Taser Incidents Renew Debate Over Usage

Usage questions over stun guns draw complaints from civil liberties groups

Hashad says police should exercise more restraint in using Tasers on the mentally ill, and those with medical conditions who can die from the shock.

"Whether it's coincidence or circumstance, we have several incidents of use of a Taser gun involving a person with a serious mental problem or presumed serious mental health problem," said Ken Libertoff, executive director of the Vermont Association for Mental Health. "The use of a Taser intervention is not a minor situation, and it is not state-of-the-art mental health care."

Police counter that they can't always tell whether a person has mental health issues or pre-existing medical conditions that would make Taser use dangerous to them.

Two recent Taser incidents in Vermont involved psychiatric patients.

On July 3, police used a Taser to subdue an unruly juvenile patient at Brattleboro Retreat, a psychiatric facility.

Neither the hospital nor police would give more detail about the incident, which prompted Gov. Jim Douglas to ask the state attorney general to review the police's actions and later to ask for a review of police agencies' protocol for Taser use, with an eye toward setting a statewide policy.

In the second case, a Taser was used to subdue a psychiatric patient from Vermont State Hospital who was spotted jumping in front of cars on Interstate 89.

"It probably saved his life," said Sgt. Craig Gardner, a Vermont State Police trooper who was there.

The use of the Taser also prevented the patient from fighting officers or pulling anyone else into traffic, Gardner said.

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