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Death In Custody: What Is The Truth?

bringiton's picture

There’s been a fair amount of speculation here and elsewhere that law enforcement in the United States operates as a rogue paramilitary assault force that roams the streets killing innocent civilians. While it is true that like every occupation there are cops who murder, this is in fact a very rare occurrence. It may help to set aside the rhetoric for a bit and look at some statistics.

The Department of Justice maintains two databases tracking deaths in custody, one by the FBI focused primarily on officer deaths and detainee deaths where the officer was culpable, and a much more comprehensive one by the Bureau of Justice Statistics through the Deaths in Custody Reporting Program (DCRP). The DCRP counts represent the first national measurement of all types of deaths that occurred in the process of arrest. The collection of these counts was mandated by the federal Death in Custody Reporting Act (Public Law 106-297). All States were required under the act to submit a record of any death that occurred “in the process of arrest” as a condition of receiving federal correctional grants.

Within the BJS database is a document called Arrest-Related Deaths in the United States 2003-2005 that examines arrest related deaths in detail for almost the entire United States for those three years (the 2006 numbers are still not up, blame GW for budget cuts).

How many arrests are there annually (excluding traffic stops)?

2003 – 13,639,479
2004 – 13,938,071
2005 – 14,094,186
Total – 41,671,736

How many total deaths in custody occurred (all causes)?

2003 – 622
2004 – 677
2005 – 705
Total – 2,002

How many were police homicides (death at the hand of an officer, justifiable or not)?

2003 – 366
2004 – 365
2005 – 364
Total – 1,095

The actual incidence of arrest-associated in-custody deaths is then 0.0026%. (Intranets has cited a rate of 0.1% - if there is a source for that, please provide a citation.)

Of these homicide deaths, what were the detainees doing (Table 7, Page16)?

Arrestee behavior during arrest

Used weapon to threaten/assault officers 872 (80.1%)
Threatened officers 681 (62.6%)
Tried to flee, escape arrest 392 (36.0%)
Resisted arrest 311 (28.6%)
Appeared intoxicated 199 (18.3%)
Grabbed, hit or fought with officers 184 (16.9%)
Any of the above 1,058 (97.2%)
Two or more of the above 829 (75.7%)

What weapons were used by the officers in these homicides (Table 7, Page16)?

Weapon used by officers to cause the death:

Firearm (any) 1,049 (96.3%)
Handgun 912 (83.7%)
Rifle/shotgun 186 (17.1%)
Unspecified firearm 13 (1.2%)
Nightstick or baton 1 (0.1%)
Taser/conducted-energy device 2 (0.2%)
Other 11 (1.0%)

And what was happening to the police during that same time (Page 3)?

Assaults on officers:

2003 – 57,841
2004 – 59,373
2005 – 57,546
Total – 174,760

Thus we see that over this three year period there were 1,095 homicide deaths in custody, the vast majority of which involved direct threat to the officers. In that same time period, nearly 175,000 officers were assaulted. The number of people killed by law enforcement constituted less than one percent of the total number of people who assaulted officers.

If the behavior of law enforcement is anything, it is extraordinarily restrained. The wonder is that more people are not killed. Speaking frankly, if I am being assaulted and have a gun in my possession, the assailant should not expect to survive the encounter.

And as long as we’re feeling sympathy for people who die violently, please remember that over the same three years a total of 380 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty. Died in their effort to protect you and me, leaving behind their spouses, children and loved ones. If I’m going to mourn anyone, I’ll feel most for those who died doing good works and, call me hard-hearted, something less so for those who died committing crimes. (Full sympathy, of course, to all innocents who are killed for any reason.)

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intranets's picture
Submitted by intranets on

Ok. So only two (2) people have ever died from tasers? Right? That's where your percentage comes from.

You want me to google up a few examples that disprove your numbers?!

I maintain and suggest that hundreds of people have died in the last few years at the hands of police with tasers.

If I can point to three people that died from taser in "Arrest-Related Deaths in the United States 2003-2005" we can call it a draw and that your percentages are meaningless?

