A Phoenix man died in police custody Tuesday night, and his family and friends are blaming the taser gun that was used on him.
"It all happened right here where we are standing," says the suspect's girlfriend. "I heard the taser then I heard the screaming and yelping, then nothing."
Phoenix Police tasered 24-year-old Keith Grath three times during a struggle. He stopped breathing, and died in a hospital an hour later. Here in Washoe County, the coroner determined that a taser gun contributed to the death of a Sparks man last June. And according to a new report by Amnesty International, there were 103 taser-related deaths in the U.S. And Canada in the past four years.
But police here in Reno - and across the country - say the taser gun has revolutionized their job. They say the devices are a much safer alternative to batons and guns when they're facing a high-risk situation.
"The agencies that track statistics, universally, they've had officer injuries go down, suspect injuries go down," says Craig Pittman, an officer with the Reno Police Department.
Fatal shootings have gone down too. The company that produces tasers estimates that the devices have saved 6000 lives since they were introduced in 1999. Here in the Reno area, police say tasers have saved at least half a dozen lives.
"In citizen surveys across the country, the vast majority of citizens support law enforcement carrying tasers," Pittman says.
"There's no doubt that it hurts, but the device is well below the safe limits for use on humans. I think those people who understand it, support it."