Taser-related cases complex for medical examiners

CINCINNATI - The Hamilton County Coroner's ruling that the death of a North College Hill teen last August is "unknown/undetermined" prompted the I-Team to look into the controversy of medical examiners and Taser-related deaths.

Since electricity leaves no evidence behind once it leaves the body, rulings by medical examiners on deaths after the use of a Taser have ignited controversy for years.

The 9 News I-Team obtained a 2003 study by the Department of Defense, wherein researchers questioned how coroners could rule out Tasers as contributing to deaths following shocks.

"Given the likelihood of the absence of pathology, it is unknown how medical examiners...determined whether the exposure was a significant factor in these deaths or not," researchers wrote.

According to Amnesty International, at least 500 people in the U.S. have died since 2001 after being shocked by Tasers and medical examiners have listed the Taser as a cause or contributing factor in some 60 of those cases.

"Medical examiners tended to reach their decisions on the basis of various circumstances, including the proximity of the shocks to the fatal collapse, the toxicology findings, and whether the impact of the [Taser] shocks could have contributed to cardiac or respiratory failure," an Amnesty International study on Tasers reported.

In Ohio, Chief Summit County Medical Examiner Lisa Kohler ruled the Taser was a factor in three Akron-area deaths.  Taser International, the weapon's maker, sued her office saying, in essence, she didn't have the evidence or expertise in electricity to make the ruling. The court ruled in Taser International's  favor, requiring Kohler remove all references to Taser from her ruling.

The former president of the National Association of Medical Examiners, Jeff Jentzen, called it "...dangerously close to intimidation."

Steve Tuttle, spokesperson for Taser International, said his company has only sued medical examiners twice, and it was the "proper channel" to protect police officers and defend the safety of the company's product, which studies have shown has reduced injuries to officers and subjects.

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