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Killing Reaction Cases Evidence Analysis Media Woody

Did the Attorney General's Report Answer the 'Unanswered Questions'?

How did Sorrell and his team of public servants do in answering the many unanswered questions in his Woodward Shooting Report ? (These questions were well publicized. About half were published in the Brattleboro Reformer in a letter back on Decmeber 19, and more were published in a quarter-page ad that ran in the Reformer in January.) We adopted a lenient grading standard giving the Attorney General full credit on all questions that his report touched on but did not obviously attempt to mislead about. Based on that the report achieves a score of 30%.

  1. Why was Robert, who had no history of mental illness, did not use drugs, and was known for his calmness, equanimity, and rationality, in such great fear that morning that he decided to go before a church congregation to plead for sanctuary?
    The report does not address threats Woody may have recieved prior to his arrival at the church. Rather it strenuously attempts to paint him as a raving psychotic, and to discredit the claims of persecution he was making.
  2. What information were the police given prior to their arrival at the church?
    The report admits that the police were informed of Woody's fear of police when they were enroute to the church. It did not reveal the complete contents of the communications leading up to their arrival, nor did mention the attempts by churchmembers to persuade the police not to enter the sanctuary.
  3. What is the content of the police/dispatcher conversations and 911 calls, and what did the autopsy reveal about the manner in which Woody was killed? Whose interests are being served by withholding this information?
    The report selectively quotes elements of the 911 and dispatcher conversations. Transcripts of the 911 call and police/dispatcher calls have recently become available, but their audio has not.
  4. Why were three uniformed officers dispatched to the scene when church president Charles Butterfield had requested plain-clothes officers?
    The report says that the dispatcher told Butterfield that no plain-clothes officers were available.
  5. Once the officers arrived, was Robert given an opportunity to surrender? If so, how much time was he given?
    According to the report Woody was given about a minute before the shooting started.
  6. If Robert failed to surrender immediately, why did the officers not then negotiate with him? Eyewitness accounts are consistent that the elapsed time between the police entering the church and their firing the shots was short, under 2 minutes and perhaps much shorter.
    According to the report they did 'negotiate' with him in the approximately one minute that elapsed between their entry and the shooting, negotiation that apparently consisted of Terrance Parker saying "Drop the Knife" while he and Marshall Holbrook trained their guns on Woody.
  7. Why was no such negotiation attempted given that one of the officers was trained in hostage negotiation?
    The report says Parker, the one trained in hostage negotiation, was the one who 'negotiated'. Usually one does not think of negotiation as demands being made at gunpoint, but the report does not get into the fine points of what constitutes negotiation.
  8. How is is possible that the officers could have considered Robert, a man of 140 lbs holding a small knife toward himself, such a threat to themselves that they felt compelled to use force against him; particularly when each was standing at least 8 feet away from him, outfitted in body armor, and presumably training their 40 caliber semiautomatic weapons on him?
    The report does not mention the officers were wearing body armor, nor does it mention the disparity in body mass between the officers (all of whom appear to be over 200 lbs) and Woody, nor does it mention the nature of thier weapons. The report only answers this question with the dubious theory that Woody charged the officers, a theory that is not supported by a single one of the 18 eyewitnesses.
  9. If the officers were convinced they needed to subdue Robert by force why did they not use the pepper spray each was carrying, stun guns, a body tackle, warning shots, or, if necessary, a shot to his leg, instead of resorting to lethal force?
    Interestingly, the report does not even mention the pepper spray they were carrying. When at the press conference Sorrell was asked whether they were carrying pepper spray, he answered that he did not know. The report does not explain why they shot him in the stomach instead of his legs, and ignores the shot to his back.
  10. Why was the lethal force used by the officers so overwhelming? Had the officers used only 1 or 2 rounds instead of the 7 used, his friends and family might not be facing the unbearable reality they are today.
    The report maintains that Woody continued to advance after the first shot was fired, so they continued to fire to stop him, a theory based almost entirely on the accounts of the officers themselves and with almost no support from eyewitness accounts.
  11. Why did officers continue to fire shots into Robert's body as he fell to the floor and as he lay on the floor, as many as 5 shots while he lay on the floor according to at least one eyewitness account?
    The report hides the evidence Woody was shot while on the floor, by attempting to discredit the witnesses who made statements to that effect, and not quoting or otherwise referring to those statements. The detailed autopsy report, which could confirm or undermine such reports, has not been released.
  12. Why was one of the rounds found to have entered Woody's back, as discovered by the autopsy?
    The report advances the dubious theory that this shot was fired when Woody was still approaching the officers, but otherwise ignores this evidence. The shot in the back is only mentioned in SUMMARY FINDINGS, and is ignored elsewhere.
  13. Why were these actions resulting in the death of Robert taken by two of three experienced officers all of whom were veterans with considerable experience, including, one would presume, skill in risk assessment?
    The report goes to considerable lengths to paint Woody as dangerous, and to cover up the virtually unanimous opinion among the eyewitnesses that he was not, in order to make it appear that the officers did not overreact. The report does not even mention reforms or alternative proceedures that might prevent such a tragedy in the future.
  14. Why was Robert handcuffed after the shooting (which had shattered bones in his right arm), and what role did that have in impeding the ability of the doctor present to administer first aid to Robert?
    The report misleads on this, saying that access was granted to by a physician present, and that the handcuffs were removed when requested by the EMTs. It does not mention the repeated requests by Phyllis Woodring that the handcuffs be removed so she could inspect and treat his wounds, particularly the one to his abdomen though which he was rapidly loosing blood.
  15. Why did it take 21 minutes to move Robert from the church floor to the ambulance after the shooting, as indicated by the timeline of events, given that the ambulance was on the scene within 2 minutes of the shooting?
    The report did not touch on this. It says only that "Medical assistance was rendered promptly".
  16. Why did it take 22 minutes for the ambulance to transport Robert from the church parking lot to the Brattleboro hospital as indicated by the timeline of events when the route is about 3 miles with few impediments, including only a single traffic light.
    The report did not touch on this.
  17. Why did it take two hours and 45 minutes from the time of the shooting to begin to evacuate Robert to a facility that was equipped to treat his heart trauma, when a physician on the scene had diagnosed that trauma within minutes of the shooting?
    The report did not touch on this.
  18. Did any of the officers have any prior dealings with or knowledge of Robert?
    The report did not address this. If anything the strenuous efforts of the report to paint Woody as delusional suggest there may be an effort to hide such. The report made no mention of eyewitness statements that Woody said he had recieved a threat against himself and his family and friends.
  19. Have there been any official or unofficial reports of previous aggressive behaviors by the officers?
    The report mentioned one previous shooting incident involving officer Parker, but did not indicate the nature of that incident or give any details at all. It did not mention complaints by parents of Brattleboro adolescents against him.
  20. Why were the officers who shot Woody returned to duty before any investigation was completed?
    This was not answered, except in the general sense of attempting to bolster the official statements in the days after the shooting that it was justified.

page last modified: 2008-07-20