Force Science News #255:
New studies counter plaintiffs' CEW arguments
Training note: Congratulations to the graduating class of the most recent Force Science Certification Course conducted last week at the DHS Training Center in Alexandria, VA! They proudly represented 40 different agencies from 19 states/provinces and two countries. We would also like to thank them for their involvement in a new research project FSI has launched. Their outstanding performance in class and their enthusiastic participation in the Force Science research project were both outstanding! [Visit www.forcescience.org for the current FS Certification Course schedule.]
In this issue:
I. New studies counter plaintiffs' CEW arguments
When allegations of excessive force involve use of a CEW, plaintiffs' attorneys or their hired experts may raise a couple of stock arguments:
1. The suspect was not able to comply with the officer's commands because he could not recover promptly enough from the electronic "stunning";
2. When the suspect has died and an autopsy fails to identify any other cause of death, the CEW must have been responsible because the fatality so closely followed the device's application.
New studies provide evidence with which to challenge both assertions.
First, the issue of lingering incapacitation....
Researchers document psychomotor recovery time from CEW exposure
This study was sponsored by the U.S. military in hopes of confirming a reliable, non-lethal option for controlling possible suicide bombers when they approach checkpoints in combat zones.
"They wanted recovery time from a CEW exposure precisely measured," researcher Dr. Mark Kroll told Force Science News Kroll, "apparently in hopes there would be enough residual effect during which soldiers could achieve some measure of control before a bomber could detonate his explosives.
"There had not previously been a scientific, peer-reviewed study of this issue done."
Kroll, an adjunct professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Minnesota and at California's Cal Poly University, wrote the study paper in collaboration with Dr. John Criscione, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Texas A&M University, who supervised the actual testing and was the study's primary researcher.
BUTTON TEST. The subject pool consisted of 32 volunteers (29 of them males) from a CEW training class at the Austin (TX) Police Academy. They ranged in age from 21 to 55.
Each was positioned face-down on a padded mat so that arms and hands could move easily. Current from a TASER X26 CEW was conducted to each for a standard 5-second cycle via alligator-clip electrodes attached to the shoulder and waist to simulate an ideal, exceptionally broad-spread probe placement. This was designed "to achieve maximal CEW-induced control of the upper extremities," the researchers note.
The subjects were instructed that as soon as the CEW exposure began, they should "immediately" press a button on a box that was placed on the floor in front of them, to measure their psychomotor capability and speed.
SURPRISING RESULTS. Two of the subjects were able to "move their arms in a purposeful manner" even during the CEW exposure. While their movements were "slow and coarse," they were able to reach and press the button at 3.09 and 4.70 seconds after the start of the exposure.
As for the others, the response time once the CEW exposure ended ranged from 0.31 to 2.99 seconds. "The typical subject took slightly over 1 second--in essence, no recovery time--to move his dominant arm forward, place it on the button box, and push the button," Kroll says.
"These response times were equivalent to 'normal' reaction and movement times of control-group subjects who performed the test in response to hearing a buzzer signal."
In interviews after their CEW exposure:
• 75% of the volunteers said they remained conscious of their surroundings during the exposure
• 91% could hear and 81% could see during that time (5 closed their eyes)
• 91% said they'd be able to understand commands during an exposure.
"For the military, the study was a bit of a disappointment because the near-zero recovery time doesn't serve their purpose," Kroll says. "But for law enforcement, this is great news because it refutes plaintiff claims of being unable to quickly comply with officer commands."
In their paper, Criscione and Kroll cite a number of court cases in which "misunderstandings of CEW effects," including recovery times, have been used unfairly against officers in court proceedings. "I've seen many variants of misunderstanding," Kroll told FSN, "from claims of temporary blindness to unconsciousness for minutes to hours after an exposure. Hopefully, our findings will help in establishing a more realistic picture."
The researchers' report, "Incapacitation recovery times from a conductive electrical weapon exposure," appears in the journal Forensic Science, Medicine, Pathology. An abstract of their paper can be accessed free by clicking here. The full study is available there for a fee.
Unexplained sudden cardiac deaths not associated just with CEWs
As to the implication that CEW exposure is a likely cause of sudden cardiac death, that, too, seems to be more an example of plaintiff mythology than a logical conclusion.
Consider two new studies passed to FSN by Atty. Michael Brave, a use-of-force instructor at this year's annual conference of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Assn. (ILEETA) and national/international litigation counsel for TASER International, Inc.