Maybe the 300 people who died at the hands of tasers in the US all happened from 2006-2007... But I'm willing to guess a few of those deaths occurred in 2003, 2004, or 2005.

So should I waste my time drawing up counter examples to your "data"? Will that have any impact of the absolute sciencygoodness certaintude of the Almighty Taser™?

------

More than 150 people in the USA have now died after being struck by tasers since June 2001, 61 in 2005 alone. Furthermore, the patterns of concern highlighted in AI's 2004 report continue to apply. Most of those who died were agitated and/or under the influence of drugs and most were also subjected to multiple or prolonged electro-shocks. Among taser related deaths in the past year, for example, 40 were shocked more than 3 times and one person as many as 19 times. Significantly, as this report shows, recent reports have also cited the above circumstances as potential risk factors in taser use. In at least 23 cases coroners have listed the taser to be a cause or contributory factor in the death [source: AI]

"Russell Walker, aged 47, died after being tasered by Las Vegas police officers on 7 June 2005."

"On 22 September 2005, 21 year old Patrick Lee, of Nashville, Tennessee, was ejected from a night club because he was behaving erratically. ... two tasers were used on Patrick Lee and he was shocked up to 19 times in total. The autopsy ruled that Patrick Lee died of "excited delirium"(7)"

"Robert Clark Heston was not so fortunate, he died on 20 February 2005 after being shocked up to 10 times by officers from the Salinas Police Department, California."

Ok.. I am bored of citing these examples.. See "BOX 1" for THIRTEEN more counter examples to your official BJS/FBI stats of TWO. See also APPENDIX 1 (pdf) for 75 more examples of 2004-2005 deaths.

So either your stats are lies or not the whole truth, or just like any study, cherry picked data to present a certain outcome. Lest we start to think the FBI and DOJ and Taser International might be exaggerating their numbers. I can't imagine...

intranets's picture
Submitted by intranets on

My 0.1% clearly was stated as the death rate of those who encountered tasers.. ie. of the citizens that had high-voltage conduction energy goodness flowing through them at the hands of police, of 500,000 taser deployments, we have 300 corpses. (yeah.. I rounded up)

bringiton's picture
Submitted by bringiton on

Death in Custody. Are police wantonly killing innocent civilians as a matter of course? Apparently not. Are deaths at the hands of police dramatically increasing as part of some broader militaristic subjugation of American citizens? Apparently not.

Does anyone claiming that this “militarization” is real have anything beyond belief to present? Because I don’t believe that it is true. Police homicides (all causes, very few are actual murders) were just the same, three years running, and arrests have increased in proportion to the high-risk-of-offending population increase. What I think is happening is a greater awareness, not a greater incidence.

Are the Plutocrat authoritarians desirous of a militarized police state, or something close thereto? I think they are. But they are failing, not succeeding. With few exceptions, local police are refusing to participate in roundups of illegal aliens, and increasingly unwilling to support drug raids in states or cities where pot has been de-emphasized. The strain between local/state and federal law enforcement has increased over the Bush years, and they have not become more integrated.

Should there be an effort to reduce in-custody deaths? Yes, there should, and at a higher level than is currently the case. Something physiologically lethal is happening to these people, and it may be possible to mitigate it. The, in my opinion, unsubstantiated focus on tasers seems to be helping with that worthwhile effort.

intranets's picture
Submitted by intranets on

"Police homicides (all causes, very few are actual murders) were just the same, three years running"

I just proved your "three years running" statistics are total B.S. How do you prop up your argument AGAIN based on a nonsensical statistical report?

Question, of the 75+ names and details listed in the source given above, where are those people in your BJS study?

We know those people were (a) tasered by the police and (b) now dead. So, are you saying they were not "Arrest-Related" or not in custody, therefore they do not have to be included?

Your BJS stats list ONLY TWO PEOPLE DIED FROM TASERS from 2003-2005. This is clearly a lie. Or the pool of deaths included in the study is highly selective and, not in fact, all "Arrest-Related Deaths in the U.S. 2003-2005"... or even a significant subset.

