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To Taser or not to Taser. That is the issue raised in a federal lawsuit filed recently against a Hamden, Conn., police officer and the town of Hamden. As more law enforcement authorities are using this so-called stun gun, more lawsuits are likely to follow, experts say. New Haven, Conn., lawyer Jonathan Einhorn has filed a civil rights claim on behalf of a woman whose 26-year-old son died after being subjected to the electrical shock of a Taser. Judith Ireland claims the town of Hamden did not properly train the officer to use the Taser and, as a result, he used “unreasonable force” on David Mills, violating his constitutional rights. Mills was reportedly raging out of control, talking about demons and claiming to be high on drugs when police found him early on the morning of April 21. He was also fighting on the ground with a friend. When officers tried to separate the men, Mills began kicking, punching and biting them. So they zapped Mills. “I don’t think it’s appropriate to use Tasers,” Einhorn said. “In the case of Mr. Mills, they Tasered him five times until he died.” There have been widespread complaints that Tasers can cause cardiac arrest. But the chief medical examiner’s office ruled that Mills’ cause of death was “excited delirium.” Mills also had PCP intoxication, according to the report. Hamden Police Chief Thomas J. Wydra said neither he nor the officer involved could comment on a pending lawsuit. But he did say the officers on the scene acted appropriately. VIGOROUS DEFENSE A cursory online search reveals that Taser International Inc., based in Scottsdale, Ariz., has been hit by dozens of wrongful death and personal injury suits. It’s also clear that the company defends itself vigorously. Recently, the company offered a news release noting that two more wrongful death lawsuits against the company had been dismissed. Taser International said that brought to 61 the number of cases that it has either won or had dismissed. The company’s Web site also has posted the results of a study done in the United Kingdom that reportedly found that a Taser jolt is not enough to cause the heart to beat irregularly. But the study also concluded that “factors such as the consumption of alcohol or some drugs, or an existing heart condition, could reduce this safety margin in some individuals.” Gregory Klein, a Danbury, Conn., attorney specializing in liability law and injury litigation who has no involvement in any Taser lawsuits, said the company is known for aggressively defending itself against product liability and other claims. “The company refuses to pay settlements to people who claim injury by Tasers used by law enforcement personnel,” Klein said. “The plaintiff’s better chance of success is against the individual police officer on a claim of excessive force.” Klein said his view is that the Taser is “becoming too common a means for law enforcement personnel to subdue even mildly non-compliant individuals. [It's an] interesting and important issue going forward.” Another legal expert forcefully disagreed. Casey Jordan, a criminology professor at Western Connecticut State University, said she expects more suits involving Tasers simply because society is so litigious, not because the device is dangerous. “When weighed against the other option (shooting), Tasers are by far the most logical and preferable means of detaining noncompliant suspects,” said Jordan, who appeared as a Taser expert on a Fox News show a few months ago. In the Hamden case, Jordan said: “Even the medical examiner agrees that the man’s death was caused by his own drug use or mental illness. Were it not for the Taser, police would have been within their rights to shoot the man if he appeared to pose a threat [to officers] or the man he was fighting with. And his mother probably would have sued [in that case] as well.” Meanwhile, Einhorn, the New Haven lawyer, called for a moratorium on Taser use until there is more study to determine whether the devices pose a particular hazard to people who are taking drugs, even over-the-counter cold medications. As for his client, Einhorn said he is convinced that “the Taser is what killed him. The sergeant Tasered him five times until he died.” This article originally appeared in theConnecticut Law Tribune , a publication of ALM. •

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