FAMILY PURSUES QUEST FOR TRUTH IN WOODWARD SHOOTING
State maintains silence in case of pacifist shot by cops as he sought asylum in church
BRATTLEBORO, VT, January 21, 2002 -- The family of a 37-year-old pacifist gunned down by police as he sought help in church today announced the filing of a lawsuit against the Town of Brattleboro as well as the officer who fired the fatal shots.
Robert "Woody" Woodward of Bellows Falls, Vermont, was seeking sanctuary at the All Souls Unitarian Church in Brattleboro on December 2, 2001, when police shot him at least six times as parishioners watched in horror.
"The family wants the truth," said one of the family's attorneys, Joel Faxon, of Bridgeport, Connecticut-based Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder. Faxon, a former resident of Brattleboro, said he was "dismayed that the state officials investigating this case have refused to provide the family with the facts so they can begin to understand how this tragedy could have happened."
"The state's refusal to cooperate with the family leaves us no choice but to file suit," he said. "Now we will subpoena police and autopsy reports so the family can learn what happened to Woody and help identify ways to train police officers so something like this will never happen again."
Faxon stated that "[a] true independent investigation is required since the state police concluded in their press release a day after the shooting that the officers did nothing wrong. The state police have wrongly prejudged this case. That is plainly prejudicial to the victim's rights in this case." "The Acting Chief of Police has recognized that the State's investigation is narrow and does not include inquiry into civil rights violations. As Brattleboro Chief of Police Martin noted "serious issues involving civil rights are at issue that must be addressed as soon as possible." "Since the FBI was unwilling to step in we must do so on behalf of the family."
Faxon's co-counsel in the case, Attorney Thomas Costello of Brattleboro called "on the Governor to appoint independent counsel to oversee the investigation and to convene a grand jury to independently examine the evidence in the case." "The State Police's statement issued on December 3 is nothing but a knee jerk reaction aimed at exonerating the officers who killed Woody. We call for a true independent review of the case."
Costello said "It is unclear why the police officers felt compelled to use deadly force." "Why was Woody shot repeatedly when he threatened nobody? This anguished family wants answers."
Woodward, who friends say was a pacifist, ran into the church at the start of Sunday morning services claiming that he was afraid of being hunted and killed by the FBI. At one point, he took out a knife and threatened to hurt himself.
When told he was scaring people, Woodward apologized, sat down and put his knife away. He jumped to his feet and picked up the knife again when police arrived with semi-automatic handguns and held the knife to his own temple. One officer allegedly opened fire and then the second officer discharged his weapon. After being shot, Woodward crumpled into a fetal position but witnesses say he was then shot repeatedly by two of the three officers. The one officer who did not fire his weapon had been trained in New York.
"The officers did not attempt to talk to Woody or try another method to subdue him," Faxon said. "We can find no witness who felt Woody was a threat to anyone in the church other than himself. In our view it is indisputablely clear that the police officers used unreasonable, deadly force and did not properly deal with this emotionally disturbed man."
Faxon said the lawsuit is being commenced Monday and will be filed at the Windham (Vermont) Superior Court on behalf of Woodward's parents and his sister, who are residents of Connecticut. The complaint was delivered Monday to the sheriff for service on Defendants in the case, the Town of Brattleboro and the two police officers, Marshall Holbrook and Terrance Parker.
The suit also chares the officers with negligent discharge of firearms and the town with negligence in its training and supervision of the police department.
Costello said, "This case underscores the need for state legislation dictating how investigations and prosecutions in this type of case must proceed. Many other states already have similar legislation. It is time for Vermont to follow suit."
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE