MONTPELIER -- Lawmakers and advocates for people with disabilities criticized Vermont officials Thursday for failing to come up with a statewide policy and training on police use of stun guns more than a year after a 39-year-old Thetford man was killed by one.
The June 20, 2012, death of Macadam Mason after he was hit in the chest with a stun gun by a state trooper during an altercation should not go unnoticed, Director Jack McCullough of Vermont Legal Aid’s Mental Health Law Project said at a news conference at the Statehouse.
"A year later, police continue to use these lethal weapons without any requirement that their use be restricted to life-threatening situations," McCullough said. "In fact, there continues to be no serious control over their use."
The Department of Public Safety issued a statement late Thursday afternoon saying Taser and use-of-force policies are "continually evaluated and revised to reflect the best available practices. We look forward to continuing in the dialogue" about use of the devices.
Gov. Peter Shumlin said he continues to support police use of Tasers. Shumlin earlier came out against calls for a moratorium.
"I continue to believe that Tasers are an important tool for law enforcement that avoid the need for bullets that inflict much more damage than Tasers," the governor said.
Speakers at the news conference agreed that stun guns are not as lethal as firearms, but said they can sometimes kill. They urged state officials to consider the weapons second only to firearms in lethality as police draft use-of-force policies.
McCullough joined Allen Gilbert, executive director of the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union; former state Human Rights Commission director Robert Appel; and three lawmakers in calling for passage of legislation that would set standards for stun gun use.
The bill calls for the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council, which oversees the state police academy, to draft the standards and training protocols and to report to the Legislature each December on the use of Tasers by police. It further calls for the council to coordinate training with the Department of Mental Health.
While speakers, including Reps. Anne Donahue, R-Northfield, Jim Masland, D-Thetford, and Sen. Mark MacDonald, an Orange County Democrat, focused on stun guns, they also said statewide training and standards for police use of firearms is lacking.
MacDonald cited the police shooting of Joseph Fortunati in Corinth in 2006. Fortunati was reportedly having mental health problems at the time, and MacDonald wondered whether the shooting was necessary.
Attorney General William Sorrell cleared police of any wrongdoing in the cases involving Mason, who was agitated and called a crisis line before police arrived, and Fortunati, as well as the 2001 shooting of Robert Woodward by Brattleboro police. Witnesses said Woodward was holding a knife to his own head at the time.