Study Yields Jury-Friendly Measure Of Stress Caused By CEW Deployment

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Another recent study led by Dr. Jeffrey Ho may be useful to police attorneys in getting civilian jurors to understand the true level of physiological stress inflicted on a subject by CEW broad-spread probe deployment. The stress impact of Tasing often becomes the alleged culprit in arrest-related death litigation and can easily be exaggerated in the uninformed or bias-fueled imagination.

With six fellow researchers from the US and Ireland, Ho set out to establish a realistic, layman-friendly measuring stick for bodily stress induced by TASER broad-spread probe deployment.

In the first study of its kind, Ho’s team randomly assigned 37 volunteers recruited at a police and fire training facility in Arizona to various stressful activities. Volunteer groups either sprinted for distances ranging from 20 to 100 yards on a paved track or they underwent a standard five-second, broad-spread exposure to a TASER X26 [see clarifying note below].

Through blood draws before and after, various stress markers, including levels of acidosis and catecholamines (adrenal hormones), were calculated. “The objective,” Ho explains, “was to determine an ‘exertional equivalence’ ” between a sprint distance and the TASER exposure.

The key finding: In terms of generating physiological stress indicators, a five-second Tasing from broad-spread deployment to major muscle groups is equal to no more than a 20-yard sprint. That’s less than a quarter of a short block in New York City and less than the distance between bases on a baseball diamond.

This offers “a comparison to help lay persons (i.e., juries) understand the effects [of Taser deployment] in relation to something they can relate to,” the researchers write. “This is very important when [an officer’s] freedom could be at jeopardy when a jury does not have an understanding of the physiologic effects of [CEWs].”

If anything, the researchers note, the stress caused by physical exertion compared to Tasing may be underestimated by the study, since the test subjects were “not under the influence of drugs or alcohol and were not in the throes of a mental health crisis,” as are many suspects at risk of arrest-related death.

The researchers point out that when such deaths occur, a “significant struggle” between officer(s) and the suspect is typically involved. As numerous studies have documented, physical exertion is a “significant contributor” to elevated physiological stress levels. So the question becomes how best to “minimize the factors that worsen” the risks of overexertion.

The answer appears to be to get a struggling suspect safely immobilized and then sedated as quickly as possible. And the best tool for rapid control, the researchers suggest, is likely to be “the appropriate use” of a CEW with sufficient probe spread, because of its relatively lesser generation of bodily stressors.

Note: The TASER manufacturer adds that this study involved a master instructor who shot subjects in the back from 10 feet with the X26, using standard 25-foot cartridges and 13mm darts, creating a spread of about 18 inches and encompassing major muscles. Narrower probe spreads, deployments to areas with less muscle mass, or drive stuns that basically cause only discomfort and not neuromuscular incapacitation are likely to produce “foreseeable lesser effects.”

A report on the Ho study appears in the journal Forensic Science International, under the title “Markers of acidosis and stress in a sprint versus a conducted electrical weapon.” To read a free abstract or to access the full report for a fee, click here.

Our thanks to attorney Michael Brave for alerting us to the studies reported in this transmission of Force Science News. Brave is member/manager of LAAW International, LLC, and national/international litigation counsel to TASER International, Inc.

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