State Police Sued In Stun Gun Incident

07/27/12 5:50PM By John Dillon
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The longtime companion of a man who died in June after being shot with a stun gun by state police has sued the state police and the officer involved.

The suit says police should not have used a Taser stun gun on a person they knew was mentally distressed.

Theresa Davidonis filed the lawsuit in Orange Superior Court earlier this week. Thirty-nine year old Macadam Mason lived with Davidonis for years at her house in Thetford. And on June 20, the suit says, Davidonis witnessed police shoot Mason in the chest with a Taser stun gun.

The suit says Davidonis had told police that Mason was unarmed but was distraught following an epileptic seizure he suffered the day before. According to the suit, Davidonis pleaded with officer David Shaffer not to use his Taser.

Brattleboro lawyer Thomas Costello represents Davidonis in the lawsuit.

"We're alleging here that the use of a Taser under these circumstances was unreasonable force, that Macadam was shot in the heart, which was contrary to the directions of Taser, from a very close distance, and to a person who was and who the police knew was emotionally disturbed," Costello says.

Mason collapsed and died after the electric current hit him in the chest. Police have said it's not clear if the stun gun caused his death. Autopsy results have not been released.

The suit alleges that police were negligent in deploying a Taser stun gun on a person who was mentally impaired. State police protocol on the use of stun guns says "special consideration" should be taken before they are deployed against people who are cognitively impaired.

Costello says Davidonis told police that Mason was impaired from the after-effects of his seizure.

"She assured them that he was safe and not a danger to anyone. Clearly, they should have involved mental health professionals to deal with the situation," he says. "And they knew that their approaching him, and their presence on the property, was causing him great disturbance and harm."

The state police have said that officers responded to Davidonis' house after getting a call from the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center about a person who was suicidal.

Police said Mason was shot after he stood up and moved toward Trooper Shaffer with a closed fist.

But the suit says Mason stumbled, raised both hands in the air and surrendered to Shaffer. It says Shaffer shot Mason at close range with the Taser.

"The tasing of him under these circumstances violated their own procedures for what they should have had in dealing with emotionally disturbed persons," Costello says.

The suit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

The State Police referred questions about the lawsuit to the attorney general's office. An assistant attorney general in the civil division said she had not yet seen the lawsuit and could not comment.

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