Should Vt police stop using stun guns? - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Should Vt police stop using stun guns?

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Allen Gilbert Allen Gilbert

"It's hard to imagine Macadam Mason was a threat to anyone," said Rep. James Masland, D-Thetford.

Masland says his neighbor Macadam Mason didn't have to die.

"If there had been a mental health counselor present as this thing unfolded rather than four uniformed troopers we would have had a very different result," Masland said.

Mason called Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center last Wednesday threatening suicide. Shortly thereafter, Vermont State police arrived on the scene, ordering Mason to the ground. Officers say he came at them aggressively making a fist, that's when Trooper David Shaffer tased him in the chest. Mason died shortly thereafter in the hospital. Mason was epileptic, but autopsy results will not be available for several weeks, so it's unclear if the stun gun played a part in his death.

"This is a man who called for help. This is a man who was experiencing psychiatric crisis. He did what he was supposed to do, which was reach out and call for mental health assistance," said Wendy Beinner of the Vermont National Alliance on Mental Illness.

"The notion that we stop the use of Tasers in Vermont would result in officers having to use bullets," said Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont.

Currently State police are required to take six and a half hours of training before being issued a stun gun. Advocates want to up those hours and add a strict policy that forbids police from deploying a Taser on anyone with mental health issues. Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn sees it differently.

"You have to consider the officers' perspective," Flynn said. "Does that mean they're going to say, 'Well this person has some sort of disability, I'm just going to sit here and take it'?"

Both groups agree on one thing-- it's imperative that a trained mental health crisis manager be present on scenes like the one in Thetford. Flynn says police plan to embed mental health workers in State police barracks across the state.

"One thing we know is one of every four law enforcement encounters in Vermont is with a person that presents with some sort of mental health issue," Flynn said.

Flynn says we can expect to see mental health workers in connection with State police in the coming months.

Autopsy results on Macadam Mason are expected in 4-6 weeks. State police say they're conducting a thorough investigation of the incident like they do with each deployment of a stun gun.

Related Stories:

More tests needed to determine whether Taser caused death

Man's death jolts Taser controversy

Thetford man dies after being tased by Vt police

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