These studies investigated sudden cardiac deaths that occurred among "benign" civilians who had no exposure to confrontations with law enforcement or to CEWs. The findings are "so very important," Brave says, because they put the sudden cardiac death issue "in a meaningful perspective."
STUDY #1: COLLEGE ATHLETES. A team of researchers, headed by Dr. Kimberly Harmon of the University of Washington Sports Medicine Center, reviewed autopsy reports and other documentation concerning National Collegiate Athletic Assn. (NCAA) athletes who died suddenly under nontraumatic circumstances during a recent five-year period.
More than 40 cases were analyzed by a panel that included sports medicine physicians, a cardiac pathologist, a cardiomyopathy specialist, a genetic cardiologist, and an electrophysiologist, all with sudden-death expertise.
In most cases, fatalities were attributed to one or another of various heart-related problems. But nearly one-third (31%) of the sudden deaths went unexplained at autopsy. Indeed, this was the single most common autopsy finding.
This result is compatible, Harmon's group reports, with similar studies of other athletes and of U.S. military personnel. Among the latter, unexplained nontraumatic sudden cardiac deaths that occurred during training over a 25-year period accounted for 35% of cases investigated.
Sudden death mysteries frequently arise outside of law enforcement, Brave points out, and the findings from these other populations tend to undermine speculation that CEW exposure is a probable decisive factor.
Harmon's study, published by the journal Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology, can be accessed free by clicking here
STUDY #2: SUBJECTS AGED 1-49. A dozen medical researchers in Denmark, led by Dr. Bjarke Risgaard, for the first time analyzed the deaths of all persons throughout that country aged 1-49 who succumbed to "sudden, natural unexpected deaths" during a recent three-year period.
Among the sudden-death victims who were autopsied, the team found that 67% died of "structural heart disease"--the most common generalized cause of fatality. However, in 31% of cases "death remained unexplained after autopsy," the researchers report--a finding identical to that of the Harmon group above.
Toxicology tests were positive for illegal and/or prescription drugs in 70% of the unexplained Danish deaths. But none of those cases had a "toxicological profile" that would explain the deaths, according to forensic pathologists.
Bottom line: There is much about sudden death that simply "is not fully understood."
A free abstract of the Danish study, also published in Circulation, is available by clicking here.
II. How to deal with conflict between science & case law
In Force Science News #253 [4/8/14], we reported a new study by Dr. Darrell Ross, indicating that restraining a violently resisting suspect in the prone position produces "no fatal adverse effects, even when TASER shocks, weight on the subject's back, and hobbling are employed by officers to gain control."
Ross urged that for the safety of themselves and suspects alike, officers "continue to prone out violently resisting people."
In response, we received this email from a sheriff's trainer in Colorado:
"I found the results of Dr. Ross's study to be very interesting. However, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Estate of Booker v. Gomez, released 3/11/14, found knee pressure applied to the back of a proned resister, along with a vascular neck restraint and an 8-second TASER drive stun to the same individual, to be excessive force. The coroner's report said the weight on the resister's back, the TASER application, and the neck restraint were contributing factors leading to the subject's death.
"Case law dictates training and tactics."
We asked police attorney William Everett, a consultant to the Force Science Institute, how he would advise trainers who face apparent conflicts between scientific findings and judicial decisions in their jurisdictions. His answer:
"Case law must, of course, dictate training; we can't very well instruct officers to go outside the bounds of constitutional law.
"But it's important for agencies to consult with their legal advisors when trying to figure out what implications case law may have on tactics and training. Such a discussion is vital to clarify exactly what legal issue(s) the court has decided, and what rules the court has announced about the use of force.
"The first question is whether science and law are really in conflict. The next question is how far you can go in harmonizing what the courts say with what the scientists report. You need legal guidance to determine if the law leaves you any room to move in the direction of following good science. These should be somber and thoughtful discussions involving legal advisors, executives, and trainers, because you are trying to make decisions that responsibly balance citizen risk, officer safety, and the risk of liability.
"As I read the Booker case, the court did not decide that the application of pressure to a suspect's back automatically constitutes excessive force. Instead, the court wrote that it was excessive force to place and maintain substantial pressure on a prone suspect's back after the suspect has been 'subdued and/or incapacitated.' The court noted evidence that an officer put over 140 pounds of pressure on a handcuffed suspect who weighed 135 pounds.
