Vermont Sued Again For Taser Abuse, This Time Fatal
By William Boardman on 08/05/2012 in Activism, Vermont

The State of Vermont is once again defending its police in court against charges of taser abuse, but this time the taser use was fatal for a disoriented, unarmed artist suffering the after-effects of an epileptic seizure.

A civil suit filed in Orange County Superior Court by Theresa V. Davidonis of Thetford, Vermont, the surviving life partner of MacAdam Mason, alleges that the Vermont State Police committed the civil equivalent of negligent homicide when a state trooper tasered Mason and he died immediately after. The complaint, filed on July 24 by attorney Thomas Costello, calls the police conduct “malicious, wanton, willful, and outrageous.”

The state has not yet filed a response, but is expected to defend the case vigorously, as it has other, non-fatal taser abuse cases in the past.

In his filing for Davidonis, Costello demands a jury trial for the case, in which Davidonis is seeking not only compensatory damages for her pain and suffering, but an also unstated amount of punitive damages “to punish Defendants [Vermont State Police and the shooter, trooper David Shaffer] and to ensure that improper use of the TASER is not perpetuated and to deter future malicious trespass.” The suit also seeks unspecified amounts for interest, court costs, and attorney’s fees.

Less than three years ago, after a tasering in Fairlee, a town next door to Thetford, the state paid $40,000 to settle a federal lawsuit by another man who was tasered while having a seizure, which the state disputed. Like the Mason case, state police first responded to a call to help with a medical problem.

The 9-page complaint filed by Costello on behalf of Davidonis outlines a sequence of events that have been widely reported in Vermont and that are mostly not in dispute. One of the critical disputes, however, is whether or not Mason was resisting arrest, a question about which police and other eyewitnesses have diametrically opposite views.

On June 20, state police responded to a call from a suicide hotline, reportedly telling them that Mason had called in saying he was suicidal, and might hurt others. No record of this call has been made public and there is no report of Mason doing anything to harm himself or others.

Over the course of three hours, Davidonis was twice called to her home from work by a police dispatcher, to help calm the situation. Police also left the scene and returned, even though, according to the complaint, Davidonis told them to get off and stay off her property Davidonis and Mason had lived together for seven years and she had been through his difficult post-siezure behavior several times before.

For reasons that are at the crux of the lawsuit, some three hours after police first arrived on the scene, trooper David Shaffer tasered Mason in the chest, against company protocol, and Mason dropped to the ground and never became responsive again. Mason’s was the first taser-related death in Vermont, although there have been hundreds nationally.