Vt. Panel Advances Taser Bill
Montpelier — A Vermont House committee voted Wednesday to advance legislation calling for a statewide training standard for police officers before they are issued electronic stun guns, but critics say the bill has been significantly watered down from its original version.
The House Government Operations Committee unanimously voted to send the measure to the full House after some committee members had expressed unhappiness about the legislation earlier in the day.
And Allen Gilbert, executive director of the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the bill is such a retreat from strong restrictions on police officers’ use of Tasers and similar weapons that the legislation should be scuttled.
The use of Tasers — the brand of stun guns used by some law enforcement agencies in the state — has been debated for years.
The issue heated up dramatically after June 2012, when a Thetford man, Macadam Mason, died of cardiac arrest after being struck in the chest by a state trooper’s Taser during a confrontation.
The original version of the bill sharply limited the circumstances in which an officer could use a stun gun — to instances in which the alternative would be a firearm.
“Electronic control devices shall be limited to use under the same standards that justify the use of lethal force or that will directly reduce an imminent risk of a person’s death through self-harm,” it said. “Electronic control devices shall not be used for the primary purpose of subduing an individual, of obtaining compliance, or as punishment.”
The version that won the committee’s support Wednesday says officers may use the devices “in response to an actively resistant subject, if there is reason to believe that using another compliance technique will result in a greater risk of injury to the officer, the subject, or a third party; and in response to an assaultive subject when lethal force does not appear to be objectively reasonable.”
Committee members, including chairwoman Rep. Donna Sweaney, D-Windsor, and Rep. Joanna Cole, D-Burlington, said they like the aspects of the bill that call for stronger and unified statewide training for officers who are equipped with Tasers.
The state police, municipal departments and county sheriffs’ offices currently operate without uniform training requirements.
Sweaney also said law enforcement officials told the committee that if the original language were imposed, “Tasers would not be used. They would go for their guns instead.”
Gilbert said in an interview that as the bill stands, it gives officers “great discretion as to when they’ll use a Taser ... and we think it’s just going to produce the same sorts of problems that we have had in the past.”