Montpelier advocate calls for national standards for Taser use

Morgan Brown protests a Taser hearing outside a Montpelier public forum on March 11, 2013. Photo by Nat Rudarakanchana

Morgan Brown protests a Taser hearing outside a Montpelier public forum on March 11, 2013. Photo by Nat Rudarakanchana

A Vermont advocate hopes to renew the debate on stun gun reform.

Morgan Brown, an independent advocate from Montpelier, launched a petition calling for national regulations on law enforcement and civilian use of stun guns on Thursday. The guns should be regulated the same as other firearms and lethal weapons, according to the petition.

The petition to be sent to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and President Barack Obama aims to spur national reform, Brown said, because Vermont so far has failed to do so.

“I’m kind of quietly hoping that there will be others that will take this on,” Brown said. “I don’t think Vermont or any other state can do anything meaningful until this gets done federally.”

Stun guns and other “electronic control devices” typically deliver about 1,200 volts of electricity through two barbed fish hooks, which penetrate a quarter of an inch underneath one’s skin. The shock paralyzes muscles and is intended to cause pain for five seconds, a standard duration cycle used by police.

Though nationwide reform on the use of stun guns would be ideal, Brown said, he would settle for a debate on regulations that could protect people from stun gun abuse.

The issue resurfaced when he watched two videos highlighting stun gun abuse, he said. One video was of an unarmed, 77 year-old man with a heart condition and another video of a man being dragged off a rooftop. Both men were shot with stun guns in the videos, he said.

“That was hard to watch,” he said. “My blood boils, OK, it really does. It gets going, especially after the death of Macadam Mason.”

Macadam Mason, 39, died outside his home in Thetford after Senior Trooper David Shaffer shot him in the chest with a stun gun on June 20.

Vermont will likely discuss the issue this coming legislative session, said Rep. Anne Donahue, R-Northfield, who sponsored a stun gun reform bill this past February, H.225, which was last referred to the Committee on Government Operations.

She said the petition will raise public awareness, but it is not likely to cause changes in federal policy on the stun gun use.

“I don’t think that the likelihood of federal regulation is high at all,” she said. “Calling for it is another way to bring a focus for it in Vermont.”

The bill introduced this year aims to standardize Taser training across local and state police bodies, which now oversee their own Taser training for officers. It also calls for a statewide policy on how Tasers are to be used, which requires that Tasers cannot be used to subdue, coerce, or punish subjects. A Taser is a brand of a stun gun.

The petition, which was posted on MoveOn.org Thursday, had 72 signatures at last check. The mother of Macadam Mason, Rhonda Taylor, has signed the petition.

Though Brown would like the weapons banned entirely, the petition calls for stricter regulations and standards. He suggested a required 40 hours of training before an officer could use the weapon, for example. He also recommended the use of Crisis Intervention Teams, CITs, which would train police officers to collaborate with other professionals, such as mental health experts, when in situations where they may otherwise use a stun gun.

Rep. Jim Masland, D-Thetford, who sponsored H.225 and was also Macadam’s neighbor, said CIT training has been considered before under Act 80, which guides law enforcement training when working with suspects with mental health issues.

Last year, 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 stun gun use by Vermont law enforcement until policies and procedures were updated to meet their requirements.

The petition, listed on MoveOn.org, has 1,280 signatures. Approximately 1,000 were from Vermont residents, Brown said.

According to January 2013 Vermont State Police policy, the Taser brand stun guns are used to respond to threat levels which place the officer or other individuals in danger of physical harm due to the actions and behaviors of a suspect. Before deployin a Taser, officers must consider the offense, the suspect’s risk to others and the type of ground where the subject may fall after being stunned.

John Herrick

Comments

  1. Halle Browne :

    Dear Morgan

    What we should really be pushing for is the truth behind taser use. This means that the evidence given to us at present is terribly flawed. When taser companies fund research they have the last say on what is printed and what is not printed. Such research has been done on pigs and also humans, but they are never tasered multiple times, as animal activists would be up in arms about that. So where are the human activists in our world? Evidence given at Inquests should be never be given by taser company stakeholders, i.e. researchers whose research is funded by such companies, and researchers who are stakeholders, doctors and hospitals were generous funds are given to them by taser companies.

