Seven months ago a Thetford man died during a confrontation with police during a mental health welfare check at his home. Thirty-nine year-old Macadam Mason was tased by a senior state trooper. The father of three suffered a heart attack and died.
On Friday Vermont's Attorney General and the Orange County State's Attorney agreed that Trooper David Shaffer should not face criminal charges. "The trooper was not intending to murder Mr. Mason nor was he guilty of a criminal assault when he fired the taser," said Vt. Attorney General Bill Sorrell.
Sorrell said the joint investigation showed Mason made suicidal and homicidal threats, resisted arrest and advanced on Trooper Shaffer -- ignoring orders to lie on the ground. State law allows police officers to use reasonable force if they fear their lives are in danger. Shaffer chose to deploy his taser instead of his rifle. He was unaware Mason had a history of seizures.
"The trooper felt that Mr. Mason was about to assault him," Sorrell said.
But critics point out that the two men were 6 to10 feet apart and Mason was unarmed. They say tasing him in the chest was excessive. "The idea that somebody is dead now who should be alive is certainly troubling to me and I think it should be troubling to all of us," said Allen Gilbert with the American Civil Liberties Union.
Gilbert called the case tragic and is disappointed in the lack of accountability. "I think that the entire state should feel like somebody's got to take responsibility for figuring out what went wrong and how can we make absolutely sure it doesn't happen again," he said.
Sorrell repeatedly stressed that Shaffer's actions were not criminal, but he wouldn't say if he acted negligently or if he's been reprimanded by state police. Those internal investigations are secret. Gilbert said that makes him wonder if police are being held accountable for their on-duty actions. "The public is left with the perception that police are hiding something, that there is no accountability, that things like this happen and no one is held responsible. That's a black eye for police generally, whether it's true or not," he said.
Sorrell said he considered making his report public, but later discovered the law prevented him from doing so while there was a pending civil lawsuit. Sorrell wants the law to change. When a police officer's on duty conduct is investigated and no criminal charges are filed, he wants to be able to make those files public. The legislature is reviewing his request this session.
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