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.
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