Taser director and doctor contacted Vermont police after man's death
By: Matt Ryan
Sep. 30, 2012
Macadam Mason died June 20 after being shot in the chest by a Vermont State Trooper’s Taser outside his home in Thetford.
On June 21, Taser International’s spokesman e-mailed state police suggestions on how to conduct its investigation and asked the agency to forward information to the medical examiners conducting an autopsy on Mason’s body. The Burlington Free Press reported on that email last month.
On June 22, a doctor sitting on the manufacturer’s board of directors also contacted state police, providing additional information about a medical condition that coroners have cited in other arrest-related deaths.
In an e-mail sent to Vermont State Police Maj. Ed Ledo on June 22, an assistant to Dr. Mark Kroll at the University of Minnesota thanks Ledo for speaking with her earlier that day and offers him the doctor’s assistance in investigating Mason’s death.
Assistant Carrie Carns introduces Kroll as “an expert on Taser devices.” She did not mention in the email that Kroll sits on the weapons manufacturer’s board of directors.
“He has helped law enforcement with many similar cases around the country and asked me to send an arrest-related death evidence outline that he developed,” Carns wrote. “While not necessarily relevant to this case, I have also attached an excited delirium check list he developed and published with several excited delirium experts.”
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of New Hampshire, which conducted an autopsy on Mason’s body, ruled that Mason died from “sudden cardiac death due to conducted electrical weapon discharge,” and listed excited delirium syndrome and heart disease as significant conditions that Mason had at his time of death, according to state police.
The day after Mason’s death, Taser International spokesman Steve Tuttle suggested the medical examiner’s office contact the University of Miami for information on excited delirium syndrome, according to documents obtained last month by the Burlington Free Press through a records request. The university says symptoms of the condition “include bizarre and/or aggressive behavior, shouting, paranoia, panic, violence towards other people, unexpected physical strength, and hyperthermia.”
New Hampshire’s Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Jennie Duval told the Free Press in September that she had contacted the University of Miami while conducting Mason’s autopsy, but had done so “before receiving any correspondence from Taser.” Duval said the written material she received from the manufacturer did not influence the autopsy.
Response to records request
The disclosure of Kroll’s intervention in the investigation came when Vermont State Police responded to a public records request the Burlington Free Press had filed Aug. 23.
The majority of the 75 pages released by the agency contain information that New Hampshire authorities had already provided the Free Press following a separate public records request.
Reached by phone Monday, Kroll said he had received an e-mail by the Free Press seeking comment, was in transit and would respond via e-mail if he could gain sufficient Internet access. No response had been received by press time.
Tuttle, the Taser spokesman, wrote in an e-mail Monday that the company had asked Kroll to join the board in 2003.
“He is an internationally recognized expert and scientist in the area of bioelectricity,” Tuttle wrote. “Law enforcement agencies often seek his expertise in potential electrocution cases including arrest related deaths where an electronic control device was used.”
Excited delirium syndrome
The e-mail that Kroll’s assistant sent to state police in June includes literature that discusses a medical condition called “excited delirium syndrome.”
“Because the term ‘excited delirium syndrome’ has not been widely used until recent years, many physicians do not recognize the term even though they may be very familiar with agitation and deaths due to drugs and other conditions,” the literature stated.
In its description of excited delirium syndrome at the web site exciteddelirium.org, the University of Miami says cases in the U.S. “are frequently associated with psychostimulant abuse,” but adds, “reports of acute exhaustive mania, physical restraint, Pepper Spray or Taser and sudden death also have been reported that are not related to abused drugs, suggesting further that an underlying central nervous system disorder was the precipitating cause of lethality.”
According to the university, “such victims of excited delirium have provoked allegations of police misconduct, unnecessary force and improper Taser deployment.”
Such allegations have been made regarding Mason’s death.
Mason’s former partner, Theresa Davidonis of Thetford, sued Vermont State Police and the trooper who shocked Mason late last month, accusing the trooper of using excessive force. She said she warned the troopers at the scene that Mason, an epileptic, had suffered a seizure the day before he died.
The ongoing investigation
Mason, 39, died after Senior Trooper David Shaffer fired his Taser at Mason’s chest. State police have said Shaffer and three other troopers responded to Mason’s residence June 20 because Mason had called a nearby hospital and threatened to kill himself and others. Shaffer confronted Mason and, knowing him to be unarmed, ordered him to lie on the ground. According to state police, Mason refused and instead yelled “aggressively,” made a fist and moved toward Shaffer, who responded by firing his Taser.
State police continue to investigate the incident.
“As soon as Vermont State Police receives the autopsy report,” spokeswoman Stephanie Dasaro wrote in a news release Friday, “it will be included with the criminal investigation and submitted to the Vermont Attorney General’s Office and (the) Orange County State’s Attorney’s Office for independent reviews, as is customary.”
Dasaro also said the State Police Advisory Commission intends to review the incident, “to help determine if a change in state police policy is warranted.”