Macadam Mason was a father of three suffering from a mental health episode when a senior Vermont State Trooper Tased him during a confrontation at his Thetford home. The shock killed him. But Vermont's attorney general ruled the trooper's actions were warranted.
"Not only was Macadam a constituent, he was my neighbor," said Rep. Jim Masland, D-Thetford. "He was, in our opinion, kind of a teddy bear."
Masland is one of 30 lawmakers co-sponsoring a bill that would establish a statewide policy on the training requirements for stun guns. He says what's on the books failed Mason last August. Advocates agree.
"This bill to my mind is a statement that Macadam Mason was one of us and what happened to him we don't want to happen to anyone else," said Allen Gilbert of the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont.
State police require general stun gun training for all officers carrying the weapon. They're also supposed to undergo mental health training, but at the time of Mason's death only 75 percent of troopers had completed it. Trooper David Shaffer, who Tased Mason, had not completed the training. Protocols at local police departments vary even more.
"It is essential that all law enforcement officers or anyone who is carrying a Taser has comprehensive training both on the operation of the Taser and when not to use it," Masland said.
The proposed legislation calls for a stun gun to be regarded as lethal weapon and its use limited to life-threatening situations. Stun guns would be banned as a compliance tool to punish or subdue suspects. It would also require police to follow manufacturer guidelines, avoiding certain body parts.
"Not aiming at the chest right, at the heart, where the electric impulses of the heart are going to be affected. Those things need to be part of the training of any officer that is using one," said Rep. Anne Donahue, R-Northfield.
Supporters want the Department of Mental Health to partner with police for future training and say special attention must be given to cases where the subject has a cognitive disability or is in emotional crisis.
"There is no way the public or the government can analyze definitely how the Taser weapon is used in Vermont because consistent statewide records are not kept," said Ed Paquin of Disability Rights Vermont.
The bill addresses that by requiring the attorney general to submit an annual report to the Legislature on all stun gun use.
State and local law enforcement were not consulted in the drafting of this bill, but the sponsors hope to involve them as the proposal moves through the Legislature.
Lawmakers say the bill has tripartisan support in the House. They're hoping it will go into effect by July.
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