Taser testing issue delays death investigation

CINCINNATI - A Channel 9 investigation has found that more than 10 weeks after U.C. Upward Bound student Everette Howard Jr. died after he was tased by police, the Taser X26 used to subdue him has still not been tested for its electrical output.

Howard's family, and their attorney, speaking exclusively with 9 News, say they are outraged to learn of a disturbing gap in the investigation, which is apparently slowing it down, regarding the place... and method of the intended testing.

What police and loved ones of Howard agree on is that his death was both unintentional and tragic and finding out exactly why he died is important to his family, to police, and to anyone who might be hit by a Taser-type weapon in the future.

The weapon made by Taser International is used by authorities across the Tri-State and around the globe as a non-lethal police force option. It fires two probes, which send an electric current into the body to incapacitate a subject.

The Hamilton County Coroner's Office has not yet released a cause of death in the Howard case. 9 News has learned the delay may be because the taser used in the Aug. 6 incident has still not been tested for its electrical output.

Ohio's Bureau of Criminal Investigations (BCI), under Attorney General Mike Dewine, has been charged with finding a lab to test the output. BCI wants to send it to a lab in Canada, but says the process is being stalled by customs issues.

Asked why this weapon needs to be sent outside the country, Attorney General Dewine responded, " The Canadian company has been referred to us by many people and we have checked this out. We believe that they have the expertise to do it."

But 9 News took a closer look at how the Canadian lab will test the weapon and had some serious questions concerning whether this lab will be able to accurately measure how much power came out of the weapon.

The testing procedure protocol the lab would follow states:

"The authors give no warranty or representation of any kind whatsoever that the recommendations contained in this report are comprehensive."

The testing procedure also describes the weapon's waveform as having two parts: the Arc phase (the quick high-voltage phase), and the Main phase (the longer, lower-voltage phase).

To read the entire test procedure, click here . (For mobile users go to http://curve.carleton.ca/papers/2010/CEW-Test-Procedure-2010-ver1.1.pdf )

The people who wrote the protocol state their information will primarily come from the lower energy phase.

Why?

They state that because of potential equipment limitations, "measurements of the peak voltage, peak current and charge of the arc phase may be in error."

9 News discussed the testing concerns with Mike Leonasio of Force Technologies Institute.

Leonasio tests Tasers regularly for law enforcement at his lab in Northern California and was referred to 9 News as an "expert" by a federal agency looking into standardizing the measuring of tasers.

"They specifically talk about some equipment not having the capabilities of measuring that high voltage spike. We don't have that problem," said Leonasio. "The equipment that we utilize has no issues with that whatsoever so we can actually record the entire waveform."

Leonasio says he began testing weapons in response to news reports in Canada three years ago that weapons were failing tests there.

In one case, the Royal Canadian Mounted Patrol pulled hundreds of Tasers after 80 percent reportedly failed tests.

In another case, the Canadian Broadcast Company (CBC) had an accredited lab test 44 X26 Tasers in use at that time by U.S. police officers.

CBC reporter Frederic Zalac reported, "The results revealed that four Tasers delivered higher electrical charges, at times up to 50 percent higher than the manufacturer's specifications."

"I think what they proved was what I've seen as well," said Leonasio, "They showed a significant percentage of devices that were outside of manufacturer's specs."

Taser international challenged the method of testing done for that CBC report.

In fact, at an inquiry into a death in Canada following a tasing, Taser International co-founder Tom Smith testified that the weapons did not need testing.

"The device is calibrated such that it can not output any more power. It's running at 100 percent so we do not recommend testing the output," said Smith.

Leonasio says it's very important to test.

"It's important 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. Radar guns are tested on a regular basis, blood alcohol testers are tested on a regular basis," said Leonasio.

In fact, the U.S. has standards concerning the testing of X-ray machines, automatic electronic defibrillators, pacemakers etc., but not tasers.

9 News asked Attorney General Dewine whether he thought there should be some standard way of testing these weapons so that we can be perfectly accurate as to what is released from them and protect

people who might be hit by them.

"Well again, what we have to do is go to the best place we can find and that's what we're doing," said Dewine. "The report will stand on its own. If there are exceptions in the report, if there are things where they indicate they could not test, that's something that the prosecuting attorney in Hamilton County, Mr. Deters, and whoever else looks at it in Hamilton County, is going to have to take into consideration. I would just emphasize that the report that this lab does and the testing that this lab does is only part of the whole investigation."

"On behalf of the family, we're impatient," said Attorney Al Gerhardstein, who represents the Howards.

"Any testing that's a waste of time is just that. It's a waste of time. If it's going to delay an answer to these parents it shouldn't be done. The right thing should be done. And if we're this far down the road on Tasers and we still don't know how to test them in order to make sure they're safe for deployment into peaceful civilians then we better get on this as quickly as possible and do more to protect citizens," said Gerhardstein.

"I'm not for taking Tasers off the street. I'm for reform. I'm for training. I'm for safety, honesty, tell the truth," said Travonna Howard, Everette's mother.

The Howards say their son, an award-winning wrestler and captain of his team in high school, was a respectful kid who had a bright future.

"He knew authority, his records, his awards, his community involvement, what he did speaks for itself," said Travonna.

"I just think how we sacrificed and we worked hard to get our son for school and overtime and working days and working nights. We sacrificed because we wanted what we didn't have and what was best for him," said his mother.

Everette actually graduated from the Upward Bound program the night before he died.

On the night he died, a report of a fight on campus brought in U.C. police.

According to U.C. police, Everette ignored a warning to back off, so an officer tased him. The accounts given by police and witnesses of exactly what led up to the tasing are still being investigated.

"Sometimes I'm just broke to think what my son's body went through with that," said Travonna.

There is an effort in the U.S. currently to come up with a standard way of testing tasers.

The "National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Office of Law Enforcement Standards (OLES)" had a meeting in January of this year, during which industry experts weighed in.

NIST refused any comment, only referring 9 News to Leonasio as an expert sitting on its panel.

Leonasio tells 9 News NIST is working on an international standard, but did not say when such a standard for testing the electrical output of Tasers would be released.

Taser International refused comment, and has thus far denied numerous requests for an on camera interview with 9 News.

9 News is continuing its research into all facets of Taser use and the safety concerns surrounding this electroshock weapon.

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