Was That Really So Hard, TASER?

Hype merchants exist everywhere in the corporate world. I'm not talking about good PR professionals, who use facts to raise the public profile of the firms they serve. Nope, I'm referring to those dopes who twist facts to make a story fit.

Too often, that's been TASER International (Nasdaq: TASR  ) . The stun-gun pioneer has a history of using press releases to unfairly color settlements as court victories. Last month, for example, the firm sought PR glory from a voluntary dismissal initiated by former Davis County, Utah, sheriff Ray Lynn Gray.

But not last week. This time, TASER admitted the voluntary dismissal up front. Not that the hype machine didn't also exert its will. Here's TASER's take on why the plaintiffs decided to drop their suit: "Plaintiffs voluntary filed motions to dismiss ... after it became clear that TASER International was not going to settle this lawsuit, had extensive medical and scientific evidence to establish that the TASER device was not a cause of this death, and was prepared to aggressively defend this litigation through trial."

Get the point? No court acted on TASER's behalf, but management was willing to fight the suit to the end. Therefore, the plaintiffs gave up. Or so TASER says.

If that's true -- we really have no way of knowing that it isn't -- then good for TASER. I mean it. As much as there's real debate still to be had over the use of its stun guns, TASER management has a fiduciary responsibility to defend the company against all litigation.

In this case, Louisiana resident Patrick Fleming died after being twice stunned by deputies following a traffic stop. He was stunned a third time while in custody and later died. Fleming was just 35 years old.

That's simply tragic. Only an emotionless jerk would fail to feel for the daughters Fleming left behind. But is TASER culpable for his death? It says no, and the plaintiffs apparently don't feel compelled to press the case.

No hype is needed for a story like Fleming's. That's the nature of human loss. If there's any good that comes from telling his tale, let it be that regulators finally take ownership of stun guns as they do firearms. TASER CEO Rick Smith has told me more than once that he'd welcome the additional scrutiny.

Meanwhile, for TASER PR, let's hope that this latest press release marks the beginning of a long-term love affair with the truth. Investors, and the public, deserve no less.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers, ranked 772 out of 16,999 in Motley Fool CAPS, isn't easily shocked, but he's pretty sure a TASER shot would do the trick. Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. Get the skinny on everything Tim is invested in by checking his Fool profile. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy is a rebel with a cause.


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