A crowd of students standing outside a building on the De Anza College campus
Students and workers at De Anza College in Cupertino. The community college district is considering allowing campus police to carry Tasers. Photo courtesy of Noemi Teppang.

The police chief at Foothill-De Anza Community College District is proposing to arm campus police with Tasers.

Tasers put faculty, staff, workers and students at risk. These weapons have caused serious physical injury and death, the manufacturer warnings make Tasers too risky to use and De Anza and Foothill cannot afford the costly litigation and settlements that will inevitably result from Taser use.

An April 10 Business Insider article outlines the damage that can be caused by Tasers to the body, including ventricular fibrillation, puncture wounds, severe damage to kidney function and twisted testicles when muscles seize up even if the Taser does not hit the pelvis. According to a study published in PubMed, Tasers can cause cardiac arrest.

Axon, the manufacturer of Tasers, has an extensive, 4,500-word eight-page warning about the risks of Taser use. The warning advises users not to deploy the Taser weapon in the area of the face, eyes, neck, chest, heart and genitals. It further cautions to not use the Taser weapon on a variety of populations including the frail, mentally ill, pregnant women and those with health problems.

In an August 30, 2023 investigative report on the toxic corporate culture at Axon, Reuters noted that Axon shocked its own employees with Tasers. Even in the controlled setting of the Axon workplace, the company required exposure candidates to sign a waiver of the right to sue. The waiver warns of the potential for death at least 12 times. It also warns that repeated electrical stimuli can induce seizure in some people, which may result in death or serious injury.

Ann Rosenthal, a senior advisor to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration until 2022, said Axon’s shocking of staff with Tasers could violate a provision of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act, which mandates that workplaces be free of recognized hazards that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.

Serious injury or death from Taser use also poses a risk of exposure to liability for the community college district. A Reuters series investigated 442 wrongful death lawsuits in which Tasers were a factor that may have caused death. In 194 of those cases there were payouts totaling $172 million from cities and insurers. Three dozen cases ended in settlements that remained confidential. Ed Davis, former Boston police chief, declined to purchase Tasers for his department. He stated the potential litigation costs were absolutely a factor, and the warnings made the weapons impractical to use.

A Reuters report concluded that Black Americans disproportionately die in police Taser confrontations. Of 1,081 cases in which people died after Taser use, at least 32% of those who died were Black.

“These racial disparities in Taser deaths are horrifying but unsurprising,” said Carl Takei, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Tasers are dangerous weapons that put workers and students at risk of death or serious injury. They do not belong on campus.

San José Spotlight columnist Ruth Silver Taube is supervising attorney of the Workers’ Rights Clinic at the Katharine & George Alexander Community Law Center, supervising attorney of the Santa Clara County’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement Legal Advice Line and a member of Santa Clara County’s Fair Workplace Collaborative. Her columns appear every second Thursday of the month. Contact her at [email protected].

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