(This story runs with a Special Report: “The garage science behind the stun gun that changed policing”)
By Sara Miller and James Benedict
Sept 20 (Reuters) - When the Taser’s electrified darts struck him, Carl Bryan felt a shooting pain up his back that rattled his whole body, shaking his brain like a “peanut in a jar.”
“If you were to shake that jar a hundred times as fast as you can and multiply that by a thousand,” he said.
For Christa Keeton, getting shocked by Taser barbs felt like bees “crawling” through her skin.
Eligio Torres Jr. likened the Taser’s electrical jolt to a “horrific electrical current just flowing through your body.”
“You’re just shaking,” Torres said in court testimony. “You’re helpless. You can’t do much. You lose control.”
Their comments illustrate an unmistakable truth: Tasers are painful. People shocked by them often call the experience the most painful of their lives.
“Every inch of your body is going through excruciating pain,” said Bryan in a court deposition. On July 24, 2005, when he was 21, he was pulled over for driving without a seatbelt in Coronado, California. He had been stopped earlier that day for speeding and was upset as he stepped from his car. Officer Brian MacPherson testified he told Bryan to stay seated and that he defied his orders when he took a step toward him, which Bryan denied. MacPherson pulled the trigger of his Taser.
One of the barbs struck so deep Bryan needed surgery to remove it, court records show. He fell face-first, knocking out four front teeth. He sued the Coronado Police Department for excessive force, but lost. The court granted the officer “qualified immunity,” a limited protection from liability.
In standard “dart” mode, the gun-shaped Tasers – also known as electronic control devices or conducted electrical weapons – use compressed nitrogen to fire a pair of barbed darts connected by thin wires. When the darts hit someone, a pulsed current causes a neuromuscular response that paralyzes the target for several seconds. The idea is to give police a chance to get handcuffs on a suspect.
“It’s overwhelming, not just physically but psychologically. You are no longer in control,” said Michael Leonesio, who developed a training program for Taser use as an officer in the police department in Oakland, California.
In “drive stun” mode, the Taser works more like a conventional stun gun: An officer can press it against a person, pull the trigger and deliver a powerful shock. Drive stun is akin to a cattle prod: It sends an electric jolt that causes intense pain. Most often, it is used to get a resistant subject to abide by an officer’s orders.
Torres, 40, said he was stunned with Taser darts twice by plainclothes officers who mistakenly believed him to be a suspect or a witness in a nearby shooting in Chicago, according to court documents. In an altercation after the shooting, Torres was shot in the side with a Taser, the court records show. He was jolted a second time on the ground.
“Like an ongoing current. It’s never ending. When I thought it was going to end, it just kept up,” he testified.
Editing by Ronnie Greene and Michael Williams