as can many others.

Casualties and cruelties

In the span of three months—July, August and September—Wilson’s Taser-related death was only one among several. Larry Noles, 52, died after being stunned three times on his body (and finally on his neck) after walking around naked and “behaving erratically.” An autopsy found no drugs or alcohol in his system. Mark L. Lee, 30, was suffering from an inoperable brain tumor and having a seizure when a Rochester, N.Y., police officer stunned him. In Cookeville, Ala., 31-year-old Jason Dockery was stunned because police maintain he was being combative while on hallucinogenic mushrooms. Family members believe he was having an aneurysm. And Nickolos Cyrus, a 29-year-old man diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, was shocked 12 times with a Taser stun gun after a Mukwonago, Wis., police officer caught him trespassing on a home under construction. An inquest jury has already ruled that the officer who shot Cyrus—who was delusional and naked from the waist down when he was stunned—was within his rights to act as he did.

Although the company spins it otherwise, Taser-associated deaths are definitely on the rise. In 2001, Amnesty International documented three Taser-associated deaths. The number has steadily increased each year, peaking at 61 in 2005. So far almost 50 deaths have occurred in 2006, for an approximate total of 200 deaths in the last five years.

Amnesty International and other human rights groups have also drawn attention to the use of Tasers on captive populations in hospitals, jails and prisons.

In fact, the first field tests relating to the efficacy of the “Advanced Taser” model in North America were conducted on incarcerated men. In December 1999, the weapon was used, with “success,” against a Clackamas County (Ore.) Jail inmate. The following year, the first-ever Canadian use of an Advanced Taser was by the Victoria Police, on an inmate in psychiatric lockdown. Since that time, Taser deployment in jails and prisons has become increasingly commonplace, raising concerns about violations of 8th Amendment prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment.

This summer, the ACLU of Colorado filed a class action suit on behalf of prisoners in the Garfield County Jail, where jail staff have allegedly used Tasers and electroshock belts, restraint chairs, pepper spray and pepperball guns as methods of torture. According to Mark Silverstein, legal director for ACLU of Colorado, inmates have told him that Tasers are pulled out and “displayed” by officers on a daily basis, either as a form of intimidation and threat compliance, or to shock the inmates for disobeying orders.

A recent report from the ACLU’s National Prison Project (NPP), “Abandoned and Abused: Orleans Parish Prisoners in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina,” concerns the plight of the estimated 6,500 New Orleans prisoners left to fend for themselves in the days after the monumental New Orleans flood. The NPP’s Tom Jawetz says that the organization has been looking into abuses at Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) since 1999, but that the incidents that took place in jails and prisons in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina were unprecedented.

Take the case of New Orleans resident Ivy Gisclair. Held at OPP for unpaid parking tickets, Gisclair was about to be released on his own recognizance when Hurricane Katrina hit. After languishing with thousands of other prisoners in a flooded jail, Gisclair was sent to the Bossier Parish Maximum Security Prison. Once there, Gisclair apparently had the nerve to inquire about being held past his release date. Gisclair has testified that he was then restrained and stunned repeatedly with a Taser, before being thrown, naked and unconscious, into solitary confinement.

“I can’t imagine any justification for that,” says Jawetz. “[Prison guards] were kicking, beating and ‘Tasing’ him until he lost consciousness. A line was crossed that should never have been crossed.”

In March, Reuben Heath, a handcuffed and subdued Montana inmate, was shocked while lying prone in his bed. The deputy involved—a one-time candidate for sheriff—now faces felony charges.

Gisclair and Heath are among the inmates who have survived in-custody incidents involving the abuse of Tasers. Others haven’t been as fortunate. This year alone, those who have died in custody in the aftermath of being stunned by Tasers include Arapahoe County Jail (Colorado) inmate Raul Gallegos-Reyes, 34, who was strapped to a restraint chair and stunned; Jerry Preyer, 45, who suffered from a severe mental illness in an Escambia County, Fla., jail and was shocked twice by a Taser; and Karl Marshall, 32, who died in Kansas City police custody two hours after he was stunned with PCP and crack cocaine in his system.

 

Capitalizing on 9/11

Despite these concerns, Taser International Inc. has thrived. The 9/11 terrorist attacks sent the company’s profits soaring. Many domestic and international airlines—as well a variety of major law enforcement agencies—were eager to acquire a new arsenal of weapons. Homeland Security money flooded into both state and federal-level departments, many of which were gung-ho to acquire a new arsenal of high-tech gadgets.

In 2002, Taser brought on former New York police commissioner Bernard Kerik as the company’s director. Kerik had attained popularity in the wake of 9/11 as a law-and-order-minded hero; the company had seemingly picked one of the best spokespersons imaginable.

With Kerik’s help, company’s profits grew to $68 million in 2004, up from just under $7 million in 2001, and stockholders were able to cash in, including the Smith family, who raked in $91.5 million in just one fiscal quarter in 2004.