"On 7 February 2005, officers from the Chicago Police Department tasered a 14 year old boy who then went into cardiac arrest. When they realised he was unresponsive, paramedics were called to resuscitate him. He was taken to hospital in a critical condition and regained consciousness from a medically induced coma three days later."

By the way, these cases are all DEATH IN CUSTODY. When the cops say, "turn around, you are under arrest" you are in custody. You are no longer free to go anywhere. You are at that point under their control.

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

between an actual incidence rise and a rise in reporting, or a rise in diagnosis -- as opposed to a rise in occurrence. More data, or higher numbers because the definition of inclusive data changed, confused the issue.

What has this got to do with death in custody?

Directly, nearly nothing. Indirectly, much. Statistics can be used to show either side of an argument, if you're skilled in presenting them. Emotions run high when the subject is police action. Emotions run high when a risk of injury or death is under discussion. Emotions run very high when the two combine.

Sometimes, that gets in the way of sharing the truth.

intranets's picture
Submitted by intranets on

Since you refuse to acknowledge the weakness of your "tase 'em bro" study, here are three names who died in JAILS. Will that make you happy? Will you then acknowledge the BJS makes some "accounting errors"...

31 January 2005: Lucas County Jail, OHIO
Jeffrey Turner, 41 .. Lucas County jail officers used a taser four times to subdue Jeffrey Turner, 41, after he banged repeatedly on his cell window. He became unresponsive and was pronounced dead when taken to hospital. The Lucas County Coroner ruled that the death of Jeffrey Turner on 31 January was homicide, and that the use of the taser contributed to his death.

BJS cares to comment??

23 July 2005: Lancaster, SOUTH CAROLINA
After Cunningham allegedly attempted to attack two Lancaster County Jail deputies in order to escape from his cell he was shocked repeatedly and pepper sprayed. He died a short time later. Medical examiner ruled that he died of cardiac arrhythmia provoked by the application of six taser cycles, one of which lasted 2 minutes and 49 seconds.

Is this an "other"??

27 November 2004, Lee County Sheriff’s Department, FLORIDA: 39-year-old Byron W. Black ... in the county jail, officers again used a taser on Black as they tried to remove him from his cell. The officers also used pepper spray. He collapsed shortly after and was pronounced dead when he was taken to hospital.

How many more examples do you want?

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

were excluded from the study you're disputing?

Maybe these deaths were included in the "other" category.
Maybe these jurisdictions did not report these deaths.
I have no way of finding that out, using just the citations you give.

bringiton's picture
Submitted by bringiton on

Intranets: ”It just seems to me that cops should not be killing 0.1% of suspects they have to arrest.”
Your words. If you were referring only to deaths following taser use, that wasn’t clear to me.

Intranets above: ”…of 500,000 taser deployments, we have 300 corpses.”
From Amnesty International:

“Nobody really knows exactly why these people are dying, we only know that people are dying after they are Tasered,” said Cox. “When we started doing our first study, 70 people had died in the United States. Now it’s nearly 300 people who have died in the United States. They’re Tasered and then they die. We’re calling for a study to find out exactly why.”

Just so we’re all clear on AI’s current position:

“Nobody really knows exactly why these people are dying” and that’s true. We should figure it out and hopefully learn how to prevent it.

“We’re calling for a study to find out exactly why.” Great idea. That study, a big and thorough one, is well begun. In six months time, maybe less, we should have all of the results. What we have so far points away from tasers as the probable cause. With that, we can focus on finding the true cause (or causes) instead of wasting any more time blaming tasers. Death in custody is a terrible thing. It won’t be helped by keeping a focus on the wrong cause.

Intranets: ” I maintain and suggest that hundreds of people have died in the last few years at the hands of police with tasers.”

True enough, as stated, but misleading. What is shown, increasing numbers of deaths in arrests during which tasers were used, is what’s called an association. Two things happening in close proximity. What it does not prove is that there is a relationship based on cause. Just because there are, say, 300 in-custody deaths where the taser was employed does not prove that the taser caused those deaths. The complex DOJ study now underway should clear that up. The results we have thus far appear to demonstrate that tasers do not cause in-custody deaths or, at the most, very, very rarely.

