Crime and Justice

Vermont State Police classify Taser death as "medical" homicide

The Vermont State Police issued a press release at 5:53 p.m. Friday indicating that the death of a man who was tased by a police officer in June has been classified as a homicide by medical officials.

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.

Mason had an epileptic seizure the day before and had called Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center on the 20th because he feared he would harm himself. The hospital called the Vermont State Police and officers arrived on the scene shortly afterward.

According state police, the New Hampshire office of the Chief Medical Examiner says the cause of Mason’s death is a “sudden cardiac death due to a conducted electrical weapon discharge.” The examiner cites other significant medical conditions including heart disease and “excited delirium syndrome.”

The police say the death has been classified as a “medical” homicide, not a legal one.

Mason's family has been advised of the findings.

The autopsy report will not be released to the public by the Vermont State Police because it is part of a criminal investigation and exempt from inspection.

The state police say the autopsy will be submitted to the Vermont Attorney General's Office and Orange County State's Attorney's Office for independent reviews. It will also be examined by the State Police Advisory Commission “to help determine if a change in state police policy is warranted.”

The Vermont State Police were first equipped with Tasers in 2011.

After Mason's death, mental health advocates and the ACLU-VT called for a moratorium on police Taser use.

Allen Gilbert, ACLU-VT executive director, said police must accept that a Taser is a deadly weapon and that it should only be used when deadly force is justified. Policies, he said, should be changed to reflect this fact.

“It’s hard to see how deadly force was justified against Macadam Mason, an upset, infirm individual who had called emergency personnel for help. State officials must now begin the difficult work of determining whether a trooper should be charged with a crime for shooting Mason.”

Theresa Davidonis, Mason’s girlfriend, filed a lawsuit against Shaffer and the Vermont State Police on July 24.

VTDigger.org received a tip around 10 a.m. on Thursday that spelled out the details of the information released by the New Hampshire Medical Examiner’s Office.

We contacted state police right away, but were told at 5 p.m. on Thursday that they had not received the death certificate from New Hampshire. We received another email at 10:25 a.m. on Friday that the state police were working with their criminal division to figure out what could be released but did not indicate they had any new information.

Friday night’s release from the state police confirms all the facts presented by the tip, but it’s unclear whether the death certificate or any other documents have been filed. The Vermont State Police are the only officials who appear to have access to the information.

Though the press release says Mason had a heart condition, in an interview on Thursday, Davidonis said her boyfriend had a very strong heart.

“His heart was never an issue even when he was in an active seizure,” Davidonis said.

Reporters Taylor Dobbs and Andrew Stein contributed reporting to this story.

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Anne Galloway

About Anne

Anne Galloway is the founder and editor-at-large of VTDigger. Galloway founded VTDigger in 2009 after she was laid off from her position as Sunday editor of the Rutland Herald and Times Argus. VTDigger has grown from a $16,000 a year nonprofit with no employees to a $2.8 million nonprofit daily news operation with a staff of 32. In 2017, Galloway was a finalist for the Ancil Payne Award for Ethics, the Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award and the Investigative Reporters and Editors FOIA Award for her investigation into allegations of foreign investor fraud at Jay Peak Resort.

Email: agalloway@vtdigger.org

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