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Group renews justice pledge
By ANNIE HUNDLEY Reformer Staff

BRATTLEBORO -- Forty-five minutes into a "Justice for Woody" rally on Saturday, two people drove by and flipped their middle fingers off to the clan of about 30 sign-toters.

Protester Mary Rives said that was a good sign.

"Two's not a lot out of all the people driving by," said the Amherst, Mass., resident, standing alongside supporters at the intersection of Main and High streets in the early afternoon.

The group, comprising a loose-knit group of Robert Woodward's friends and family and area residents, gathered for two hours nearly six months after Woodward was shot dead by officers Terrance Parker and Marshall Holbrook in the All Souls Unitarian Church in Brattleboro.

Specifically, the group was calling upon Gov. Howard Dean to appoint an independent investigator to look into the shooting. Holbrook and Parker have been exonerated by Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell, and are now back on the beat, but this group says the investigation conducted by the state's top law-enforcer was biased.

More generally, the goal of the rally was to keep the issue alive in Brattleboro, Rives said.

"Justice has not been served and until it is we'll keep coming," she said. "Justice for us is a process and we feel like even a chance for having justice served was denied."

Although some passing by honked or waved, the majority passed with blank stares -- as though looking at an anomaly. At one point, a Brattleboro police officer in a cruiser, with its siren screaming toward an unknown destination, passed by the protesters carrying signs calling for two colleagues to be disarmed. And the question popped up: Is the community looking for the same conclusion to this troubled chapter as the "Justice for Woody" group is?

"What the group for Woody really wants is to make sure police are using appropriate use of force when someone is being arrested," said Thom Namaya, a Brattleboro resident and advocate of civilian review over the police department.

Namaya said that while Brattleboro may seem to be moving forward by inviting the Department of Justice's community relations service to town for dialogue sessions, that process may not lead to a solution acceptable to Woodward's friends.

"If that dialogue board is just a Band-Aid then it does not serve the ends of this group," he said. "We need some kind of institutionalized mechanism to make sure police are accountable."

Still, area activists face perceived problems with police on a local level by pushing for a civilian group to get involved with Brattleboro police. For example,Zoe Kopp of Brattleboro said she is concerned that residents do not have access to complaints filed against the police department.

"Sixteen complaints (in a year) doesn't sound like a lot but one of them is Woody -- and that's a big one," she said.

"Justice for Woody" representatives, many of whom live outside of Vermont, said they are aiming for more than just access to police documents.

Throughout the rally protesters handed out a flyer detailing what they feel happened to Woodward, summarizing their demands and offering contact information for the governor and Vermont senators Patrick Leahy and Jim Jeffords.

"We demand an independent investigation free of bias and self-interest, in which a jury of the people may decide whether Officers Parker and Holbrook perpetrated criminal wrongdoing in Woody's death," the flyer reads.

Stephen Monroe Tomzack of Connecticut, an old friend of Woodward's, said the group was prepared to fight on.

"If we don't get satisfaction at the state level we might pursue other strategies," he said.

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