January 30, 2007
Tianesha Robinson was about four
months pregnant last fall when she was jolted with a
Taser stun gun while resisting arrest during a traffic
After experiencing cramps for
several weeks, the 33-year-old Wichita, Kan., woman
miscarried. Her family insists there is a connection
between the miscarriage and the roughly 50,000-volt
shock that subdued her, though doctors said the link
would be more clear had she miscarried immediately after
That kind of uncertainty is
fueling debate over the safety of the devices.
Taser International of Scottsdale,
Ariz., has said its products are safe law enforcement
tools, but did not return several calls for comment on
The human rights group Amnesty
International has identified more than 230 people who
have died after being stunned since June 2001. The group
is particularly concerned about the use of Tasers on
vulnerable people, such as those who are pregnant, sick
or very young or old.
Dalia Hashad, director of
Amnesty's USA Program, said it can be difficult to tell
whether someone is a member of one of those vulnerable
"People with heart problems aren't
always identifiable by appearance and people who are
pregnant are not always identifiable until the later
half of their pregnancy, sometimes not until the last
trimester," Hashad said.
She said the group wasn't aware of
anyone who tracked the number of pregnant women who have
been shocked with Tasers, but other women besides
Robinson have reported suffering miscarriages after
One woman, Cindy Grippi, settled a
lawsuit with the city of Chula Vista, Calif., for
$675,000. She delivered a stillborn girl in December
2001 after police used a Taser on her when she refused
to halt. A medical examiner was unable to determine a
cause of death and suggested Grippi's methamphetamine
use could be to blame.
"There is one thing we know," said
Fabrice Czarnecki, an emergency physician and staff
doctor for the Police Policy Studies Council, a law
enforcement research training and consulting group. "If
you are hit by a Taser you are likely to fall. We know
even minor trauma during pregnancy, like a fall, is
dangerous and could be fatal to the fetus. Again, we
don't know whether the risk is 1 percent or 5 percent.
We don't know. But we know it's there."
Taser itself warns on its Web site
that people who are infirm or pregnant may be at higher
risk of secondary injuries, such as those due to falls.
"As far as the electricity on the
fetus, I think it may be dangerous," Czarnecki added,
noting there's an absence of peer-reviewed research on
Czarnecki said Taser has conducted
one unpublished animal study that found the Taser did
not induce miscarriage in two pregnant pigs. But
Czarnecki also noted a 1992 case report regarding a
woman who was shocked with a predecessor of the
modern-day Taser when she was 12 weeks pregnant. She
began to miscarry seven days later.
The author, Lewis E. Mehl,
concluded that the devices could deliver electrical
injuries capable of harming a fetus.
"Ethical questions should be
raised about the criteria for the use of the Taser on
women of childbearing age," wrote Mehl, now an associate
professor of family medicine and psychiatry at the
University of Saskatchewan College of Medicine in
In the case of Robinson, there is
some dispute about how pregnant she appeared. The
Sedgwick County deputy has told supervisors he was
unaware that she was pregnant when he shocked her. But
her aunt, Betty Arnold, said her niece was obviously
Robinson was jolted Sept. 29 after
she wriggled free of handcuffs and fled police during a
traffic stop. The deputy chased her down and deployed
the taser, but the probes missed. He later pushed the
barrel of the stun gun once against the side of her
abdomen and once against her back, Sedgwick County
Undersheriff Bob Hinshaw said.
Using a Taser that way, known as a
"drive stun," causes isolated pain, but not the total
incapacitation that would have occurred if the probes
had hit her, Hinshaw said.
Robinson was taken into custody
and held at the county jail. There, she miscarried Oct.
25 after going into labor.
Six days later, she was convicted
of escaping from custody during a July altercation and
driving with a suspended license in March 2003. She was
sentenced to time already served.
Because Robinson did not miscarry
immediately, Arnold said attorneys showed little
interest in her case.
"Until someone stands up and holds
police departments and manufacturers of this instrument
more accountable, I think there are going to be a lot of
babies that suffer," Arnold said.
Hinshaw said the department
conducted a review and determined the arresting deputy
did not violate departmental policies when he used the
Taser on Robinson. The jail also conducted a review and
determined the care Robinson received was appropriate.
"Regardless of how it got to that
point, you're still talking about the miscarriage of a
baby," he said. "That's a tragedy, especially for the
He said the incident was not
considered a lethal-force situation.
"But ask yourself, if it's a
lethal force situation, what's the better situation - a
Taser or a firearm?
"It really boils down to the
actions of the suspect and the unique factors going on
at the time."