"In addition, the court noted that the TASER was applied three seconds longer than recommended and the neck restraint was sustained more than twice as long as the maximum allowed by the department's training and policy.
"The appeals court upheld the lower court's denial of officers' motions for pretrial dismissal because of conflicting evidence about the circumstances that warranted bringing the case to trial. There was a dispute over when the suspect had been effectively restrained, such that reasonable officers would then dial back their level of force.
"All this considered, reasonable police legal advisors could conclude that the Booker decision does not forbid the use of weight to restrain suspects in all circumstances.
"That said, circumstances could very well arise where science and law seem to point you in different directions regarding training and tactics. Through the training of judges and prosecutors and the use of knowledgeable expert witnesses, we need to continue to expand the effort to acquaint decision-makers with the latest scientific findings regarding human performance and outcomes in use-of-force situations."
Note: The Booker decision can be read in full by clicking here
Atty. Everett, a founding partner of the law firm Everett & VanderWiel, PLLP, in Buffalo, MN, is an instructor for the special two-day Force Science seminars. A former LEO and use-of-force trainer, he can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
III. Surviving wounds before EMS arrives: the bible of self-care and buddy-care
The foreword for a recent book on casualty care for cops poses two questions that every officer should face up to realistically:
If wounded, "how will you survive?" And "What will you do if no one can come to your rescue?"
The answers lie in the 129 pages that follow in Officer Down! A Practical Tactical Guide to Surviving Injury in the Street by Dr. Andrew Dennis. This slim but meaty volume qualifies as a bible for trainers and officers involved in law enforcement's growing movement toward self-care/buddy-care for serious wounds in the field.
The grim fact is, Dennis writes, in the worst circumstances "precisely when police officers are in the most danger, emergency medical services cannot reach them." With rounds flying, with you or other officers bleeding and still needing to return fire, or even in nonfelonious situations such as horrendous vehicle crashes, "you must prepare to be on your own and to take care of your injuries for a minimum of 15 minutes....
"Preservation of life [needs to] begin the moment injury strikes. You cannot wait...to start applying countermeasures."
How best to fill that critical time frame--how to make the right medical decisions and how to administer the life-saving techniques to back them up--is the thrust of Dennis' book.
Drawing on more than 20 years' experience as a sworn LEO and SWAT operator, as well as a leading trauma surgeon at Chicago's "knife-and-gun-club" county hospital, Dennis emphasizes that wound survival requires a marriage of four core components:
Mindset, Mechanics, Management, and Movement. Complete with vivid injury photographs, he devotes a utilitarian chapter to each.
Among his multitude of revelations are:
• The kind of pre-event training that creates the best mental "script" for defeating paralyzing fear and destructive perceptions and expectations when injury strikes;
• A simple, "nuts-and-bolts" mnemonic--Breathe, S-T-O-P, Move--that quickly and calmly enables you to control your mind and body, check yourself for injuries, and then "efficiently prioritize and deliver tactical medical care";
• In-depth facts about the nature of wounds from firearms and edged weapons that can be critical to your survival--but are rarely taught in law enforcement circles;
• Misunderstandings about the lethality of various weapons and wound locations that can dangerously impact your response decision-making;
• How to determine what to do and when to do it "in balancing life-saving measures, tactics, and mission priorities";
• In the midst of a hot zone, how to assess whether bleeding requires immediate attention, or can wait;
• Why the much-touted tourniquet, when improperly chosen for treatment over a pressure dressing, may actually cause further tissue damage, including the potential of "total limb loss";
• Four principles of proper pressure and how to apply them;
• What to include in a proper trauma kit to elevate it above a mere first-aid package;
• Why Dennis believes, "If you carry a knife, the world is your bandage";
• Strategic approaches and escape tactics for making it out of the field of fire alive, despite injuries;
• And much more, supporting Dennis' overarching credo: "If you're not immediately dead from an injury, the odds of survival are on your side."
Note: Officer Down! is available through Amazon or from Kendall Hunt Publishing Co. at: https://www.kendallhunt.com/officer_down. The book is a synopsis of a unique, eight-hour, hands-on training program Dr. Dennis has designed, called Medical Tactics for Law Enforcement. For more information, visit Dennis' website: http://medicaltactics.com/dr-andrew-dennis.php or contact him at: email@example.com. Our thanks to Jeff Chudwin, president of the Illinois Tactical Officers Assn., for helping to facilitate this review.
© 2017 Force Science Institute Ltd.