Bean Bag Rounds

Available widely in the United States and some Australian states but not the United Kingdom, bean bag rounds consist of rectangular, square, or circular synthetic cloth bags filled with lead pellets and fired from a shotgun. For example, the "Flexible Baton" fires a bag containing 40 g of number 9 lead shot with a projectile velocity of approx 90 m/s. At impact, projectiles are designed to have separated from the shotgun shell and wadding, opened out to strike the target with its largest surface area before collapsing as they lose energy. The effect is to provide sufficient blunt force from an ideal range of 10-30 m to stop an adult's progress.

In one study (11), the most common injuries were bruising and abrasions, followed by lacerations without having retention of the actual bean bag. However, significant other serious injuries have been documented, including closed fractures, penetrating wounds with retention of the bean bag projectile (and at times parts of the shell and/or wadding), and internal organ damage. Serious penetrating injuries involved the thorax, eye, abdomen, and limbs. Thoracic penetration resulted in one fatality from a massive hemothorax. Blunt injuries included splenic rupture, pneumothorax, compartment syndrome, tes-ticular rupture, subcapsular liver hematoma, and cardiac contusions. It was noted that retention of the bag was not always suspected on an initial clinical examination, being detected on subsequent scans. The distance between gun and target was not formally examined in this study.

Clearly, this device has potential for significant trauma to anywhere on the body. Just as with other nonlethal alternatives for restraint, the forensic physician should always consider why such techniques needed to be deployed; use of drugs or alcohol and psychiatric illness are all common concurrent problems in these situations.

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