Alarming video captured by a Twitter user in Philadelphia highlights a rare but little-known danger of electroshock Taser-style weapons.
In the footage, posted on Saturday, a man is seen struggling with security guards on the street, before being fired upon with a Taser-style device. Almost instantly, the man is alight, screaming in agony as his legs are engulfed in bright, burning flames.
In seconds the incident is seemingly over, with the flames extinguished only moments later.
The video – which had been viewed over 44,000 times at the point of writing this article – serves as a disturbing reminder of the dangerous and sometimes deadly consequences when electroshock weapons come into contact with flammable substances.
— Pat (@tack_knee) February 2, 2019
It’s not exactly clear what flammable materials contributed to the Philadelphia incident, but it’s possible gasoline or oil on the street helped fuel the fire. In the earliest frames of the video, the man’s legs are in contact with the street as the security guards try to hold him.
However, while the man set alight certainly couldn’t be called lucky, he may be fortunate the consequences of the blaze weren’t even worse.
According to Axon, the company that manufactures Tasers – the most prominent conducted electrical weapon (CEW) brand – at least 15 people have previously caught fire in what are known as Taser-initiated combustion incidents.
What is certain is that it can and does happen.
“We’ve seen it happen,” company spokesperson Steve Tuttle told Associated Press in 2017.
“It’s happened about 15 times in 24 years … out of about 3.5 million field uses. It’s a known situation.”
According to Tuttle, Axon – formerly known as Taser International – has warned police and other Taser users of the dangers of using their stun guns around flammable substances since 1993, with a caution that “TASER devices can ignite explosive materials, liquids or vapours”.
As horrible as it sounds, the risks of being set on fire by a Taser or other stun gun device are incredibly low, especially in the context of other ways you could die after being tasered.
A 2017 analysis by Reuters identified more than 1,000 incidents “in which someone died after being stunned with a Taser by police”.
Of course, it wasn’t always the Taser that delivered the fatality in those events – it being just “one factor alleged in a broader array of force applied, such as punches, baton strikes and pepper spray”.
Grim statistics – which are all part of a much bigger problem.