Governor defends police Taser use; group calls for moratorium

Despite calls for a temporary ban on the use of Tasers in Vermont, Gov. Peter Shumlin today stood firm in his attitude on the use of the devices by Vermont law enforcement officers.

“The notion that we stop using Tasers in Vermont I think would result in police officers having to use bullets more than Taser shots, and that’s not such a great idea,” Shumlin said at a press conference Wednesday.

A group made up of citizen advocates including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Mental Health Law Project, and state representatives proposed a moratorium on Taser use by Vermont law enforcement until policies and procedures can be updated to meet their requirements, including the premise that Tasers should only be used in situations where lethal force would also be justified.

The group held its own press conference Wednesday morning to unveil its proposal.

Shumlin said a ban on Tasers would only increase the use of firearms by police, increasing the risk of harm to suspects.

The statements come a week to the day after the death of 39-year-old Macadam Mason of Thetford, who died after being Tasered by Vermont State Police Trooper David Shaffer, at his home. The death has sparked debate about the potential dangers of Taser use by law enforcement.

At Wednesday’s press conference, Shumlin defended state police, calling questions from the press about the incident inappropriate.

Jack McCullough of the Mental Health Law Project speaks about Taser use by law enforcement as Allen Gilbert of the ACLU looks on. VTD Photo/Taylor Dobbs

Jack McCullough of the Mental Health Law Project speaks about Taser use by law enforcement as Allen Gilbert of the ACLU looks on. VTD/Taylor Dobbs

“Listen, team: We’ve got an investigation going on and we’re not going to go into the details until they come out,” Shumlin said. “This is what I want to say: You go out there as a law enforcement officer, have someone threaten to kill you, threaten to kill other people, and then second-guess every move they make when they make them. I don’t think that’s appropriate.”

Asked if the Tasering of someone with a history of seizures or other health issues was questionable, Shumlin stopped a reporter mid-question.

“So what are the state police supposed to do, get a medical records check before they use a Taser?” he asked.

State police policy says, “Special consideration must be given to special populations that may be more susceptible to injury from [Taser] use, including but not limited to: the elderly, children, and those who the officer has reason to believe are in ill health or are pregnant.”

Witnesses close to Mason said officers were told he had epilepsy and had suffered a seizure the evening before his death.

Advocates, in their statement, proposed a civilian body “to review specific Taser use and other incidents of deadly force.” They suggest law enforcement investigations aren’t transparent enough and also that law enforcement officers investigating other officers may not be able to do so objectively.

However, advocates proposing a moratorium conceded that the events leading to Mason’s death were not easy for the officers involved either.

“I also want to stress, we’re not criticizing specific officers here,” said Allen Gilbert, executive director of ACLU Vermont. “Police in this state have an incredibly difficult job. It’s become more difficult because of any number of circumstances. One is I think what we experienced last week when police were the ones who ended up dealing with a person who was in a mental health crisis, and increasingly – I know you hear this from police in Burlington … police have become the people of last resort who have to deal with people who need mental health counseling.”

Currently, an internal investigation is under way examining last week’s incident. The New Hampshire medical examiner is awaiting autopsy test results before stating Mason’s official cause of death.

Taylor Dobbs

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17 Comments on "Governor defends police Taser use; group calls for moratorium"

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Bud Haas
3 years 7 months ago

The Governor is wrong on this one. He needs to look at the bigger picture. It is time for Vermont to recognize that the Vermont State Police are not good for a) Mountain rescues, and b) Mental health rescues. The legislature should set up an agency to effect mountain and other physical type outdoor rescues, and set up a mental health rescue team, apart from the state police to deal with disturbed individuals without guns, or tasers. The State Police may be the ones to call, but in these cases, not the ones to be the first responders. How many… Read more »

Randy Koch
3 years 7 months ago

Shumlin poses a no-brainer question, then gets the answer wrong: of course the cops should consider the medical condition of a citizen before electrocuting him. But why in the first place should it be a choice between frying a suspect or shooting him with bullets? Isn’t Shumlin really green-lighting the casual use of tasers? He should be insisting that the police use their heads first and weapons only exceptionally.

Christian Noll
3 years 7 months ago

The police aren’t really trained to prevent Taser use, but rather to promote their USE at every possible chance they can. The vast number of police misconduct incidents involving tasers is growing rapidly. It seems typical that a governor would blindly side with the state police. Hey Gov Shum, no question regarding any death and the circumstances thereof, especially involving the police and their weapons is “inappropriate” ever. What are you trying to hide? The use of the word “Investigation” is exactly how we prevent transparancy in this state. When people die, people ask questions. Yes, we need a separate,… Read more »

Peter Harvey
3 years 7 months ago

I am missing vital information. Is this as rare I hope it is or has it become acceptable common practice? I have watched videos of a Taser salesman demonstrate the “safety” of his product by stunning himself, but people do a lot to themselves that I don’t consider safe or healthy. When the police use bullets they need to file reports. When the police use Tasers do they need to file reports about that also? How many times have Vermont police used bullets in the last 12 months and how many times have Vermont police used Tasers in the last… Read more »

3 years 7 months ago

I worked for Shumlin’s election but I believe he is dead wrong on this. He’s shooting from the hip and encouraging police to do the same while discouraging the public and the press from asking legitimate questions.

