Courts & Corrections

Vermont denies Taser records release in Thetford man’s death

This story is by Mark Davis, staff writer for the Valley News, where it first appeared on Nov. 28, 2012.

Chelsea — Vermont State Police are resisting requests by a Thetford woman to turn over records of a June incident in which her boyfriend died after a trooper shot him with a Taser.

Theresa Davidonis, who has sued police for emotional distress and trespass after a trooper fired a stun gun at Macadam Mason at her home, has requested the records — including internal reports, audio recordings of the incident, and the training and disciplinary history of Trooper David Shaffer, who fired the Taser — as part of the pretrial discovery process.


Macadam Mason. Photo courtesy of Theresa Davidonis July 2012

The Vermont Attorney General’s Office, which represents state police, contend the record requests are irrelevant to Davidonis’ legal claims — which do not include Mason’s death, or the decision to fire a Taser at him — and would jeopardize the ongoing internal investigation into Shaffer’s actions.The requested records are “beyond the scope of discovery” or “confidential criminal investigation files,” the Attorney General’s Office wrote in a recent filing in Orange Superior Court.

Thus far, police have turned over records of interviews between police and Davidonis, phone calls between Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and police, and pictures of Davidonis’ home. They have refused to release a trove of other records that Davidonis’ attorney argues could shed light on the incident.

“VSP’s virtually blanket objection to discoverability on the basis that the information sought is related to an ongoing criminal investigation by VSP is nonsensical and unsupported by statute or decisional authority,” attorney Thomas Costello wrote.

In  court filing, Detective Sgt. Lance Burnham, who works out of the Williston barracks and is heading the investigation into Shaffer, said he has gathered documents, reports, video files, training records, witness interviews and photographs and other information.

Copies of the file have already been sent to the Attorney General’s Office and the Orange County State’s Attorney’s Office for review, according to court records.

“Any disclosure, whether to plaintiff, plaintiff’s attorney, or to the public at large, of the investigatory files related to this ongoing criminal investigation would jeopardize the integrity and effectiveness of the criminal investigation and the prosecutorial process to a serious extent,” Burnham wrote.

Burnham also said that, since Davidonis is a witness, police are concerned that if she saw the records, her “testimony during any potential criminal proceedings would be influenced inappropriately.”

On June 20, state police responded to the home that Mason, 39, and Davidonis shared on Sawnee Bean Road after Mason called Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center “threatening to harm and kill himself and others,” the state police said after the incident. Davidonis convinced police to leave, but they eventually returned.

State police have said that Shaffer ordered Mason to lie on his stomach on the ground. Instead, “Mason stood up and moved toward the Trooper with a closed fist yelling aggressively,” state police said in a statement.

Shaffer fired his Taser, striking Mason in the chest, police said.

Davidonis and her son, Aleks, who also witnessed the shooting, have said that Mason never threatened the troopers. Rather, they say, Mason put his hands up in a surrender position, with his palms facing outward. He made two steps toward Shaffer — the ground he was on sloped toward the trooper — and said, “Go ahead and shoot me.”

Mason had suffered a brain seizure the night before, information Davidonis says she shared with police before the fatal encounter.

“I said, ‘Don’t Taser him. You’ll kill him,’ ” Davidonis previously told the Valley News. “They looked at me and shot him right in the chest. I watched the barbs. I watched the eyes roll back in his head. I just want people to know they were told. They were warned.  ”

A DHMC doctor told the Valley News that, because of the seizure he suffered the night before, Mason may have been unable to understand Shaffer’s commands.

The New Hampshire Medical Examiner’s Office, which conducted the autopsy, ruled that the Taser strike caused Mason’s death.

Vermont State Police spokeswoman Stephanie Dasaro did not respond to a request for comment yesterday.

Vermont State Police have previously said that Shaffer has been placed on paid leave — standard protocol when an officer is the subject of an internal investigation — and the court documents indicate that the investigation is still ongoing.

Mark Davis can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3304

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  • Randy Koch

    From the outside, this whole case looks like a masterpiece of stonewalling. First the autopsy report took forever to be released, now they are withholding discovery because it’s part of a criminal investigation? Well, what’s the hold-up with the criminal investigation then? What is the AG trying to do, run the clock until the whole matter becomes last year’s news?

    If the cops didn’t have tasers at all, they might have to resort, not to more lethal weapons, but to reconciliation, diplomacy.

  • And to date not one elected official or police officer has publicly advocated for protecting the public from police brutality. No offers of more stringent laws – nothing.

    Just stonewalling …. and a Vermonter was killed by police for “yelling aggressively”.

  • Jim Barrett

    This is an example of the BS coming from Shumlin about the new TRANSPARENCY in government. This person lost a loved one and the state would rather play games about what is evidence and what is not. If everyone thought the information was irrelevant than the request for information would never have been made in the first place!

  • Mark Schilling

    There is a simple way to avoid the conflicting stories behind these tragic events. We have the technological ability to add a compact GoPro type camera into these weapons. When the weapon is unholstered the camera would automatically start. IF the weapon is fired, the video would be locked into the weapon until a formal investigation of a fired weapon is completed. What could be simpler, and more transparent?

    • Tom Karov

      Mark,this is a fine idea. Well said, it should be put on all police guns, not just Tasers. The powers that be will not want this. They will claim “Cost too much”, whatever the cost, it would be well worth it. This is human life we are talking about..