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Thursday, May 28, 2009


Medical Examiner Dr. Nizam Peerwani admits TASER International Intimidating

… a young gunshot victim was pronounced dead at John Peter Smith hospital, and his body was picked up and brought to the morgue. “I got a call a little later from my investigator saying that the man was breathing about twice a minute and what should he do. I told him to call 911 and have the body brought back to JPS.” That was done, Dr. Peerwani said, and when the man's breathing stopped, he was brought back to the morgue, and the autopsy went on from there.

What was the Cause-of-Death? Gunshot wound or medical neglect?

And in these five taser related deaths:

November 2, 2004: Robert Guerrero, 21, Fort Worth, Texas
April 3, 2005: Eric Hammock, 43, Fort Worth, Texas
June 24, 2005: Carolyn Daniels, 25, Fort Worth, Texas
August 23, 2006: Noah Lopez, 25, Fort Worth, Texas
April 18, 2009: Michael Jacobs Jr., 24, Fort Worth, Texas

Why The Medical Examiner Does Not Attribute Cause Of Death To Taser Electrocution?

In an interview with Fort Worth Weekly writer Peter Gorman, Tarrant County Medical Examiner Dr. Nizam Peerwani says, “It's still very difficult to determine the role a Taser charge may play in a death, but what we can learn from history is that there are people in certain excited states who perhaps should not be shocked.”

When asked if he about the maker of the taser device, the doctor noted the actions of TASER International had "a policy of suing medical examiners who find Tasers as having contributed to or caused a death".

That can be very intimidating, of course,” he said. But, he added, it doesn't affect his decisions. “We are working on a case right now where the Taser was used, and we are looking at it very closely. And if we determine that the Taser was a contributing factor, we will be clear on that.”

TASER International is known for winning lawsuits against medical examiners that attribute the cause of death to their product. The company has never lost such a lawsuit, something well known to law enforcement personnel across the country and around the world.

In Taser Intl., Inc. v. Chief Med. Examr. of Summit Co., Ohio, No. CV 2006-11-7421, Taser International, Inc. sued a county medical examiner to remove any mention of the device from the autopsy reports of three men who died after being shot with the Taser, and the court sided with the company.

The company successfully sued newspaper publisher Gannett Co. for libel, arguing that it published a series of articles that misled readers about the safety of its products.

The new Fort Worth Chief of Police, Jeffrey Halstead, revealed that TASER International had won every lawsuit brought against it... this, at a community forum after the taser death of Michael Jacobs, Jr. And, I assume that Peerwani was referring to the Jacobs case, in the above cite.

One of the brains behind TASER International’s legal strategy is, again, a Fort Worth law firm.

“Taser will use litigation in any way it possibly can to persuade the public that these stun guns don't hurt people,” said Robert Haslam, a Fort Worth, Texas lawyer and chair of AAJ's Taser Litigation Group. “There seems to be a lot of smoke, but Taser says there's no fire.”


The question goes to the root of making a determination of the time of death and its immediate causation. In theory, if the taser electrodes are not sticking in the body and the victim and not being “juiced” when the heart stops, the medical examiner is expected to rule the cause of death as simply the victim’s heart stopped. It had nothing to do with the taser electrocution that was administered only moments before.

The legal team knows that it is impossible to pinpoint the exact moment of death, because there are a series of bodily shutdowns before the subject finally expires. It is in this legal quagmire that lawyers like Robert Haslam build their defenses.


There is enough reasonable evidence to cause law enforcement to question their use of these lethal “non-lethal” devices. But F.W. Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead may not an unbiased party in the deliberation. He is a 20-year veteran of the Phoenix Police Department and a former police commander with the Homeland Defense Bureau.

When TASER International was starting out with its new Thomas A. Smith Electric Rifle (TASER, for short), the Scottsdale, Arizona company found its first law enforcement custom next door, with the Phoenix Police Department.


Here is a police chief who grew up in TASER International country and a pioneer in the usage of electronic stun guns.

Here is a law firm that is part of the defense team, protecting the company name and reputation, maybe even plaintiff counsel on the intimidating lawsuit side of the question.

