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December 13, 2013

AG Settles Lawsuit from State Police Taser Death


The Attorney General's Office has paid $30,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by the companion of an unarmed Thetford man who died after a state trooper shot him with a Taser stun gun in 2012.

The settlement, finalized in Orange Superior Court in Chelsea, eliminates the possibility of a trial over claims filed by Theresa Davidonis, who watched her mentally ill boyfriend, Macadam Mason, die after he was shot by a trooper who had been summoned to their house to help.

“The money reflects responsibility on the part of the state police for what they did,” Davidonis' attorney, Tom Costello of Brattleboro, said. “It was not for the death of Macadam, but for the emotional distress that Theresa endured; $30,000 is an amount that’s substantial and reflects a fair resolution in the case, particularly in light of the risk of taking it to a verdict.” 

Because she did not control his estate, Davidonis could not sue on claims related to the death of Mason. Instead, she alleged that police trespassed on her property and inflicted emotional distress on her when they fired the Taser at Mason.

"The State decided to settle this case at a relatively early stage in order to avoid the expense and disruption of litigation," Assistant Attorney General Jana Brown said in a prepared statement. "The matter was resolved with no admission of liability, and the Vermont State Police continue to support the appropriate use of TASERs as a valuable law enforcement tool."

Davidonis could not be immediately reached for comment.

Mason's mother, Rhonda Taylor of New Hampshire, had been named the administrator of his estate in the weeks after his death and was planning to pursue a lawsuit against police alleging wrongful death. However, Taylor is currently embroiled in a dispute over control of the estate with a woman who bore a child with Mason.

State Police responded to Davidonis and Mason's home on June 20, 2012, after Mason, 39, called Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and threatened to kill himself and others. Davidonis persuaded police to leave when they arrived on the scene, but they eventually returned, for reasons that have never been fully explained.

What happened next is in dispute. State Police have said that Trooper David Shaffer ordered Mason to lie on his stomach on the ground. Instead, they claim, Mason aggressively came at Shaffer with a closed fist.

Davidonis and her son, Aleks, who also witnessed the shooting, countered that Mason never threatened the troopers, instead raising  up his hands in a surrender position, with his palms facing outward. They say he made two steps toward Shaffer and said, “Go ahead and shoot me.”

Shaffer fired his stun gun, striking Mason in the chest. The stun gun strike caused Mason’s death, the New Hampshire Medical Examiner's Office ruled.

Mason had suffered a brain seizure the night before and was in the agitated state patients often suffer — information Davidonis says she relayed to troopers in begging them to give him time to settle down. Attorney General Bill Sorrell cleared Shaffer of wrongdoing; Shaffer remains on active duty.

The Attorney General's Office has refused to release records of its investigation into the incident.

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