Sydney (AFP) July 21, 2009
An Australian man holding a container of petrol and a cigarette lighter burst into flames after being shot with a Taser stun gun, police said on Tuesday.
The 36-year-old, who was sniffing the fumes for a high, suffered third-degree burns to his face, arms and chest after the incident in a remote Aboriginal community north of Perth.
The man, a known violent offender, allegedly ran at police brandishing the fuel and lighter, prompting them to Taser him in self defence, police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan said.
"The only other choice they would have had is to use a police-issue firearm, and the consequences would almost certainly have been far more grave," O'Callaghan told reporters.
The commissioner said the man appeared to "burst into flames" after the Taser was fired, but could not rule out the possibility that the lighter started the fire.
The incident comes just weeks after a man died in Queensland after being shot 28 times by a Taser. In April, another man died after being Tasered in the Outback tourist town of Alice Springs.
O'Callaghan admitted that police were advised to avoid using Tasers "in circumstances where there's flammable liquid" but said Western Australia would not be changing its guidelines for the weapon.
Aboriginal community spokesman Dennis Eggington said the guns were unsafe and should only be used as a last resort.
"There are major health issues affecting many of our people across the country, from diabetes to heart health," said Eggington, chief of the Aboriginal Legal Service.
"When you couple that fact with the reality that our people are over-policed and disproportionately imprisoned, there is clearly an increased risk of serious harm or death by Taser," he added.
The US-manufactured device is meant to incapacitate a person with a 50,000-volt jolt of electricity, but has caused more than 300 deaths since its introduction in 2001, according to Amnesty International.
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