Unbeknownst to most stockholders, however, sales have been helped along by police officers who have received payments and/or stock options from Taser to serve as instructors and trainers. (The exact number of officers on the payroll is unknown because the company declines to identify active-duty officers who have received stock options.)

The recruitment of law enforcement has been crucial to fostering market penetration. For instance, Sgt. Jim Halsted of the Chandler, Ariz., Police Department, joined Taser President Rick Smith in making a presentation to the Chandler city council in March 2003. He made the case for arming the entire police patrol squad with M-26 Tasers. According to the Associated Press, Halsted said, “No deaths are attributed to the M-26 at all.”

The council approved a $193,000 deal later that day.

As it turned out, Halsted was already being rewarded with Taser stock options as a member of the company’s “Master Instructor Board.” Two months after the sale, Halsted became Taser’s Southwest regional sales manager.

In addition, Taser has developed a potent gimmick to sell its futuristic line of weapons. In 2003, Taser premiered the X-26. According to Taser’s promotional materials, the X-26 features an enhanced dataport to help “save officer’s careers from false allegations” by recording discharge date and time, number and length and date of discharges, and the optional ability to record the event with the Taser webcam. The X-26 also boasts a more powerful incapacitation rating of 105 “Muscular Disruption Units”, up from 100 MDU’s for the M-26.

The X-26 is apparently far more pleasing to the eye. As Taser spokesperson Steve Tuttle told a law enforcement trade journal, “It’s a much sexier-looking product.”

Lawsuits jolt Taser

As increasing numbers of police departments obtained Taser stun guns, the weapons started to be deployed against civilians with greater frequency.

Many of the civilian Taser-associated incidents have resulted in lawsuits, most of which have either been dismissed or settled out of court. But there have been a few exceptions.

In late September, Kevin Alexander, 29, was awarded $82,500 to settle an excessive force federal lawsuit after being shocked 17 times with a Taser by a New Orleans Parish police officer. The department’s explanation: the shocks were intended to make him cough up drugs he had allegedly swallowed.

One recently settled Colorado case involved Christopher Nielsen, 37, who was “acting strangely” and was not responsive to police orders after he crashed his car. For his disobedience, he was stunned five times. When it was revealed that Nielsen was suffering from seizures, the county settled the case for $90,000.

An Akron, Ohio, man also recently accepted a $35,000 city settlement. One day in May 2005, he had gone into diabetic shock and police found him slumped over his steering wheel. Two officers proceeded to physically beat, Mace and Taser him after he did not respond to orders to get out of the car.

Taser’s lack of response to the misuse of the company’s weapons is troubling. The company relentlessly puts a positive spin on Taser use, most recently with a “The Truth is Undeniable” Web ad campaign, which contrasts mock courtroom scenes with the fictionalized, violent antics of civilians that prompt police to stungun them.

The campaign involves print ads, direct mail DVDs and online commercials that “draw attention to a rampant problem in this country: false allegations against law enforcement officers,” according to Steve Ward, Taser’s vice president of marketing.

“We’re going to win”

The lawsuits have scared off some investors, making Taser’s stock extremely volatile over the years. But press coverage of the company this past summer largely centered around Taser’s “successes” in the courtroom. In addition to settling a $21.8 million shareholder lawsuit revolving around allegations that the company had exaggerated the safety of their product (they admitted no wrongdoing), Taser has triumphed in more than 20 liability dismissals and judgments in favor of the company. And the company’s finances are on the upswing: Third-quarter 2006 revenues increased nearly 60 percent.

Regardless, CEO Rick Smith claims his company is target of a witchhunt. “We’re waiting for people to dunk me in water and see if I float,” is how he put it during a March 2005 debate with William Schulz, the executive director of Amnesty International USA.

Last year, with 40 new lawsuits filed against it, Taser dedicated $7 million in its budget to defending the company’s reputation and “brand equity.” The company has also gone on the offense, hiring two full-time, in-house litigators.

At one point, Taser hinted that it might sue Amnesty International for taking a critical position regarding Taser-associated injuries and deaths. In November 2004 Smith announced that the company’s legal team had begun a “comprehensive review of AI’s disparaging and unsupported public statements [to] advise me as to various means to protect our company’s good name.”

In one of the company’s brashest legal maneuvers to date, Taser sued Gannett Newspapers for libel in 2005. The lawsuit alleged USA Today “sensationalized” the power of Taser guns by inaccurately reporting that the electrical output of the gun was more than 100 times that of the electric chair. This past January, a judge threw the case out, saying that the error in the article was not malicious, and that the story was protected by the First Amendment.

The company remains unwavering and aggressively protective, even as Taser-associated deaths mount each month. As Smith told the Associated Press in February, “If you’re coming to sue Taser, bring your game face, strap it on and let’s go. We’re gonna win.”

From Jack Wilson’s standpoint, citizens are the real losers. His son Ryan lost his life in a situation that could have been handled any number of other ways, and no amount of legal posturing can bring Ryan back.

“I still can’t believe my son is gone,” he says. “The fact is that these Tasers can be lethal. No matter how they’re categorized, Tasers shouldn’t be treated as toys.”