Death from stun gun shocks C-U

By Tanika Ely

Five nights ago, Danville police officers were in pursuit of a man when he pulled a knife on them, said Bob Richard, deputy director of the Danville Police Department. An officer used a Taser to stun the man and successfully subdued him.

The situation did not end as peacefully for Ronald Hasse, a 54-year-old resident of Cedar Lake, Ind., who died after he was stunned by Chicago police on Feb. 10. A 14-year-old boy went into cardiac arrest after Chicago police stunned him with a stun gun on Feb. 7, according to an Associated Press report.

Tasers are a type of stun gun used to instantly subdue a person from up to 25 feet away. They shoot two probes of electricity of up to 50,000 volts, according to Taser International, a major supplier of stun gun devices worldwide.

The two incidents have reiterated to some C-U residents the possible dangers of equipping police with the device.

“Tasers do more harm than good,” said Rev. Charles Nash, president of the Minister Alliance of Champaign-Urbana and Vicinity (MACUV). “There is no way of knowing if someone has a heart condition or other health problem before being tased.”

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Nash, who was a part of a successful effort to keep Champaign police from acquiring stun guns for its officers last year, said he was upset by the recent death in Chicago and felt keeping stun guns out of the community was the right decision.

The Chicago Police Department, which has 200 stun guns, has temporarily suspended expansion of its stun gun program, said Patrick Camden, deputy director of the Chicago Police Department.

“We don’t know what caused (Hasse’s) death,” he said. “It’ll be about 4 to 6 weeks until we receive toxicology reports.”

Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart said deaths following tasings have been the cause of some concern, but he added that there are benefits to using Tasers as an alternative to guns.

“It’s the lesser of two evils,” Schweighart said. “But it’s a useful tool that can help prevent harsher methods and is only used in extremely dangerous situations.”

Schweighart said it is up to Taser International to check into the safety of their product.

The Urbana Police Department has not decided whether or not to use stun guns, said Urbana Police Lieutenant Mike Metzler.

“There has been some discussion,” Metzler said. “But it’s mainly a budget issue. There certainly won’t be any decision before the upcoming budget year.”

The Rantoul and Danville police departments both have stun guns in use. Richard said the Danville Police Department has 61 stun guns, one for each officer. Each Danville officer is offered the chance to be stunned to see what the experience is like, said Richard. Richard said he was voluntarily shocked by another officer with the device.

The Rantoul Police Department did not return repeated calls seeking comment.

Although stun guns are actively in use by these departments, Nash said he believes they will not be there much longer and predicted they will be gone in 9 to 12 months.

“I hope it doesn’t take a death for people to become concerned,” he said. “Why spend $30,000 of taxpayer money when one-third of that could be spent to improve police-community relations?”

According to the Taser International Web site, Tasers cost between $400 to $1,000 per device.

Rev. Jerome Chambers, a member of the local NAACP and MACUV, said there is no reason for police in this area to use stun guns because crime rates are lower than those in cities such as Chicago.

“This has been a national ongoing problem,” Chambers said.

Reports provided by Taser International contend that their products are nonlethal.

Nash said the studies done by the Taser company showing their safety should not be taken at face value.

“There is a conflict of interest for Taser International to issue studies that support the product’s safety,” Nash said. “An outside organization should conduct those studies.”

According to the Taser International Web site, 6,000 police departments nationwide and abroad have purchased Taser products and hundreds have one for every officer.