Lastly, here is a medical examiner that refuses to attribute the legitimate cause of death to taser electrocution.

We know how TASER International has courted the medical examiners profession, by sponsoring lavish conventions and seminars. The company has a campaign policy to win the hearts and minds of the law enforcement community, and to peddle it stun guns as a non-lethal alternative to deadly force.

It is a very aggressive company in expanding its market to the military, law enforcement agency, and now the public. C2 tasers can now be purchased and deployed for civilian use, under the auspices of self-protection.


I have always been suspicious of medical examiners who exonerate police officers in Cause of Death cases. It is not unusual for a medical examiner to go in and “clean up” a mess made by brutal cops and prison guards. A suspect’s death or a prisoner’s death may be ruled a suicide by the medical examiner, while the rest of the inmates know otherwise.

A medical examiner’s testimony in court can determine whether the case is treated as a first degree murder or manslaughter or justifiable homicide.

Consider the case of Tarrant County Medical Examiner Dr. Nizam Peerwani, who is currently determining the cause of death in the Michael Jacobs, Jr. case.

Dr. Nizam Peerwani is probably the highest-profile medical examiner in the United States. His territory covers four counties, but he's been called upon often to lend his expertise as far away as Afghanistan and Bosnia.

Peerwani has traveled a great deal for organizations such as Physicians for Human Rights, the United Nations, and Human Rights Watch, investigating claims of genocide and other abuses in far-flung corners of the globe - all pro bono.

Asked about his international work, Peerwani launched into a story about going to Rwanda in 1996, where his group had to be protected by Nigerian special forces under the banner of the U.N. while they searched for mass graves. "We found one that had 550 bodies in it. Our group only did one grave, but there were many more from that time."

Such work has taken him to killing fields in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Indonesia, El Salvador, Iraq, and Peru. He was called to Afghanistan in 2002, shortly after the United States sent in troops, to investigate what had happened to about 2,000 suspected Taliban and al Qaeda members who allegedly had surrendered to a local warlord and U.S. ally and then been killed. Their bodies had not been located, but human rights officials believed they'd been buried in mass graves in the desert. Peerwani and others with Physicians for Human Rights questioned local shepherds, found the bodies, and identified them as those of the men who had surrendered to the warlord.

There's another area of human rights work where Peerwani is a player in a much different way. Amnesty International and other groups around the world for years have complained about the abuses of Taser electric-shock weapons by police agencies - especially in the United States and in Texas in particular.

Questions have been raised about several cases in which people died after having been tasered - in most cases, repeatedly - by Fort Worth police. Those deaths, in part, led the police department to change some of its policies on Taser use a few years ago.

Some local attorneys question Peerwani's willingness to go along with Fort Worth police on cases involving deaths by Taser. And there's some controversy about Peerwani's work for the federal women's prison hospital at Carswell. Judges, attorneys, former inmates, and families of inmates who died at Carswell or at local hospitals are outraged about the poor quality of the prison's medical care, which evidence suggests has led to many deaths. And yet, because Peerwani's private company holds the contract to do Carswell autopsies, families of inmates can't get copies of his findings on the deaths of their loved ones.

In another case that caused him grief, a young gunshot victim was pronounced dead at John Peter Smith hospital, and his body was picked up and brought to the morgue. “I got a call a little later from my investigator saying that the man was breathing about twice a minute and what should he do. I told him to call 911 and have the body brought back to JPS.” That was done, he said, and when the man's breathing stopped, he was brought back to the morgue, and the autopsy went on from there.

The medical examiner's offices are located on Feliks Gwozdz Place just behind JPS hospital. On the wall of the foyer, a large frame holds several dozen patches from the law enforcement agencies with which the office has worked, from local police departments across Texas to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the United Nations.


  1. Two-part cause of death?

    Brett Elder died March 22 after an officer fired a Taser at him. Police say Elder was intoxicated and took an aggressive stance toward officers who were responding to a report of a fight.

    The Bay City Times reports an autopsy found a two-part cause of death -- the use of the Taser and what it called "alcohol-induced excited delirium."

  2. Hey Eddie, are you going to update us on this now that Peerwani has ruled the death a Homicide?