A sweeping federal antitrust lawsuit accuses Taser International of bribing public officials in several major cities, including New Orleans, in a bid to corner the market on body-worn police cameras.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas by Digital Ally, a competitor of Taser, alleges a host of unfair trade practices, including patent infringement and a pattern of offering law enforcement officials “lucrative favors in exchange for ongoing contracts.” Taser has denied the allegations.
The 42-page lawsuit does not name any New Orleans officials as defendants but invokes a consulting agreement former Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas signed with Taser after stepping down as chief in August 2014.
The lawsuit quotes heavily from an investigative report published last year by The Associated Press that raised questions about the financial ties Taser has forged with law enforcement leaders around the country.
Serpas, who also has spoken at Taser-sponsored events, told The AP at the time that his consulting deal did not run afoul of state ethics laws because he had not lobbied the city on the company’s behalf.
He also noted that he was not on the city committee that recommended Taser for a five-year, $1.4 million contract to supply hundreds of body cameras and digital storage of videos at Evidence.com.
Serpas, who declined to comment on the lawsuit, had been a vocal proponent of body cameras near the end of his tenure at the New Orleans Police Department. In announcing the department’s contract with Taser, he said the devices “will help us explain to people the actions that officers took, and, sometimes, it will help us if we have to make a determination to dismiss an officer.”
Body-worn cameras were not a part of the wide-ranging changes required of the department by a consent decree that Mayor Mitch Landrieu signed with the U.S. Justice Department. But the NOPD was among the first law enforcement agencies in the country to use the technology, touting the cameras as a commitment to transparency and accountability.
Hayne Rainey, a Landrieu spokesman, said the city has been “pleased with the product and service Taser International has provided thus far.”
“Taser International was selected in an open, competitive and transparent process by a committee of staff-level experts in a public meeting to provide and maintain body-worn cameras and a storage solution for the New Orleans Police Department,” Rainey said in a statement. “Taser’s proposal was the lowest bidder and deemed to provide the city the best value.”
An attorney for Digital Ally did not return a call seeking comment on the lawsuit.
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