GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - In a sure setback for those who find themselves on the wrong side of the law, the Garfield County Sheriff's office got the go-ahead Monday from the Garfield County commissioners to replace 30 of its Tasers with newer models, at a cost of $33,000.
The new X-2 Tasers are made by Taser International Inc. and cost $1,100 apiece.
The sheriff's office maintains a stockpile of 60 Tasers, and already swapped out 30 of them for the newer model late last year.
Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said the weapons are distributed to every uniformed deputy, investigator and supervisor at the Garfield County Jail. They are typically used by law enforcement as a nonlethal way to neutralize a person who is resisting arrest or poses a perceived threat.
"We had one domestic situation where the suspect came down the stairs with a .45 semi-auto handgun in his hand, and we were able to subdue him with a Taser," Vallario wrote in an e-mail. "If the Taser was not available, he would have been shot and possibly killed."
The weapons function in two modes. They can shock from a distance of up to 35 feet by launching two probes that puncture a victim's skin, then emit an electrical pulse that targets the nerves in charge of muscle movement and control.
At close range, they can also "stun" a victim when placed directly onto the body.
In either case, the effect is excruciating.
"It really makes you tense up, and you feel like you have no control over your muscles or movements or anything," said Pete Fowler, a Carbondale based private investigator who submitted to a voluntary tasing at a Taser training event in 2008, while working as a newspaper reporter.
"I think I let out sort of an involuntary yell," he said. "Your body goes stiff, and you can't really move. I probably would have fallen down, but there were two people there holding me up."
Vallario has been tased as well - it's mandatory, he said, for all officers training to use the devices.
"It completely shuts you down and hurts like hell, but it does not injure you," he wrote. "It is equivalent to sticking your finger in a light socket multiplied by 1,000!"
Compared to the department's old Tasers, Vallario said, the new models feature several improvements, including the capacity to fire two sets of probes before reloading the cartridge, rather than one. Also, the Tasers can be used in "stun" mode without removing the cartridge, and a laser sight allows for more precise aim when shooting from a distance.
Although they offer significant protection and leverage to law enforcement officers trying to make an arrest, Tasers have also become a symbol of law enforcement excess in some circles.
In 2008, former Garfield County resident Danny Martin filed suit against the Garfield County Sheriff's office in federal court, claiming that he was unjustly tased during a 2006 traffic stop. The officer who administered the tasing was dismissed shortly after the incident.
In 2006, former Aspen Police Officer Melinda Calvano was fired after tasing a 63-year-old woman she found rummaging behind the Aspen Thrift Shop, and who she claimed had threatened her with a walking stick.
And that same year, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the Garfield County Sheriff for keeping (and occasionally using) Tasers and other weapons at the Garfield County Jail. That suit was eventually dismissed by a federal judge.