A state police officer who fired a stun gun shot that killed a Thetford man in June has been placed on paid administrative leave.
Officials are not saying why the action was taken, and the case remains under criminal investigation.
The stun gun death, and other use of force incidents, has led to calls for more robust oversight of police agencies.
Senior Trooper David Shaffer was relieved from active duty and placed on paid leave on September 26. That was two days before state police disclosed autopsy results that showed a shot from Shaffer’s Taser stun gun killed 39-year-old Macadam Mason in June.
Mason was distraught and threatened to hurt himself or others when he called a hospital for help. Accounts differ about what happened next. Police say he was shot after he made a threatening move. His girlfriend says he had his hands raised in a surrender gesture. Trooper Shaffer’s superiors say they cannot comment on the investigation or on personnel issues.
But lawyers and activists who have followed police disciplinary reviews say the process is too often conducted behind closed doors. Dan Barrett is lawyer for the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
"It would be nice in the case of the state police to have a means by which the public could tell when and why state police officers were being disciplined given the importance of their work and the things that they are able to do that an ordinary citizen can’t do," Barrett says.
A VPR investigation found that the Mason incident in June was one of 10 cases over the last two years in which state police used electronic stun guns on people who were suicidal or in a mental health crisis.
Officials have said that the State Police Advisory Commission will review the Mason case to determine if any changes in the police use of force policy – including the use of stun guns – is warranted.
Yet some advocates don’t believe the seven-member advisory commission has enough independence or authority to do the job.
A.J. Ruben is a lawyer with Disability Rights Vermont, a protection and advocacy organization for people with disabilities. He says the commission’s actions are rarely made public.
"We’re left with wondering who’s really policing the police," he says. "And then you have these internal investigations by the state police and no one ever knows what the facts are of those. There does seem to be a cloud of mystery over who’s looking at what police do, and is it appropriate."
Macadam Mason’s death is being investigated by the Orange County state’s attorney. The results of that investigation will be reviewed by the Attorney General.