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I-Team: Still no tests released on Taser in Everette Howard incident, other Tasers tested

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CINCINNATI - The I-Team has uncovered more evidence of a problem that affects public safety and your tax dollars involving weapons many Tri-State police agencies use every day.

Nearly 6 months after the death of 18-year-old student Everette Howard following the use of a Taser on him, Ohio's Bureau of Criminal Investigation has still not released results of tests done on the Taser used in the incident.

But the I-Team has obtained the results of testing done on the UC police department's other Tasers, electronic control weapons which shoot out probes to incapacitate subjects so that officers can more safely get them into custody.

Mike Leonesio with Force Technologies Institute did the testing.

According to the report, of the 14 Tasers sent for testing, seven were identified as "out of tolerance" by the testing company.

Four that failed were older model M-26 tasers the agency had replaced.

The remaining three the tester failed are the agency's newer X-26 Tasers.

One Taser wouldn't fire and rebooted when the trigger was depressed, indicating a bad power connection, according to Leonesio.

Another weapon's laser aiming and LED flashlight didn't work and it "could not be test fired" because it was displaying an error code, indicating a possible circuitry or software problem, according to Leonesio. That prevented testing of the Taser's electrical output.

Leonesio said another Taser was "out of tolerance for firing and pulse rate... and could not be tested for electrical output due to firing inconsistencies."

And on all three of these weapons the warning labels were unreadable, something Leonesio says the manufacturer harps on in training because of the danger of electric shock.

UC's new police chief, Mike Cureton, declined an on-camera interview on legal advice, but according to his department's report on the testing, its officers inspect and condition their Tasers through what's called Spark Testing before each shift, and the report states they would've caught the problems found by Leonesio before taking the problematic Tasers to the streets.

The report also states that with the possible exception of one of the Tasers, all of the problems reported would result in lower or no output.

Leonesio says it is important to test and measure these weapons, "...because we need to know what this weapon is doing."

"And to kind of put it into context a little bit it's not uncommon for us in law enforcement for us to test equipment," Leonesio continued. "Radar guns are tested on a regular basis, blood alcohol testers are tested on a regular basis, so this is not uncommon within law enforcement."

Leonesio says Tasers that put out lower or no output could put officers and subjects at greater risk than those that are overpowered because they lead to escalation of force.

Taser International, the weapon's manufacturer, agreed with the UC Police Department's assessment of the testing, adding that all but one Taser tested was more than five years old.

Taser International recommends replacing Tasers after five years because of wear and tear concerns and when its CEO, Rick Smith, was asked about whether the unregulated weapons should be tested regularly, he responded, "They certainly can be. It comes down to... for individual agencies the logistics involved in doing that can be significant."

There is currently no required system or approved standard in place to test Tasers in the U.S., which could make doing so both confusing and costly, but there's arguably another cost to consider.

Taser International discloses this statement on its specification sheet, which describes the weapon's output: "...actual measurements on particular products may vary as a result of many factors including factors outside Taser International's control."

That would seem to put responsibility for the power coming out of the unregulated, untested Taser on the police agencies using it, and the taxpayers footing the bill, who can't be completely sure what's coming out of it.

Hamilton County Coroner Dr. Anant Bhati does not want to see officers lose the Taser as a tool because it has protected them and subjects from injuries, but he said, "It ought to be regulated. It ought to be tested properly, and the user must be trained and have continued educational time with this machine."

Dr. Bhati said regulation and testing could prevent situations like the Howard incident, though he has not yet ruled on a cause of death.

9 News sat down with Dr. Bhati for an exclusive interview about the preliminary autospy results on Howard's death. He says he's not ready to make a ruling on cause of death, but he appears to have ruled everything out except for a Taser shock. You can find that full interview at http://www.wcpo.com/dpp/news/local_news/investigations/i-team-exclusive-interview-with-hamilton-county-coroner-about-everette-howards-death .

UC police have called Howard's death a tragedy. Howard's parents are devastated.

"We poured so much into him...and he was happy," said Travonna Howard, Everette's mother.

"He knew he graduated and he was going to school, and just, I feel he was snatched from us."

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