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Friday, April 12, 2002 - 11:37:26 PM MST
Transcripts of shooting made public
By TOM MARSHALL
BRATTLEBORO -- Officials on Friday released a broad range of case files in the Robert Woodward police shooting investigation, including 911 transcripts, statements, and witness interviews.
The documents -- which were obtained by the Reformer under Vermont's open records law -- provide a detailed glimpse into the chaotic Dec. 2 incident at the All Souls Unitarian-Universalist Church that led to Woodward's death, as well as the four-month investigation by Attorney General William Sorrell that followed.
That investigation was concluded on April 2 with an announcement by Sorrell that two Brattleboro officers, Terrance Parker and Marshall Holbrook, believed they were in imminent danger when they shot the Bellows Falls resident seven times before 18 witnesses, and had broken no laws. Woodward, who entered the church shouting loudly and threatening himself with a folding knife, died later that day.
The town and both officers are also being sued by the family for negligence, and on Thursday federal Judge Garvan Murtha removed a stay blocking the family's attorneys from gathering evidence and granted a request by Sorrell to withdraw as an intervening party in that case.
Sorrell refused to release autopsy and toxicology reports Friday, citing state and federal laws that he said prohibit the release of such information except to the family. But attorney Tom Costello predicted the family would agree to make those documents public soon.
"I'm sure there will be no problem," he said, adding that the family had opposed the information blackout imposed by Sorrell. "We're interested in opening up the windows, pulling up the shades."
The crisis begins
The 911 transcripts from Dec. 2 show a rapidly unfolding crisis, as police dispatchers tried to comprehend events and pass them off to officers en route to the church, beginning with the first emergency call at 10:04 a.m.
"Ah yes, ah we have a, a, a person in our church here at All Souls Church who has gone berserk," said church president Charles Butterfield, calling from a cellular telephone outside the hall as others passed details to him.
The transcript shows police initially didn't know Woodward was armed. Within minutes that information was revised, as Brattleboro dispatcher Renae White advised the officers to expect a man who was "upset with the police" and armed with a knife.
"Dispatch all units responding, apparently, he's now making threats toward the congregation," she said. "There are 60 to 70 people in the building."
In written statements and subsequent interviews, the 18 witnesses differ in their specific memories of what happened in the church, particularly during the single minute that passed between the officers' arrival and the first shot.
But while several recalled feeling afraid in the charged atmosphere, as Woodward "raved" in a manner that several psychiatrically trained witnesses described as psychotic, none recalled the man to have threatened anyone but himself.
"I didn't feel that he was going to hurt me," said congregant Sharry Manning in a Dec. 2 interview with the state police. "I felt that he was scaring a lot of people in my congregation. I felt that he was not sensitive or aware of where other people were and what his -- the consequences his words were having on other people."
Witnesses said Woodward appeared to be in a panic, asking them for sanctuary from CIA and government agents and holding a knife to his eye when some tried to leave.
Psychologist Michael Italia and others managed to calm Woodward, convincing him to put the knife away for a while, witnesses agree. But the man became agitated again when another member called loudly for people to leave, and brought the knife back out.
As Parker, Holbrook, and Officer William Davies approached the scene, each was struck by the oddness of the situation.
"It was almost like an afterglow: 'Church was over so how is things going?' and that type of mixture of people talking and talking maybe about what's on, or what I mean, there was no panic, it was no crying, there was no 'Oh my God they're all in there, he's got a knife,' nothing like that," said Parker in a Dec. 3 state police interview, describing the situation outside the church. "It was extremely serene."
Holbrook, already inside, described it as "strange" that people hadn't left.
While a third officer, William Davies, tried to encourage congregants to leave, Parker and Holbrook moved forward toward Woodward, who was now standing near the altar.
Witness reports of the shooting vary widely, and some appeared to change between Dec. 2 and subsequent interviews in March.
Italia said other congregants were within seven to 10 feet of Woodward as Parker approached, gun drawn, as an officer called out for him to "put the knife down."
"He again, he was wielding the knife, it was held up to his right eye, I do not recall him turning the knife outwardly, my recollection was that there it was pointed at himself," he said in a Dec. 2 interview. Within moments, Parker fired the first shot and Holbrook followed.
A state police investigator asked Italia whether Woodward had acted in an "aggressive manner" to police, himself, or members of the congregation.
"The only act of aggression that I could see, ah, the last time that I had direct line of sight of him with the knife (was) that it was held up toward himself," Italia said.
"Did you ever see him point the knife at you, or any other member of the congregation?" the investigator asked.
"No," Italia replied.
But in an interview on March 12, Italia was quoted as saying that Woodward approached police and "almost seemed like he was taunting the police, fearful but enraged." He said the man's movements with his knife could have been construed by police as threatening.
Another witness, Janis Chillow, described Woodward as moving forward, while Polly Wilson said he was neither threatening nor moving. And the officers maintain Woodward was not only moving but "charging."
"Without warning and without provocation, he, he ran at me with the knife, um, he took the knife from where he had it from his face let it go down a bit and then he just came running at me," Parker said.
With Woodward lying on the floor, the officers immobilized and handcuffed him, and a nurse and anesthesiologist tended his wounds. Emergency medical technicians from Rescue Inc. arrived soon after.
Half a dozen paramedics and police stated that Woodward then began apologizing for assaulting the officers.
"I want to apologize to the officers, I wanted them to shoot me," said state police trooper David Gerard, recalling Woodward's statements in the ambulance.
Two civilians who tended Woodward had no such recollections.
"We got him to the hospital," recalled anesthesiologist Phyllis Woodring. "He was totally lucid throughout He was talking to me, told me his name, his birth date, where he was born."
Meanwhile, the officers had surrendered their weapons to then-acting Chief John Martin and returned to the station, where they wrote up their reports in the patrol room.
"We were instructed by Deputy Chief Martin at the scene not to discuss the matter with each other and that we were to wait for somebody to come back and talk to us," recalled Davies on Dec. 2.
"As you were typing out your reports, was there any conversation between the three of you as to what happened?" asked the state police investigator.
"Not in regards to the incident," Davies said. "I mean, we had normal police, you know, tease each other or do those kinds of things that you normally do."
"But there was no conversation about the incident?" he was asked.
"Nothing about the incident," Davies replied.