World News

Australian taser death sparks outcry

CANBERRA (Reuters) - The death of an Australian man shot up to 28 times by police armed with a Taser stun gun has set off a debate about the safety of the weapons, currently being rolled out in many parts of the world.

A policy inquiry has been ordered in Queensland state after 39-year-old Antonio Galeano collapsed and died a short time after being stunned by the 50,000 volt Taser gun that authorities said had been triggered up to 28 times.

“It explodes the myth that the Queensland Police Service has put out there for the last couple of years that Tasers are harmless,” Terry O’Gorman, from the Australian Council for Civil Liberties, told state radio.

Tasers use a powerful electric current to incapacitate people, with the charge temporarily disrupting muscle control. Critics say the weapon can cause injury including severe heart attack in some people, possibly leading to death.

Worldwide Tasers have been blamed for hundreds of deaths in more than a million official incidents.

Controversy over their use flared in Britain this week when footage emerged of a man apparently being shot twice by Taser-armed police in Nottingham, leading to calls from human rights groups for an independent investigation.

Australian police said data downloaded from the Taser used last week at Brandon, south of Townsville, following a confrontation with Galeano showed it had been fired 28 times, but it was still unclear how many times the victim had been hit.

A post mortem was being carried out and Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson ordered an internal investigation, matched by the state’s coroner.

Deputy Police Commissioner Ian Stewart said on Thursday police had no instructions on how often they should use the weapon, being introduced by several states although Victoria earlier this month shunned any mass roll out.

“There is no specific guideline that restricts the number of times the trigger can be pulled,” Stewart said.

Academic criminologist Julian Bondy was quoted by the AAP news agency as saying the Queensland incident proved Tasers were too powerful.

“We don’t issue frontline police with firearms with a thousand bullets, we don’t issue them with capsicum spray the size of fire extinguishers. Every other weapon they have is limited ... but this one is out of proportion,” Bondy said.

Reporting by Rob Taylor; Editing by Jerry Norton