MONTPELIER -- The loved ones of a man who died in a confrontation with Vermont state police last year pleaded Wednesday for stronger controls for the use of stun guns by police, saying he would be alive today if he’d had access to his mental health counselor.
The mother and partner of Macadam Mason testified before the state House Government Operations Committee on a bill that would set new training requirements for the use of stun guns by Vermont’s police. Mason was stunned in the chest with a Taser last June and died after he became distraught and called a crisis line saying he might be a danger to himself or others.
Rhonda Taylor said her son had a seizure disorder as the result of a traffic accident as a teen and was likely unable to comply with a responding trooper’s order to lie on the ground. Mason’s partner, Theresa Davidonis, told lawmakers the troopers ignored her repeated warnings that Mason had just had a seizure the night before and a stun gun could kill him.
Taylor said in an interview she was "asking for more training for the officers, and (that) they don’t just pull this Taser out and shoot someone like it’s a toy. It’s not a toy." She said she believed the mental health counselor who worked with her son could have talked him down from an agitated state.
Several of those testifying at Wednesday’s hearing said they would like to see the bill go further, to bar use of Tasers by police outright.
One man, Warren Town Constable Gene Bifano, urged committee members to "trust your police" and not restrict the user of Tasers. He said the weapons can be important tools for reducing the potential violence in a situation.
"Clearly we’re all here because this is a very dangerous weapon," said Montpelier lawyer Jeff Dworkin, who chaired a city committee two years ago that recommended against providing the stun guns to officers in the capital. The city manager and police chief withdrew their request for the weapons the day the City Council was to vote on them.
Taylor, an intensive care nurse who lives in Moultonborough, N.H., said she had been informed of her son’s crisis but had been unable to respond to Thetford, a drive of more than two hours, before he was killed.
Davidonis said she tried several times to keep the confrontation from escalating but the trooper "looked at me and turned back to Macadam and shot him in the chest," she said.
"His eyes rolled back in his head," she said. "He just fell on the ground and he was dead."
A New Hampshire medical examiner concluded Mason died a "sudden cardiac death" due to electric shock. State Attorney General William Sorrell concluded the trooper was justified in using the stun gun.