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article imageOp-Ed: Judge Orders Taser References Removed from M.E. Reports

By Mr Garibaldi     May 4, 2008 in Crime
An Ohio judge ordered that any references to Tasers be eliminated from the medical examiner's reports in the cases of three Ohio men who died in police custody.
Summit County Commons Pleas Judge Ted Schneiderman has ordered Akron- Summit County Medical Examiner Lisa Kohler to remove and delete any references to "homicide or death by electrical pulse stimulation" from the autopsy reports and death certificates of three men who have died in custody of the Summit County Sheriff's Department.
All three of the deceased had been "Tazed" by arresting deputies, reportedly the subjects where on drugs and in an agitated state at the times of arrest. Schneiderman's written instructions to the ME were for their causes of death to be ruled "accidental."
Schneiderman ordered Kohler to rule McCullaugh's death undetermined and delete any references to homicide and the death possibly being caused by asphyxia, beatings or other factors.
That pleased Sheriff Drew Alexander. The deputies, three charged with reckless homicide and two with felonious assault, are on unpaid leave.
"This supports my initial beliefs that my employees acted appropriately," Alexander said in a statement.
But could this be the opening of the lid on Pandora's Box in regards of the use of the Taser? The use of the Taser is already in question among some quarters. While arguably an effective "non-lethal" weapon in the arsenal of tools used by law enforcement officials, questions arise as to whether it has become an item that is over-used, as brought forth in the now infamous "Don't TAZE me, bro!" incident at a John Kerry speaking engagement earlier this year.
The newest controversy surrounds one of the three men killed in this latest situation in Ohio. Mark McCullaugh, one of the three men dead after being Tasered while in police custody, had a history of mental illness and was also pepper sprayed during a struggle with officers in 2006. Kohler, the ME, was ordered by Schneiderman to rule McCullaugh's cause of death as "undetermined," and to exclude references to electric shock stimulation or asphyxia, beatings, or anything else pertaining to his struggle with deputies.
Schneiderman's order regarding McCullaugh goes far beyond the focus of the case, said John Manley, of the prosecutor's office, who represented Kohler.
"The purpose of the hearing represented a singular and very narrow issue on whether or not the successful deployment of the Taser Model X26 could contribute in any way to the cause of death," Manley said. He may appeal.
Kohler's rulings were controversial because few coroners have said the Taser was a factor in deaths. Other coroners typically cite other contributing factors, such as drug use, heart disease and cardiac arrhythmia due to illegal drug use.
There have been 68 wrongful-death lawsuits against Taser International that have been dismissed or had rulings come down in favor of the company as of mid-April, and they have not lost any product-liability cases that have been brought against them. Prosecutor John Manly, representing Kohler, has stated, "It was an interesting case and an uphill battle. Taser is quite a force to be reckoned with and does everything to protect their golden egg, which is the Model X26."
If judges are ordering medical examiners what to and not to report, one wonders exactly how far, indeed, Taser is willing to go in protecting their product.
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