"These cases are complicated," Smith said. "We can't tell you Taser played no role, but it's irresponsible for people to jump to conclusions that the Taser was the cause."
Smith said that a half-million police officers carry Tasers in more than 17,000 police departments in the country and that the devices have been used about 1.6 million times.
In the most recent civil case filed in Pennsylvania, the children of Robert Neill, a Vietnam veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder, claim that state and local police in Mount Joy, Lancaster County, used excessive force by using a Taser on their unarmed dad multiple times, by striking him with pepper spray and by hog-tying him when he charged at officers on Nov. 6, 2010.
Neill, 61, who had called police because he believed that his bike had been stolen, died of cardiac dysrhythmia a little more than an hour after the incident.
In another civil case in federal court, Allen Brown is suing two state troopers for an incident that got him fired up — literally.
About 5 a.m. Aug. 24, 2008, Brown, who did not have a driver's license, was riding a motor scooter with no license plate on the Schuylkill Expressway while under the influence of intoxicants when State Police tried to pull him over, according to the suit. He fled and crashed the scooter. During the crash, the gas cap came off and gas spilled on Brown.
After the crash, Brown again tried to flee and troopers fired a Taser at him multiple times. One of the shots set Brown's clothes ablaze, resulting in third-degree burns to 30 percent of his body, according to the suit.
Brown claims that the troopers used unreasonable force and should have known that deploying a Taser on someone who is covered in gasoline could lead to a fire, and even death.
Smith said that although Tasers are not risk-free, they are "dramatically safer" than anything else cops have on their belts.
"That doesn't mean they're safer than talking," he said. "Do police move too quickly to use force if they have a Taser? That's a very legitimate question, but once they get into a situation where they are using force, it's the safest option."
Contact Stephanie Farr at 215-854-4225, email@example.com or on Twitter @FarFarrAway.