Sorrell's Report Misrepresents the Facts.
The Attorney General's report misrepresents facts about the evidence, in a number of ways that are demonstrable even without the benefit of the full body of evidence.
The report falsely implies that Witnesses observed Woody threaten.
- The report states: "During the call Mr. Butterfield provided updated information to the dispatcher that the man now had a knife and was threatening members of the congregation. This information was forwarded to the officers responding to the scene." By failing to point out that this information was misinformation, the report implies, falsely, that Woody threatened members of the congregation. The allegation that Woody had threatened the congregation is repeated in the SUMMARY FINDINGS and in the DETAILED FINDINGS OF FACT , also without any indication of it's inaccuracy. The consensus view of eyewitnesses that Woody never threatened others, by contrast, is found only in the DIFFERING WITNESS RECOLLECTIONS section, and then is only discussed within the context of threats to the police, not the congregation.
- The report states: "Virtually all eyewitnesses are clear that at this particular point in time Mr. Woodward was not directly threatening anyone other than himself." In fact virtually all the eyewitnesses agree that Woody never threatened anyone but himself throughout the incident, not just at that 'particular point'. Nor did virtually any of the eyewitnesses hold that he ever threatened anyone indirectly, as with words, contrary to what is implied.
- The report states: "Finally, did Mr. Woodward present a threat to the police by virtue of his actions with the knife or otherwise? Some witnesses said very clearly that yes, this was so." In fact not a single church eyewitnesses has said that Woody threatened the officers. The use of the phrase 'present a threat to' in place of 'threaten' may render the statement technically consistent with this fact, but to most readers the statement suggests that eyewitnesses did say he threatened the officers.
The report misrepresents interactions between churchmembers and Woody.
- The report, describing Jane Worley's interaction with Woody, states: "She asked Mr. Woodward to put the knife away as he was clearly scaring people. She offered to listen to him if he put the knife away. In what she described as a 'brief moment of lucidity,' with an apology Robert Woodward complied and put the knife in his pocket." In fact her alleged offer to listen to him if he dropped the knife is nowhere in her statements or interviews, nor is the quote "brief moment of lucidity". In her December 2 interview she said: "I told him that what he was doing was an act of aggression and he was scaring people and he actually kind of broke his speaking and apologized for scaring people and he said when you're under ... that he needed to take desperate action but, 'I feel justified because such drastic action has been taken against me.'" The apparently fabricated quote about her offer to listen if he put the knife away makes Woody appear less reasonable -- responding to begging rather than a simple request.
The report presents as fact the minority view that Woody's behavior
'rapidly escalated' in response to a churchmember Baehr's announcement,
hiding both the many eyewitness observations that he was reacting to the
arrival of the police,
and the fact that Baehr's announcement and the arrival of the police
were occurring almost simultaneously.
- The report states: "Immediately prior to the police arriving, a member of the congregation entered the room and announced in a loud voice that everyone was to leave. Mr. Woodward's behavior at this point significantly escalated. He again took out the knife and held it very close to his eye." This implies that Woody's behavior 'escalated' prior to the arrival of the police, to support the idea that he was becoming ever more dangerous to the congregation, and Sorrell vociferously insisted that Woody 'escalated' before, not in response to, the arrival of the police. But, according to Tommy Thomas, Woody jumped up and pulled out the knife and pointed at himself as before because he had seen the first officer (Holbrook) poke his head around the corner. This is confirmed by Holbrook's own statement which has him seeing two men seated in the front and having to ask a bystander which of them was the subject.
- The report repeats the point later: "At about this time, Tom Baehr, another member of the congregation, entered the room and announced in a loud voice: 'Everyone must leave.' According to several witnesses, this statement caused Robert Woodward to escalate very rapidly. According to Mr. Italia, Mr.Woodward immediately jumped up from his chair and again pulled out the knife." The report hides the large number of eyewitness opinions that it was the arrival of the police that caused Woody to 'escalate'.
The report falsely implies the officers negotiated
with Woody, by misrepresenting and order as a request.
- The report states: "As Officer Parker approached Mr. Woodward, he repeatedly requested him to put down the knife." In fact most of the witnesses heard Parker say "Drop the knife!", several times, if anything, and little else. There was a range of opinions about the volume of the commands spoken by the officer, several witness recalling he was shouting. Even Michael Italia, extensively quoted in the report, stated in his December 2 interview: "It, I think if I have any impression it was more that they were ordering the knife out of him, ah out of his hand rather then trying to talk him out of it."
The report misrepresents eyewitness testimony
about Woody's movements.
- The report quotes Donna Payne "as recalling Woody making 'some movement with the knife other than at himself', and that according to her, Woodward 'was coming forward with his body, he was not retreating.'" This quote was a paraphrase taken from the March interviews. In the December interview, the most similar thing said by Payne was: "Right. But he definitely didn't ... he didn't retreat." Other of her comments give some context to the question of whether there was forward movement: "you know, like on his feet kind of moving back and forth kind of like a ..... just like bounding from one foot to the next and .... I mean like he'd go forward a couple of steps then he'd go backward a few steps, then forward and backward, you know? So he was just in a very small area right basically in the same place, just moving forward and back. Like he didn't know where to go."
- The report quotes Janis Chaillou's written statement that Woody "came toward them [police]-used knife-threatening." When in fact it is not clear from her statement whether she is referring to movement by the Woody or by the officers. When Chaillou was queried by the interviewer about Woody's movements thusly: "just prior to the initial gunshot, you said that ... he took the blade and .. made a gesture towards the officers? So that the blade was pointed to them, or walked toward them or moved toward them?" She replied: "... I'll be honest with you, I believe it was after the first gunshot."
The report quotes Woody's words in a highly selective fashion,
always with the effect of making him appear angry or deranged
while suppressing the idea he had been threatened
or had anything meaningful to say.
- Of the many messages he wrote on the backs of checks, the two selected for the report were "I love you all" and "Please have my pers'nn statement read from the pulpit of every Unitarian church." A message with several misspellings and meaningless in isolation is presented in preference to messages with specific environmental programs, or ones stating he had been threatened.
- The report states: "Mr. Woodward was also heard on the answering machine tape to say that this was a 'political assassination' and 'murder'." Those of us who have listened to the tape dozens of times cannot find the word 'murder'. Other things he can be heard to say on the tape like 'I love you,' and 'Help.'
The report hides the consensus view that Woody was afraid
with the thinly supported view he was angry.
- Describing events when Woody first entered the church the report states: "He spoke to the congregation, sometimes while shouting." Yet none of the eyewitnesses describe Woody as shouting at any time prior to the arrival of the police.
- The report selectively quotes witnesses describing Woody's state as "ranting and raving," "upset," "hyper," "psychotic," "deranged" and "insane". Notably absent from that list of adjectives is "afraid" or "terrified", descriptions that all the eyewitnesses would appear to agree on. In fact the report makes virtually no mention of the profound fear Woody was clearly in, and doesn't address whether he was responding to a threat on his life.
- The report quotes Michael Italia saying that when the police arrived, Woody was "enraged at their presence" and "the intensity of his anger was high." Italia was the only witness who described Woody's response as angry or enraged.
- The report characterizes Woody as "screaming" the words "political assassination", on the message tape, when in fact the only voices on the tape that can be thusly characterized with any accuracy are those of the police yelling "handcuffs", and "get out".
In addition to all of these factual inaccuracies, the report takes considerable liberties with language in order to create a distorted picture of the situation.