Yep, ol’ B.S. is up to his old tricks: clearing the police of wrongdoing in a high-profile case. He announced today that no criminal charges would be filed in the death of Macadam Mason of Thetford last June. Mason died after being Tasered by state trooper David Shaffer.
In a classic Friday news dump, Sorrell issued a statement this morning (no press conference; Profiles in Courage) issuing his findings, which came after an investigation by a State Police detective. All very cozy. And maybe the Tasering was justified, I frankly don’t know; but Sorrell’s track record does nothing to inspire confidence. Nor does the completely internal nature of the probe.
Nor does Sorrell’s opposition to a change in state law that would allow greater access to records of criminal investigations. Makes you think he’d just as soon keep the details of this one under wraps. But maybe I’m too cynical.
Here’s how Sorrell sets the stage for his finding:
Under Vermont law, a police officer is entitled to use a reasonable amount of force to defend himself or herself or others if he or she reasonably believes that he or she or others are in immediate danger of bodily harm, that the use of force is necessary to avoid the harm, and that the amount of force used was reasonable under the circumstances. In a criminal case, the State bears the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer’s use of force was unreasonable under the facts and circumstances of the case.
Yes and no, Bill. In a criminal trial, the State must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. It is not required to do so when simply filing criminal charges.
Allen Gilbert of the Vermont ACLU offered this response to Ken Picard of Seven Days:
“It’s hard to know when, if ever, criminal charges might be brought in a law enforcement shooting death,” Gilbert said. “A trooper fired a weapon that killed a man. The weapon was used in a way that’s contrary to the guidelines from the weapon’s manufacturer. The stark fact of this case is that a Vermonter is dead who ought to be alive today.”
Sorrell’s narrative of the case includes an interesting passage that I hadn’t heard before. The state police first arrived at her home in response to calls from Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center requesting a welfare check at an address in Thetford. Troopers arrived at the scene and encountered Mason’s partner, Theresa Davidonis. She found Mason hiding in some nearby woods; she spoke with him, then told the troopers they should leave because their presence was upsetting to Mason.
Then, Davidonis went back to work. And troopers returned to the scene, in spite of her request.
That’s when the fatal event occurred. Sorrell describes the encounter exactly as the State Police have previously done: Mason refused to comply with orders and began to approach Shaffer and, when the two men were six to ten feet apart, Shaffer fired his Taser.
That is not how Davidonis has described the standoff, but it’s not surprising that Sorrell has chosen to believe the police account.
Davidonis is still pursuing civil action against Shaffer and the VSP. This finding won’t prevent her from winning in civil court, but it doesn’t help any either.