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 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, 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

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