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Allegheny County pulls plug on donation of Tasers to Gateway School District

Dillon Carr
| Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017, 1:00 p.m.
An X26 Taser. AP PHOTO.
An X26 Taser. AP PHOTO.
Gateway School Board members at an Aug. 15 meeting.
Dillon Carr | Tribune-Review
Gateway School Board members at an Aug. 15 meeting.

Gateway School District won't be getting a donation of 18 used Tasers it had been expecting from Allegheny County.

Allegheny County Council in September introduced but never voted on a resolution to give the Tasers to Gateway. The Tasers became available when the county sheriff's office got newer models to replace them. The Gateway school board voted to accept the donation, even though it had never been approved by council.

Now, Councilman Nick Futules says the legislation approving the donation is likely to die without getting a vote.

“They must be out of their minds for wanting them knowing they're obsolete — just to save money at the expense of someone's life?” said Futules, chairman of the council's education committee.

Futules said his staff found media reports that uncovered a number of wrongful death lawsuits filed against Axon Enterprise, formerly Taser International, the company that manufactures the X26 model the sheriff's office is replacing.

The articles in a series by Reuters said there were more than 1,000 deaths and 435 wrongful death lawsuits involving use of Tasers from 1983 through July filed against police forces and municipalities. Of those cases, 128 named Taser International as a defendant. Of the deaths, 26 occurred in Pennsylvania and six were in Allegheny County, according to the Reuters investigation.

In an effort to get the stalled county legislation back on the table for a vote, Gateway school board members Nov. 21 voted to send the council a letter saying the district would assume all liability for the use of Tasers once they were donated.

But Futules said liability is not the issue.

“We have members of council, and I'm one of them, who don't think we should be giving a product to the school district that is obsolete and could be dangerous,” Futules said. “I wouldn't want that resting on my shoulders.”

School board Director Mary Beth Cirucci said she is disappointed that the Tasers shelved in February aren't going to be donated to the district. The Tasers would have been used by 12 officers on the district's recently created police force. The remaining six would have been placed in storage until more officers were hired.

“It is a shame that because of government red tape, the taxpayers never benefited and the then-fully functional Tasers sat for 10 months and are still sitting there,” Cirucci said via email. “We were trying to save Gateway taxpayers a significant amount of money on a product that is still actively used throughout the country today.”

Cirucci noted in her email that Monroeville police are among those using the X26 Taser. But police Chief Doug Cole said the 50 units his department has will start being phased out and replaced by newer models in January.

“The old ones are no longer supported by Axon, so they're not making parts for them. If I send them in for repair, they won't repair them anymore,” Cole said.

Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2325, or via Twitter @dillonswriting.

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