But then, one might ask, why are deaths with taser involvement on the increase? The answer is in the numbers. We know, from the BJS database, that deaths in custody are not rapidly increasing. We also know that the frequency of taser use is rapidly increasing. The connection is that taser use is primarily against the very same people who are already at risk from unexpected in-custody death. It is that higher rate of taser use in an already at-risk population that gives the appearance of deaths being caused by tasers, when in fact they are dying from some other cause - as they were before tasers became available.

Intranets: ” So either your stats are lies or not the whole truth, or just like any study, cherry picked data to present a certain outcome. Lest we start to think the FBI and DOJ and Taser International might be exaggerating their numbers. I can’t imagine…”

Tossing aside the false, red-herring assertion that Taser International is in any way involved in these studies, what does this sentence mean? Is it really true that the whole of the FBI, DOJ, all the police departments in America and multiple universities are in collusion to hide the effects of tasers? And this is a serious assertion? That they are all of them liars and deceivers who cherry-pick data and falsify entire databases to what purpose, the internment camp workhouse enslavement of American civilians? Now I know I’m not supposed to say the words “conspiracy theory” but really, I don’t know how else to characterize a theory about a conspiracy this vast and this wholly unsupported by any hard information whatsoever.

What you have, Intranets and Kelly B and some others, is a belief. I don’t doubt your sincerity. I don’t doubt your patriotism. I don’t doubt you are good and decent people. But I have to say that you should re-examine your belief in regards to tasers and their physical ill effects. There is just no actual data to support such a belief. Amnesty International says they don’t know why people die in custody. Neither does anyone else, for certain. They also say they want to know if tasers are the cause. So do I. Whether the cause is tasers or not, AI wants something done to reduce the number of in-custody deaths. So do I. What part of finding out, for certain, and then doing something about whatever the root cause turns out to be, is uncomfortable for you?

As Lambert has repeatedly pointed out, the question of “tasers safe” or “tasers not safe” is in part a separate matter from whether or not tasers should be employed by law enforcement. If tasers are actually unsafe, they should not be used, period. If tasers are safe, then it becomes an issue of morality and concern over too broad an authority for police to possess. My position is that tasers are safe, and that they are so safe that they reduce the number of deaths and injuries for both those arrested and the police (also humans deserving of compassion and concern). From my viewpoint, a tool that reduces death and injury is a good thing.

If you want to discuss militarization and subjugation of American society, frogs in the soup pot and all that, by all means start up a thread on it and we’ll exchange views. I’d like to keep this one on topic, Deaths in Custody.

Finally; “ Ok.. I am bored of citing these examples..”
Something we can agree on.

bringiton's picture
Submitted by bringiton on

confusion--is nothing new"

Intranets: "We know those people were (a) tasered by the police and (b) now dead. So, are you saying they were not “Arrest-Related” or not in custody, therefore they do not have to be included?"

What I'm saying, and what formal studies are showing, is that these deaths are not caused by the taser; these people are dying from some other cause.

Intranets: "Your BJS stats list ONLY TWO PEOPLE DIED FROM TASERS from 2003-2005. This is clearly a lie. Or the pool of deaths included in the study is highly selective and, not in fact, all “Arrest-Related Deaths in the U.S. 2003-2005”… or even a significant subset."

No lies, no selectivity in either the Wake Forest study or the DOJ/BJS database. The error is yours. You are confusing "death during an arrest in which a taser was used" with "the taser caused the death." These are not equivalent. I've already explained this clearly, multiple times. So long as you persist in making this error of interpretation, you will continue to be confused about the effects of tasers.

Intranets "When the cops say, “turn around, you are under arrest” you are in custody. You are no longer free to go anywhere. You are at that point under their control."

The definition of "In Custody" for the purposes of data collection on physical consequence while under arrest is broader than that. The period begins when law enforcement first makes any effort to intervene in freedom of movement, whether by voice or physically. Simply asking a suspect a question is enough. The period continues through arrest, transport and confinement, including in hospital, until the suspect is released or transferred from whatever temporary holding facility is used.

