Houston TX July 30 2017 The Houston Police Department and thousands of other law enforcement agencies are carrying Tasers that are "woefully underpowered" because of a design change in 2011, according to documents filed in a federal lawsuit in Houston.
The late-model Tasers, produced by the newly named Axon company, issue about half the charge of the previous model and 70 percent of the stopping power of over-the-counter stun guns sold to consumers, according to documents in a lawsuit brought by a former Houston officer.
The lawsuit claims the company intentionally reduced the jolt its weapons delivered amid adverse publicity over deaths of people hit by Tasers and over fear of losing lucrative government contracts.
"There's compelling evidence to suggest they did it to stop the lawsuits from the people who were being Tased," said Andy Vickery, who represents the former officer. "They were saying people were killed by the X26 former model, so they ratcheted it down without telling police."
The company swapped out its X26, with a maximum charge of 125 microcoulombs of electricity, for the X2 model, which has 63 microcoulombs, the documents claim. The consumer version delivers 90 microcoulombs, according to the lawsuit.
Karen Taylor, the former Houston police officer, filed the product liability and deceptive trade practices suit in March, saying the weapon endangers police officers who rely on it.
Taylor was seriously injured when her Taser failed to stop an assailant; she has been unable to return to work as a peace officer because of a back injury.
The Houston Police Department has a $9 million contract with the company for the X2 model, which was introduced in 2011, according to the lawsuit. Harris County has a contract for 28 X2 tasers and another 500 of the X26P model, a variation of the X26 but which carries the same electrical charge as the X2.
Steve Tuttle, spokesperson for Axon, formerly known as Taser International, acknowledged that the new weapon delivers a reduced charge, but said the difference is negligible.
"If you're a connoisseur of electricity, it's less pain with the X2," he said. "The bottom line is you're incapacitated. It works."
He continued, "It's less power because it's much more efficient. All of our modern Taser weapons ... are designed to stop motivated individuals that don't feel pain."
Tuttle said the proof is in the fact that officers use them daily.
"Where the rubber meets the road with these weapons is by law enforcement using them thousands of times per day," he said. "If there was a pattern, it would be discovered very quickly and you would have these devices thrown in the trunk for being a gadget or a gimmick. Cops are the most skeptical buyers in the world."
He added that proper use of the weapon is essential. Axon maintains, based on the details provided in depositions, that Taylor used the weapon improperly.
"If there is no electrical connection with the subject, there will be no delivered electrical charge," Tuttle said. "That is not a failure of the product, but rather, a law of science."