    Taser companies are happy to sight a mental health condition for victims’ deaths. Of course this suits them wonderfully. Would you if you were a stakeholder? What would happen if there was no such thing as a DSM or ICD 10? Then people would have to look elsewhere for answers. How is it that so many people die from heart attacks, seizures, and yes excited delirium, psychotic episodes and others? But aren’t these natural causes and can’t people die from them at any time? I ask the question again, what really kills people when they are tasered?

    It is not ethical to taser a human whether mentally ill or drug addicted in an experimental situation multiple times? What happens to these same people when they are on the streets, what happened to those same ethics?

    When someone dies as a result of being tasered, lies, cover up and corruption is ensued to follow. It happens over and over regardless of which country we live. After all dead people can’t talk, but if they could they could enlighten us where taser operators so very conveniently dismiss important information, i.e. critical amnesia.

    One day they just might taser and kill someone important in the world. Wonder what will happen then?

  2. I strongly support Morgan Brown’s initiative calling for federal legislation to rein in taser stun-guns, however unrealistic this may be. Just think: “second amendment” and the NRA, “less-lethal” and the power of police departments– and you’ll probably get my point.
    Yet the problem is truly national as tasers – a deeply faulted weapon, abused very widely by the police – have been issued to police-officers across the country. The manufacturer – TASER International – has built up an enormous lobby of support in the police nationwide, at all levels. TASER Inc. has also managed to purvey a whole pseudo-science about its products (taser as “harmless”, deaths due to “excited delirium”, etc.).
    I’m writing from Montreal, just 40 miles north of the Vermont border and have been tracking “taser issues” for about 5 years. I run a website with some 2200 articles highlighting the dangers of tasers and the abusive way they are used by the police, in America and across the world (globalshock.org). In Canada 32 suspects have died following taser discharges (see truthnottaser.blogspot.com for a “list-of-the-dead”). By the way, the taser emits 15,000 volts, not 1,200 as mentioned in the article).
    The death of Macadam Mason is, sadly, all too frequent and deaths following the use of the taser have reached over 800: 96% in America, where TASER International sells 80% of its weapons. And the vast majority of victims are unarmed and very many in psychiatric distress. Yet the taser very rarely gets blamed. And the police love it. And, as they repeat, it does NOT replace firearms, but is “less lethal” or intermediate, meaning they can use it when they feel “threatened” (such as when faced with a man in psychiatric distress), and they even consider it as a method of “de-escalation”.
    Targeting federal legislation in no sense precludes calling on changing state standards. It would set an excellent example if Vermont took the lead. Here are some suggestions: extensive training (at least three days), giving equal weight to the known dangers of tasers; detailed crisis intervention training – sensitivity training for encounters with fragile populations – from the first year of police college with annual recycling; full transparency, with the state police regularly reporting all download data on taser-use (as well as reports on “demonstration” of the taser) on a public website every three months; access to body-camera videos of taser use by police oversight committees (not pre-edited by police). The list goes on …
    Whether targeting federal or state legislation, the key is to rein in tasers. Vermont should lead the way. (No-one else is!) Morgan’s petition is very much a step towards greater sanity in the interface between police and the community they claim to “serve”. I encourage all concerned with this critical issue to sign up.

  3. In addition to the MoveOn stun gun regulation petition, please also consider signing onto White House petition and help spread the word as well: http://wh.gov/lgtis

    Thank you in advance.

  4. rosemarie jackowski :

    Morgan…I just signed your WH petition.
    I usually don’t sign MoveOn’s petitions because MoveOn is too closely related to a political party that supports war.

    About a month ago, I had a petition up on the WhiteHouse site. Mine was opposed to the Drone Killings. I think that site is a bit of a scam designed to give the illusion that ‘they’ care what the people want….but, I applaud you for doing this. THANKS. We just gotta keep on trying.

    • Thank you, Rosemarie. Much appreciated. Understood.

      You’re welcome. Indeed.

  5. David Bresett :

    One fix for cops is to make them pass licensing exams like all other professionals. Electricians have to undergo 4 years of school and 8000 hours of on the job training before testing. If you can’t pass the test you don’t get the license. It’s the same for plumbers. It’s a simple fix that real professionals have to go through, and every three years these same professionals must undergo 15 hours of code seminars to renew said license. So, someone that carries deadly weapons goes to what a couple months of training and they’re cops. What’s wrong with that picture.Cops should be held to a much higher standard then they presently do.

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