Watch CBSN Live

TASER Danger?

When CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andews first started looking into police use of the TASER stun gun a year ago, the weapon had been connected to more than 40 deaths. The company that makes the weapon insisted that none of the deaths was the TASER's fault.

So, says Andrews, "We began asking, simply, how could that be? What was the real safety record of this weapon?"

"Today, in what clearly is a law-enforcement revolution, tens of thousands of police officers see the TASER as a godsend.

"The gun shoots two barbed fish hooks into the body, bringing 50 thousand volts. Most of the time, the suspect goes down--and the cop's revolver stays put."

Trending News

"You can use it before you would have to use the revolver," asserts Rick Smith, CEO of TASER International. "If you have someone who has a knife, who is threatening other people but isn't quite at the level where you'd use lethal force, you'd pre-empt with the TASER, get them safely under control before it escalates."

But, Andrews points out, using the TASER to bring down a threatening suspect isn't always the way the gun is used.

In Glendale, Colo., Glen Leyba was on his apartment floor, thrashing violently. A police officer, hoping to control him, stunned him three times, before he died. While the coroner blamed a drug overdose, the family blames multiple, unnecessary electric shocks, Andrews reports.

Shelly Leyba, Glen's sister, says, "Glen was in a medical emergency, down on the ground, no threat."

In Indiana, inmate James Borden was stunned six times by an officer, then died on the jailhouse floor. Borden was also high on drugs, and again his family blames overuse of the TASER. "They juiced him to death," charges Steve Borden, James' brother.

On Long Island, David Glowczenski was suffering a mental breakdown, so his family called police for help.

His sister, Jean Griffin, says, "We called them for safety because he was disoriented. …And an hour later he was dead."

Glowzenski died after a confrontation in which an officer stunned him nine times with a TASER, and he wasn't on drugs or alcohol, Andrews notes. "He committed no crime; he didn't do anything wrong," Griffin says.

TASER Intenational is adamant the weapon simply lacks the power to kill or injure, Andrews says. CEO Smith said TASER tested dogs and pigs and determined the TASER's shock can not injure the heart: "If we knew there was a problem, we would certainly want to disclose that. We've researched it and have not found it."

Technically, stresses Andrews, when the company says the TASER has never caused a death, it is right. However, since 2000, five different medical examiners have listed the stun gun or the TASER specifically as a factor in someone's death.

Dr. Roland Kohr, Indiana regional medical examiner, called a death in his state "the straw that broke the camel's back."

In the Indiana case of James Borden, Dr. Roland Kohr says TASER is overlooking the stress that muliple shots from the weapon can cause, especially to someone high on drugs. Kohr ruled TASER a factor in Borden's death.

"The application of the TASER was the trigger factor or the stressful event that caused the elevation of blood pressure, the elevation of heart rate which stressed an already damaged heart to the point that it went into cartiac arrest," Kohn says.

Smith says he does not accept that finding. "I rely on the advice of medical experts who have told me that there is absolutely no basis to conclude the TASER contributed to this death."

But Borden's mother, Dorothy, says flatly, "I believe it killed my son."

Today, by the count of CBS News, 70 people have died after being TASERed, including 10 in August alone, Andrews observes. And while the company asserts every one of these victims died of something else, many critics believe the company has not done enough research to know that with certainty, Andrews adds.

View CBS News In