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June 10, 2008 -- New York Times (NY)

Taser Suffers a Rare Loss in Court

By Mike Nizza

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Despite a steady stream of negative news coverage, Taser International's business has sailed above it all, rolling with the punches before coming out on top of a growing industry.

To the frustration of the company's many critics, orders keep coming in, from cities like Las Vegas and even from a country that remains nameless. The brand's dominance in the electric-shock weapons market prompts comparisons to Kleenex's hold on the facial-tissue market segment.

Academic studies have supported the company's claims that its products are safe to use. And incidents that hit the papers do not always engender outrage: some are even hilarious. New product lines from the company seek to lure female consumers as well.

Perhaps most importantly, the company has been remarkably successful inside the courtroom. With 69 straight trial victories, according to one count, Taser had assembled a nearly unmatchable record - 3 more wins than this year's much-vaunted Boston Celtics, with none of the embarrassing losses.

None until Friday evening, that is, when an unfavorable verdict represented the first chink in the taser-proof body armor. From The Herald of Monterey County, Calif., the local paper on the case:

A federal jury has held Taser International responsible for the death of a Salinas man in U.S. District Court in San Jose on Friday, and awarded his family more than $6 million in punitive and compensatory damages.

An attorney for the family called the verdict a "landmark decision," and indicated that it was the first time Taser International had been held responsible for a death or injury linked to its product.

During trading on Monday, the company's stock dropped almost 12 percent. "Investors will assume heightened operating risk in the Taser model in the short-term," one analyst told Barron's, adding that shrinking police budgets also threatened business. Bloomberg News reported last month that more than half of Taser's top 10 shareholders sold some of their shares this year.

Meanwhile, Taser is trying mightily to blunt the impact of the verdict and reassure Wall Street. Unlike the more cut-and-dried headlines seen on some news reports, the company stressed the nuances of the verdict, that the product was only found to be one of several contributing factors in the man's death, and not the main one.

In its a news release, titled "Jury Finds Extended Taser Device Application 15 Percent Responsible for Arrest Related Death," the company's general counsel, Doug Klint, vowed to appeal the jury's decision and to vindicate its product:

We however do not feel that the verdict is supported by the facts including the testimony of the world class experts who testified on our behalf with scientific and medical evidence. Our commitment to continue to defend our life-saving products and to support law enforcement remains unchanged.

The news release also sought to reassure its customers, stressing that the police officers in the case were "exonerated for their actions" and that "all parties, including the plaintiff, agreed that the Taser devices were the best option available to these officers."

Luckily, the company soon received a fortuitous boost in New York City. As The New York Times reported this morning, the New York Police Department is being urged by consultants to use Tasers more often, and avoid the kind of "reflexive shooting" incidents that led to the death of Sean Bell in 2006.

As Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly reviews to the recommendations from the Rand Corporation, investors will be waiting to see if he's inspired to sign a big purchase order from the largest police force in the country.

June 11, 2008 -- Associated Press (US)

Tasered Man Dies

RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (AP) - A man died on Monday after being shocked twice with an officer's Taser stun gun while trying to swallow a bag of drugs, the Suffolk County police said.

The announcement of the man's death came a day before thousands of New York City police sergeants were set to begin carrying Tasers on their belts.

The police said that an officer saw the man, 26, of Brooklyn, trying to swallow a bag of cocaine, and that the officer shocked the man twice to try to stop him.

The man spat out a white powder and remnants of a plastic bag, the police said, and he was taken to a hospital, where he died that evening.

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