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General News

Taser Death Still Festers in Vermont

By       Message William Boardman     Permalink
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Most of the state's media coverage omits most of these details, generally reporting -- inaccurately -- that the Attorney General had determined that the police behaved appropriately, which is not what the press release says, although William Sorrell apparently said something to that effect in a news conference.  Here are some of the ways some of the media misinformed their audiences -- each is wrong:

-    "Deadly Force Justified In Stun Gun Death"  -- Vermont Public Radio

-    "Vermont Attorney General Clears State Trooper in Thetford Taser Death" -- Seven Days    

-    "A state trooper was justified in using force"." -- Associated Press 

-    "Attorney General: Trooper justified in firing Taser at man who later died" -- Burlington Free Press  

-    "Sorrell says trooper had good reason to fire Taser at Macadam Mason"" --  

-    "Vt. AG Clears State Trooper of Criminal Wrongdoing in Taser-induced Death of Thetford Man" -- Valley News

No Public Statement on Negligence or Reprimand 

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Getting it right was WCAX-TV, with the headline, "AG: trooper will not face charges in taser death" and further clarification in its story:  "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." 

Trooper Shaffer remains on paid administrative leave, as he has been for most of the time since Mason's death. 

Perhaps the most extreme misrepresentation of the events of June 20 came from the State Police, when Col. Tom L'Esperance, director of the State Police, said, "The actions of our troopers helped protect citizens in a highly dangerous and life threatening event."  This does not square with the reality in Thetford that day, when the only person seriously threatened was the one the police killed. 

Last July, Ms Davidonis filed a civil suit in the Superior Court in Orange County, where she lives, seeking unspecified damages for police conduct that her complaint calls "malicious, wanton, willful, and outrageous."  That case is pending.  In mid-January, Superior Judge Timothy Tomasi gave the Attorney General's office two weeks to explain its investigation into Trooper Shaffer's actions. 

Responding to the AG's press release on January 25, Ms Davidonis's attorney, Thomas Costello told the Valley News:

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"History of seizures or not, they were up there for hours before it happened. Theresa told them he was emotionally disturbed".  The crisis was created by Shaffer going onto their property, contrary to Theresa's commands and what the police had been doing for two hours. There is violence and there is a shooting and there is a death. Who is doing the shooting? Law enforcement. An emotionally disturbed person is killed by violence by law enforcement. That demands leadership."

On the same day, attorney Edward Van Dorn announced that he would be filing a federal lawsuit seeking monetary damages from the State Police on behalf of Mason's mother, Rhonda Taylor, who lives in New Hampshire.  The attorney indicated that the state's withholding of so much evidence made the suit necessary. 

   ACLU Questions State's Commitment to Justice

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Vermonter living in Woodstock: elected to five terms (served 20 years) as side judge (sitting in Superior, Family, and Small Claims Courts); public radio producer, "The Panther Program" -- nationally distributed, three albums (at CD Baby), some (more...)

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