Water causes Taser to misfire

A deputy's weapon fires into his holster while he's making an arrest. Officials think the electrical device malfunctioned because rainwater damaged it. The deputy wasn't hurt.

Published July 28, 2006

For Citrus County sheriff's Deputy Charles Beetow, carrying a Taser during a rainstorm led to a shocking lesson last week.

Officials think rainwater sneaked through a port in Beetow's M-26 Taser while it rested in his duty belt July 17, prompting the weapon to malfunction and inadvertently fire an electrified probe. The probe didn't hit Beetow - it fired into his holster. But Beetow felt a small secondary shock as the Taser went off.

He pulled his Taser out and tossed it aside before arresting a 24-year-old man on a charge of driving with a suspended license, officials said.

Beetow was uninjured and didn't need to seek medical care, said sheriff's spokeswoman Gail Tierney.

The Sheriff's Office sent Beetow's Taser to manufacturer Taser International and replaced it with a newer version of the same model.

According to the company, if users don't insert a special rubber plug into the M-26s data port, the Taser can malfunction in wet conditions.

A training bulletin said the company had received reports of inadvertent Taser discharges when the weapons were exposed to extreme conditions.

Sheriff's Sgt. Phil Royal said he didn't know if Beetow had inserted the protective plug into his Taser. But he said the incident was the first of its kind in the county.

"We're just telling deputies that getting it damp is not going to hurt it, but if it's saturated with water, that's not good," Royal said. "It's an electrical device, so you don't want to get it excessively wet."

The Sheriff's Office currently has about 120 M-26 Tasers and 40 X-26s, a newer model that Royal said is better performing and less likely to short out in the rain.

Officials plan to distribute 54 new X-26s to deputies in the next few months. The older M-26s will go to other Sheriff's Office employees, like detectives, who don't currently have Tasers.

Eventually, the department will have only the newer model Tasers, but replacing them could take years, Royal said.

Extreme weather can affect either model of Taser. In one 2004 Kansas City, Mo., case, a police officer received a residual shock when his X-26 discharged during a rainstorm into the bottom of his holster.

Royal emphasized that the older Tasers were safe if properly cared for. He said that the plans to introduce more X-26s had been made long before Beetow was shocked.

Moises Mendoza can be reached at mmendoza@sptimes.com or 860-7337. Information from the Kansas City Star was used in this report.