Death of Man, After Use of Stun Gun, Won't Deter San Diego, Calif. Police From Using TASER
By Joe Hughes, San Diego Union Tribune (California)
Two days after a man shocked by a Taser died in a hospital, San Diego police yesterday said they plan to keep using the weapon.
"We do not believe the use of the Taser contributed to (the) death," San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne said.
The death of Robert Camba, 45, comes amid a growing national debate over the safety of the weapon that had been touted as a nonlethal firearm. About 80 people in the United States and Canada have died over the past five years after being shocked by a Taser.
An autopsy is pending.
Camba died Saturday, two days after a confrontation with police. Officers went to the Plaza Hotel on Fourth Avenue about 6:25 p.m. because of a reported disturbance and found Camba, naked, thrashing around on the floor in his room, sweating profusely and foaming at the mouth.
"When our officers attempted to contact him, he became very violent," Lansdowne said. "He had wrapped a cable cord around an arm and was striking officers with it, and hit officers with a night stand."
Police said officers tried to subdue Camba with a baton, then used the Taser twice, before handcuffing him. As paramedics arrived, Camba fell limp, his breathing became shallow and cardiopulmonary resuscitation was initiated.
Camba was taken to a hospital, where his condition improved. He was later diagnosed as having overdosed on drugs and alcohol, authorities said.
"Over the next 48 hours, his condition took a turn for the worse," Lansdowne said.
Camba died at 4:15 p.m. Saturday.
Officials at the Plaza Hotel said yesterday that Camba had been there about two weeks after being referred to the hotel by an outreach program. They said Camba had health issues, but they were unsure of specifics.
Friends and family could not be reached.
Police say they are certain they did nothing wrong. San Diego police have used versions of the Taser, without major incident, for about 15 years, Lansdowne said. The latest, the more-powerful X26 version at a cost of about $800 each, has been in use for about nine months.
Tasers use compressed nitrogen gas to propel two wires capped with electric barbs that deliver a 50,000-volt shock. The devices are made by Taser International of Scottsdale, Ariz..
"Taser technology saves lives every day and is deployed by more than 500 law agencies in California alone," said Steve Tuttle, a spokesman for Taser International.
"Medical experts and recent independent studies from the U.S. Department of Defense and the United Kingdom studying Tasers conclude that Taser devices are among the safest alternative available to subdue violent individuals who could harm officers, innocent citizens or themselves."
But some medical experts believe shocks from a Taser can add to the risk of heart failure, especially if a person has been taking drugs. And several police agencies – including those in Chicago and New York – are reviewing the safety of the device. Some agencies are considering a temporary moratorium on the use of Tasers.
Amnesty International has called for a suspension of Taser use, citing a lack of testing to determine safety.
"We want the devices banned until an independent study is done," said Mona Cadena, San Francisco field organizer for the group.
She said about a half-dozen police agencies nationwide have stopped using the weapon.