During a standoff with York County's Quick Response Team on Feb. 14, Jeffrey Lewis Brown walked out of his Spring Garden Township home twice, his hand in his pocket.
Brown owned weapons and was known to carry a pistol while inside his home, said York City Police Sgt. Craig Losty, the QRT's tactical commander.
Police had been called to the 500 block of Hill Street that morning after Brown fired shots inside and outside his home while arguing with a neighbor, Losty said.
If Brown had tried to use a gun, police were ready to use lethal force, Losty said.
But they didn't need to. When Brown walked outside a third time, a QRT member was able to use a Taser, Losty said.
The Taser's shock immobilized Brown so other QRT members could handcuff him. No one was injured in the arrest, Losty said.
"It was exactly why that piece of equipment is utilized," he said.
During the past several years, many of York County's police departments have added the Taser to their less-lethal arsenals. The device -- which looks similar to a handgun -- fires wires with metal prongs at their tips.
When the prongs attach to a person's clothing or skin, an electrical shock is delivered, contracting their muscles and allowing police to make an arrest, say police and Taser's manufacturer, Taser International.
The devices have seen their share of controversy. Some opponents call Taser torture, suggest it can easily be abused and say the device has led to numerous deaths each year.
A recent research study, conducted by Dr. William P. Bozeman of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., looked at more than 1,200 cases of Taser use from six police departments across the country from 2005 to 2008.
In those cases, Bozeman found that an overwhelming majority of the people shocked did not suffer serious injuries.
In contrast, Amnesty International's latest report on Tasers, titled, "USA: Less Than Lethal?" links 334 deaths to Taser use between the years 2001 and 2008.
'Degrees of risk'
Bozeman, a Johns Hopkins-trained emergency doctor, said his study was not funded by Taser International but by the National Institute of Justice, an agency of the federal government.
In each of the six target cities, a doctor was allowed access to police reports and also the suspects' medical reports, Bozeman said.
By examining these reports, the doctors determined that, in 1,201 uses, 99.75 percent of those shocked suffered no injury or mild injuries.
"That speaks to the overall safety of the weapon," Bozeman said. "When you consider that removing that tool is likely to result in them having to use other force options . . .
In the study, there were only three significant injuries. Two were head injuries from falls after being shocked. A third person contracted rhabdomyolysis, or a breakdown of muscular tissue, but Bozeman said the man's cocaine use, running and fighting with police and excessive heat that day possibly caused the disease's onset.
Although the Taser appears to be a safe device, Bozeman also concluded that, "It is quite clear that these weapons can be dangerous. It is very clear that these weapons can harm you. It's like every other weapon . . . it has the potential to hurt you or even kill you. It's not an all-or-nothing, it's degrees of risk."
The study found two deaths of suspects while in police custody, but "In both of these cases, the Taser was used, along with other forms of force options and the person collapsed and died later." The Taser was not related to either of those deaths, he said.
Amnesty's report references Bozeman's analysis, acknowledging that it is an independent, nationwide study.
"Amnesty International recognizes that, overall, the death rate compared to the number of reported Taser field uses is relatively low," the report states. "However, the organization remains concerned that Tasers are used in many situations where the degree of force deployed is unwarranted."
Amnesty's report said Bozeman's study "does not appear to address the issue of the potential danger from multiple or prolonged shock."
Local police weigh in
Several police chiefs in York County say the Taser has reduced the number of injuries among their officers and those they arrest. They agreed Tasers present a safer option than other less-lethal devices, such as pepper spray, a metal baton or struggling hand-to-hand with someone.
"The officer injuries are far less, and I think, statistically speaking, so goes the injuries to the noncompliant individuals," York City Police Commissioner Mark Whitman said.
John Snyder, chief of Newberry Township Police, said the Taser has decreased injuries on both ends -- the police and suspects.
"Our guys have used it successfully many times, and I'm very happy with the results," he said. "It allows the officers to disable someone without having to put hands on them."
Both Whitman and Southern Regional Police Chief James Childs said now that their officers have been using Tasers for a while, sometimes simply the threat of using it is enough to get compliance.
"We don't have to use them as much as when we first got them," Childs said.
Southwestern Regional Police Chief Greg Bean said his officers have used Tasers three times since getting them about a year ago.
"In every one of those cases, when you have to lay hands on someone to control them, there's just a greater chance of someone getting cut or getting a finger broken," he said.
Amnesty's report states that, between 2001 and 2008, 334 people died after being struck by Tasers.
"Tasers are not the 'non-lethal' weapons they are portrayed to be," Angela Wright, who wrote the report, said in a news release. "They can kill and should only be used as a last resort."
Wright said Tasers are susceptible to abuse -- easy to carry, easy to use, and with just the push of a button, severe pain is inflicted -- and without significant marks on a person's skin.
Independently-funded animal studies "have found that the use of these kinds of electro-shock weapons can cause fatal arrhythmia in pigs, raising further questions about their safety on human subjects," according to an Amnesty news release.
Toward the end of the news release, Amnesty clarifies their claim about the 334 deaths that occurred after Taser use.
"Although most of the 334 deaths nationwide have been attributed to factors such as drug intoxication, medical examiners and coroners have concluded that Taser shocks caused or contributed to at least 50 of these deaths," the news release states.
Bozeman, who said he shares Amnesty's concerns with Tasers, said a death after a Taser shock is not necessarily a death due to the Taser.
"There are a number of cases where it's very questionable that Tasers could have played a role in the deaths," he said.
"Taser" refers to conducted electrical weapons trademarked by the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company known as Taser International.
The word stands for "Tom A. Swift Electrical Rifle," and the Taser was developed by Jack Cover, a contract scientist on NASA's Apollo moon program in the 1960s. Inspired by his favorite childhood book series, Victor Appleton's Tom Swift, Cover drew up plans for a non lethal weapon like the one the series' main character used.
In 1993, Rick and Tim Smith, who launched Taser International, worked with Cover to improve his design and introduced the device the next year.
Since then, use of the word -- especially as a verb, as in "To Taser" -- became part of the popular cultural lexicon, due to the phrase "Don't tase me bro!" uttered by Andrew Meyer, a University of Florida student. Meyer spoke out of turn at a 2007 talk given by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and refused to be quiet. He was shocked by a Taser and detained.
Taser International originally sold its products only to police and military, but now markets to the general public with a smaller, contoured model that looks more like an electric shaver than a gun -- and in designer colors. They're now carried in stores such as The Sports Authority, Cabella's and Gander Mountain, said Steve Tuttle, Taser International vice president of communications.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A TASER IS USED?