Intranets, you keep citing Amnesty International materials. Why can you not accept their own word when they say “Nobody knows why these people are dying” and “We’re calling for a study to find out exactly why.” Are you suggesting that you are able to perceive some truth that even AI cannot discern in their own files?

I’ve dismissed the anecdotal reports you keep putting up because they are unreliable. AI says they don’t have enough information to know if tasers are to blame, only that they’re concerned that tasers might be. I’m going to agree with AI; they don’t know. Neither do you.

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

link, which is one of the first things they beat you over the head with in epidemiology (and I suspect it's also something they beat you over the head with in other statistical fields, like, say, insurance actuaries or class-action law).

intranets's picture
Submitted by intranets on

Ok I get it, I grovel on my knees to your superior learning. I must have no idea about anything especially all the stuff you keep wrongly imposing upon mu ignorance.

I have only been talking about one thing... Deaths in custody. So it appears we can agree with the BJS study *should* be accounting for any suspect who dies while the police are in process of questioning or arresting or even in jails. So we can agree that my retardedly anecdotal list of actual names and dates must be fully meaningless in the face of a BJS all knowing statistical number crunching exercise.

Sure you *could* google those names and find out that AI isn't making stuff up. You could see that I have already proven the BJS study is missing some deaths at the hand of taser. Sure we can argue over what is the primary cause of death ("other") or weapons being used ("gee he punched the guy AND tasered him... what could possibly have caused the cardiac arrest")

You keep relying on the BJS report as some great proof that deaths in custody is not increasing and hence deaths from taser MUST NOT BE increasing. But I reject both of those claims because your BJS report fails to identify about 100 individuals who died at the hands of police taser from 2003-2005. You have the burden of proof in your claims of fact. All I stated was your study is wrong. More taser deaths have occurred. Keep up with the "we can never really know if the taser was the real reason he died". They don't have that problem when a suspect is shot. You check the box shot. If that suspect then dies, sure it might be from infection, or massive bloodloss caused their weak heart to stop...

I give up. I cannot compete anymore with, "that tasers do not cause in-custody deaths or, at the most, very, very rarely"

The "TRUTH" is yours. Enjoy it. Feel free to ignore all the examples and names presented. They must have been very, very rare.

bringiton's picture
Submitted by bringiton on

Nothing I ever asked for, or wanted, or desire, or will tolerate.

This whole Domination/submission thing you keep bringing up is your issue, not mine.

intranets's picture
Submitted by intranets on

Just as an example, I cited one of AI well documented and notated reports from Oct 2006. You can click on the URL(s) in my first comment.

If I cared, I'm sure I could come up with many more similar reports, such as EU or Canadian studies. I only need three names though to disprove "the Truth".

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

I only need three names though to disprove “the Truth”. really bother me, y'know?

Looking at the document I cited, and your three names, there's a common factor in the reports --

31 January 2005: Lucas County Jail, OHIO
Jeffrey Turner, 41 .. Lucas County jail officers used a taser four times to subdue Jeffrey Turner, 41, after he banged repeatedly on his cell window. He became unresponsive and was pronounced dead when taken to hospital. The Lucas County Coroner ruled that the death of Jeffrey Turner on 31 January was homicide, and that the use of the taser contributed to his death.

23 July 2005: Lancaster, SOUTH CAROLINA
After Cunningham allegedly attempted to attack two Lancaster County Jail deputies in order to escape from his cell he was shocked repeatedly and pepper sprayed. He died a short time later. Medical examiner ruled that he died of cardiac arrhythmia provoked by the application of six taser cycles, one of which lasted 2 minutes and 49 seconds.

27 November 2004, Lee County Sheriff’s Department, FLORIDA: 39-year-old Byron W. Black … in the county jail, officers again used a taser on Black as they tried to remove him from his cell. The officers also used pepper spray. He collapsed shortly after and was pronounced dead when he was taken to hospital.

