Taser death spurs calls for more regulation

Updated 7:44 a.m.

Civil rights groups are calling for new laws to regulate the use of Tasers following the death of 30-year-old Seth Victor of New Britain, who was subdued by a stun gun Tuesday. It was the second Taser-related death in Connecticut since June.

The state medical examiner has ruled the cause of death as “pending further studies.”

The ACLU and the NAACP of Connecticut want police to get training in Taser use, and the NAACP wants a moratorium on Taser use until new regulations are written.

“It’s clear that we have a problem in the state of Connecticut and that the state legislature needs to do something,” said Scot X. Esdaile, president of the NAACP state conference.

In the latest incident, Victor died shortly after he was subdued with a Taser by a New Britain police officer in a third-floor apartment on Broad Street early Tuesday.

The incident comes weeks after a Taser-related death in Meriden in June and brings the total number of Taser-related deaths in Connecticut to 13 since 2005. Of those deaths, four occurred in New Britain and three in Meriden.

The officer involved in the case has been assigned to administrative duty until the incident is reviewed. The case is being investigated by the state police, the New Britain police and the state’s attorney’s office. 

Worried about the safety and proper use of Tasers, state lawmakers have twice proposed but failed to pass bills in recent years that would require police to be trained in using Tasers and to file reports for each time a Taser is used.

The ACLU’s Connecticut chapter thinks the bill will have more traction in the coming legislative session and plans to make this a priority.

“It’s really overdue. We are hoping that the public and the General Assembly remember these tragedies when they go back into session,” said David McGuire, staff attorney for ACLU-Connecticut.

State police said a New Britain police tactical team was called in to help subdue Victor after a long stand-off with police late Monday night.

State police spokesman Lt. J. Paul Vance said Victor threatened to harm himself, refused to surrender, and a struggle ensued when police tried to arrest him.

A police officer fired a stun gun to bring him under control, but the man began to have medical problems as they brought him down the stairs. He was treated at the scene by EMS workers, taken to New Britain Hospital and declared dead at 2 a.m. Tuesday.

“There were threats by the individual to harm himself, so it was a very sensitive situation from the outset,” Vance said. “The officers did all they could to calm the situation and use the least amount of aggression to end it peacefully.”

McGuire said that only one of the victims in the last 12 Tasing incidents was armed when they were Tased, though he did not know the details of the incident Tuesday.

Typically, these cases involve people who are highly agitated, have mental problems or are on drugs, he said.

“We’re not calling for a moratorium on Taser use,” McGuire said. “We’re just saying that police need to be trained and use Tasers in a responsible manner. We’re hoping that the legislature makes Taser safety a priority this legislative session.”

Tasers have been considered a nonlethal weapon in a police officer’s arsenal since they began to be widely used in Connecticut around 2005.

Taser International Inc. reports that more than 600,000 of their devices are in use throughout the world, and are used an estimated 900 times a day. The company says the devices have saved 1.8 million lives.

They have not been tied directly to heart-attack deaths until recently. In May 2011, The National Institute of Justice published a report saying current research does not support a substantially increased risk of cardiac arrhythmia. But last year, the American Heart Association journal, Circulation, ran an article that found that Taser shocks, particularly those to the chest, can cause fatal ventricular fibrillation.

 

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