BRATTLEBORO -- Two police officers removed from duty, reinstated and removed again after shooting Robert Woodward dead were cleared Thursday to return to active duty by Chief John Martin.
Officers Marshall Holbrook and Terrance Parker will phase into full duty over the coming weeks, first patrolling with a partner and moving on to independent patrol.
"I'm comfortable with the fact that the officers are going back out and we are hoping that the community is," said Town Manager Jerry Remillard. "That's a tough one to speculate on."
The two were initially returned to active duty about 10 days after the shooting, but pulled back off at the request of the police department's union and placed on administrative leave, covering desk duty, in early February.
Joseph Pineau, the union's president, said the request for the officers to be put back on patrol duty also came from the union.
"We have no objection to them returning to uniform," Pineau said. "They've had a couple months' break now. The town has been very gracious to give them the time they needed to work with the situation at hand."
Martin declined to comment on whether Holbrook and Parker had received counseling or re-training over the past months, citing employee confidentiality. But he said a private consultant had determined that the officers were ready to begin resuming their normal tasks.
"If everything goes well, I expect they will be back to full duty in a few weeks," Martin said.
Attorney General William Sorrell conducted an investigation into Parker's and Holbrook's actions Dec. 2 at the All Soul's Unitarian Church. Woodward, 37, of Bellows Falls, had burst into the church at the beginning of the service, wielding a knife, demanding sanctuary and saying he was being hounded by the FBI and CIA. He was shot seven times by the two officers after failing to drop his weapon at their request, and died approximately four hours later.
Sorrell cleared the officers of any wrongdoing April 1, saying, "no crime was committed by the officers that day."
The department and the town have consistently backed Marshall and Holbrook since the shooting. Just days before Sorrell's announcement, Selectboard Chairman Greg Worden said he was confident they would be cleared. On April 1, Martin released a statement, saying that the officers followed their training. "They placed themselves in harm's way and have suffered greatly since."
Remillard said that over time, having two more officers on the beat will help alleviate the dire police shortage now faces, with the department only at three-fifths its full strength. However, he said, "that is not the reason this is being done. It's being done because they feel ready and they have been cleared of the charges."
Pineau said the department could use the veteran officers.
"It can only help," he said. "It's two people we were down and now we've got them back. Certainly they'll be able to fill in some holes that haven't been filled in a while."