The common factor is repeated use of the taser on the same suspect; the document I cite calls this "Excessive and lethal," and I would concur with that. Here's the long quote from the source I'm still reviewing:

Amnesty International is further concerned by the growing number of fatalities involving police tasers. Since 2001, more than 70 people are reported to have died in the USA and Canada after being struck by M26 or X26 tasers, with the numbers rising each year. While coroners have tended to attribute such deaths to other factors (such as drug intoxication), some medical experts question whether the taser shocks may exacerbate a risk of heart failure in cases where persons are agitated, under the influence of drugs, or have underlying health problems such as heart disease. In at least five recent cases, coroners have found the taser directly contributed to the death, along with other factors such as drug abuse and heart disease. As discussed below, the death toll heightens Amnesty International’s concern about the safety of stun weapons and the lack of rigorous, independent testing as to their medical effects.

This report includes a review by Amnesty International of information on 74 taser-involved deaths, based on a range of sources, including autopsy reports in 21 cases. Most of those who died were unarmed men who, while displaying disturbed or combative behaviour, did not appear to present a serious threat to the lives or safety of others. Yet many were subjected to extreme levels of force, including repeated taser discharges and in some cases dangerous restraint techniques such as "hogtying" (shackling an individual by the wrists and ankles behind their back). The cases raise serious concern about the overall levels of force deployed by some police agencies as well the safety of tasers.

What this looks like, to me, is not that the tool itself is unsafe; it's that the tool, like any and all tools, is being misused. In conjunction with other "subduing" techniques and additional force (pepper spray can kill as a result of anaphylactic shock), the abuse of the taser is clearly deadly.

Now, let's talk about another aspect of this, since I'm agreeing with you that the taser can be misused and when it's misused it can kill; but let's not talk about it in this thread, because this thread is supposed to be about Deaths in Custody.

'Cause I think we can agree heart failure induced by fear is just as much a homicide as heart failure resulting from exiting a helicopter at 300 feet without a parachute. *THAT* is a clear case of abuse of a helicopter -- but it's absolutely no reason to ban helicopters. It is a reason to create and enforce a ban on that kind of abuse of helicopters. With that said, the electronic signal strength needed to interfere with normal human heart function is detailed here

Let's start another thread on appropriate force.
We may also need another separate thread on the morality of the use of force.

We can admit that we're killers ... but we're not going to kill today. That's all it takes! Knowing that we're not going to kill today! ~ Captain James T. Kirk, Stardate 3193.0

intranets's picture
Submitted by intranets on

Ok.. I'm sensing an ever shifting line in the sand..

Keep moving the bar. Look, I picked those examples because (a) it is easy to copy and paste (b) I didn't really do that much research (c) my only goal was to show that there are more deaths taser related than being claimed in the Truth About Cats and Electrocution.

If I must now go find examples of people who died from one taser cycle while being in custody (or what is the requirement here? they have to be in jail, handcuffed with no human touching them in the last 12 hrs and toxicology reports to rule anything else out)

Yes, I realize those examples were like using a baton to choke someone to death. But if cops thought it was like radiation exposure and once is ok, but three times is a lethal dose... maybe they wouldn't press the button twice.

Why the FUCK does the X36/M26 allow you to cook a person for how many cycles in a row? In case you come across a gang of bikers? Why don't the guns have a limit of two cycles?

Anyways, must I really go off to find examples of people who died from one taser deployment?

My point is that cops misuse taser, people die, they are not "safe" in the way that cops use them.
If you need examples try http://www.youtube.com and enjoy the taser goodness of tasers in use.

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

just how easy it is for this weapon to figure into deaths.
What more do you want me to say?

That it should be banned right now?
That it's made with a dangerous design flaw, and it ought to have to be, like, rebooted after two shots?
That it's torture?
I can say that; will that affect national policy?

You know who needs to say it?
John Edwards, from the White House.
Speaker Kucinich.
Senate Majority Leader Clinton.
Attorney General ... crap, I don't know, a real Dem and a real lawyer.
The United States Supreme Court, which means it'll have to be Edwards' second term, because the RATS have to retire or die, first.
I'm not yanking your chain.
I'm telling you how far we still have to go.
Don't give up now, baby. You've got forward momentum.
But it has to last.