Luci Stephens
3 years 7 months ago

My understanding (from the initial press coverage) is that Mr. Mason was threatening the officer’s person. It currently appears to me (based on that coverage) that the officer acted, as he was obligated and trained, in accordance with established policy and procedure. My heart goes out to Mr. Mason’s family and friends. My heart goes out equally to the involved officer, his family and friends, and to his brethren in law enforcement. Our legal/ social demands of law enforcement relative to persons with mental health issues who behave in ways that require law enforcement intervention are beyond reason and resources.… Read more »

Karl Riemer
3 years 7 months ago

Cogent and exceptionally well-thought out comments. De-institutionalization of non-violent mental patients wasn’t a casual decision, there were good reasons behind it, but there have inevitably been significant consequences. However, it isn’t clear that that’s pertinent to this case. Would epilepsy and disorientation have landed Mr. Mason in WSH in the old days? And I’d like to mention a qualitative difference between firearms and electronic weapons: police shoot bullets when imminent danger to themselves or others requires it. That means their target has a weapon and apparent intention to use it. Time is of the essence and the use of deadly… Read more »

Christian Noll
3 years 7 months ago

Luci thanks. Out of all your posts in the past, I have to say that I disagree with yours here the most. Wayne Burwell wasn’t “Mentally ill.” In fact he was in his own up stairs bathroom naked when tased by the Hartford police. Anne Galloway (editor of vtdigger) had to sue the town just to get public documentation on this incident which was similar to the Rod Mayo case where police officers AGAIN did not recognize the all too familiar signs of diabetic shock. Did you see the Rod Mayo Tape? How do you feel about it? These are… Read more »

David Dempsey
3 years 7 months ago

I think that tasers, just like a firearm, are an important tool for police officers if used appropriately. The taser should be used when the officer thinks deadly force is needed and can use the taser instead of the firearm to handle the situation. In this case, the officers were told that Mr. Mason had an epileptic seizure the day before and that this was not unusual behavior for him following a seizure. When the two officers approached Mr. Mason, they could see that he was unarmed and they put down their firearms. If they felt that deadly force was… Read more »

3 years 7 months ago

For those who support the call for a moratorium on Tasers in Vermont, please consider signing onto this petition as well as spread the word to anyone else who might be interested in doing the same:

Call for Moratorium on Tasers in Vermont:
http://signon.org/sign/call-for-moratorium-on.fb10?source=c.fb&r_by=196191

Thank you in advance.

Christian Noll
3 years 7 months ago

Morgan thanks.
Done. Sent it to everybody.

3 years 7 months ago

You’re welcome Christian.

Thank you! Much appreciated.

Morgan

Patrick Cashman
3 years 7 months ago

This point keeps coming up frequently, but the Taser is not a replacement for deadly force. If an officer is in such a dangerous and life threatening position that deadly force is called for, then he/she should apply deadly force. The Taser is a replacement for other less than lethal (but in some cases potentially lethal) measures such as a night stick, pepper spray, or an officer having to wrestle a crazed individual to the ground. The Taser offers a greater degree of separation and therefore safety for the officer. As municipal employees it is the town’s/state’s responsibility to provide… Read more »

Christian Noll
3 years 7 months ago

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H20cedylQAo&feature=related

Since OC or Pepper Spray is used in the training at the Vermont Police academy for all recruits to get “Hosed Down.”

I think they should do the same with Tasers in their training at the academy.

A healthy 30 second dose for each recruit. Those who survive get to graduate from the academy. Those who don’t, don’t get to graduate.

Christian Noll
3 years 7 months ago

Campaign Against the Taser

Amanda Preston
3 years 2 months ago

Refusing to ban the use of tasers is especially irresponsible when Vermont is one of highest states in the nation for reported cases of police misconduct. Nation-wide, excessive use of force is the most frequently cited cause of police misconduct. Vermont is third in the nation for LOWEST PERCENTAGE PROSECUTION RATE for police misconduct. In other words, Shumlin says, “tase them,” and Sorrell just looks the other way. Not a pleasant state of affairs if you ask me. Advocate for change, people. This is still America! Statistics taken from the Cato Institute Police Misconduct Reporting Project: http://www.policemisconduct.net/2010-npmsrp-police-misconduct-statistical-report/

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