On April 2, 2002, Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell announced his decision to exonerate Officers Parker and Holbrook for their shooting of Robert Woodward in a Press Conference in Brattleboro. He justified this decision with his 13 page "Woodward Shooting Report," which claims that, "based on all the facts and circumstances," it was reasonable for Officers Parker and Holbrook to employ deadly force due to a reasonable belief by them that Officer Parker was in imminent danger of death or seriously bodily injury as a result of the actions of Robert Woodward."
The report reads fairly smoothly to the casual reader with no exposure to the evidence. It painstakingly constructs a picture of an angry, psychotic, and unsympathetic individual terrorizing a frightened congregation, and "escalating" to ever more dangerous extremes of threatening behavior. The report gives the impression that the police had no alternative but to kill Woodward.
Even so it has a number of features which will strike the careful reader as peculiar at the very least. Foremost among these are the large proportion of the report devoted to speculations, hearsay, and descriptions of events that have almost nothing to do with the legal justification for the shooting.
Conversely, facts that do relate to the shooting are treated with either extreme vagueness or are avoided entirely. The nature of Woodward's "forward motion" alleged in the report's findings -- the key event in the justification of the shooting -- are left to the imagination, or the accounts of the shooting officers. Absent are specifics about the location of the entry wounds, the direction of entry they indicate, and whether there were exit wounds. Important forensic artifacts, such as the shirt Woodward was wearing, are not even mentioned. No information about the equipment carried by the officers is disclosed. The careful reader will notice the inconsistency between the report's claim to consider "all the facts and circumstances" and its omission of so many important facts.
But it is when one compares the report to evidence about the case that the former's egregious distortions and deceptions become obvious. One need only read witness evidence gathered by the State Police and the Attorney General's office to see this, even ignoring the biased questioning of said investigators and overlooking the suppression of forensic evidence.
The report blatantly ignores the substantial portions of the evidence which do not support a simple exoneration. The eyewitness evidence that it does present is generally inconsistent with the total body of witness statements. The statements included are frequently taken out of context in such a way as to skew the actual intention of the individuals quoted. Unsupportable answers are offered in response to serious forensic questions. Important details are omitted regarding the actions of the key players. Aspects of the case that are highly questionable are neatly dismissed with pat phrases obscuring the significant complexities therein. In short, the Attorney General asks us to buy a reductionist, uninquisitive, and deceptive version of the events of December 2, which serves not to reveal the truth, but to belie it.
The flaws of the report are so numerous that space permits the enumeration of only some of them here. A more extensive and expanding body of analysis can be found on our website, www.justiceforwoody.org/analysis/.
The amount of information not disclosed by Sorrell's report is stunning. While the 13 page report contains lengthy and redundant descriptions of Woodward's alleged behavior and extensive rationalizations for disregarding eyewitness accounts, it contains almost no detail about facts relating to the shooting itself, such as forensic evidence.
The Attorney General's report asserts the authority of the Attorney General to review, independently of an individual County State's Attorney, any case "in which death has resulted from a police use of deadly force." However, Sorrell gets off to a sloppy start legally by failing to provide any exact quotation or citation for this authority. The report does provide a citation describing the conditions which must be met to establish that an officer was reasonable to think he was in danger of being killed or of great bodily harm by an assault from the victim, and those conditions include a consideration of "all the circumstances of the case." Yet if the Attorney General did consider all such circumstances, he certainly gives no evidence of that in his report, which is striking for how much it omits.
The report mentions the existence of an autopsy, but discloses virtually no details from it. Vague locations of the gunshot wounds are disclosed in the SUMMARY FINDINGS, which mentions a wound to the "abdomen" and one to the "lower back." The DETAILED FINDINGS OF FACT make no mention whatsoever of the location of the wounds. The report makes no mention of the direction of bullet entry indicated by the wounds. It does not disclose whether there were exit wounds, or the number of bullets that remained in the body. It neither discloses nor mentions any evidence regarding which wound was the cause of death, stating only that Woodward "died as a result of his wounds."
If the issue is whether killing a person is justifiable, then it follows that one must establish exactly what caused their death. Since the five bullet wounds in the arms were clearly not the cause of death, that cause must be attributed to one or both of the wounds in his lower back and abdomen. If the shot to the back was the cause of death, then the report commits a serious error in not disclosing it, and justifying why a shot to the back was necessary for the self-defense of the person firing the shot. A similar analysis could apply to the shot to the abdomen depending on its direction of entry.
The report does not mention the existence or disposition of other forensic artifacts. The report makes no mention of a ballistics report. It does not disclose which bullets came from which of the two guns. Ballistics analysis is a standard forensic procedure, yet from the report, it is not clear whether it was even conducted, let alone what it may have shown. The shirt Woodward was wearing is not mentioned, nor is the rug on which he fell. There is no mention of blood spatter patterns or any analysis conducted thereupon.
The report discloses virtually no information about how the officers were equipped. The extent of that information is the inclusion of the words "bullets" and "firearm". It does not mention whether they were carrying pepper spray, billy clubs, or whether they were wearing body armor. It does not disclose the caliber of their pistols, nor their semiautomatic operation. Press reports indicated they were equipped with at least pepper spray, body armor, and 40 caliber semiautomatic pistols.
A consideration of all the relevant facts would include at the very least whether the officers where wearing body armor, since that would clearly influence the level of threat they could reasonably perceive from an assailant with a knife. It would also include the nature of their firearms since a large caliber semiautomatic weapon could more rapidly repel an assailant than a smaller caliber manual one. Their possession of nonlethal means of restraint would also be relevant.
The Attorney General's report and evidence his office has since disclosed reveal a disturbing pattern of sloppiness, negligence, and omission in the collection and analysis of evidence relating directly to the shooting and its justification. The absence of disclosures described in the previous section may reflect either failures to investigate essential questions about the shooting or a cover-up of facts discovered through undisclosed aspects of the investigation.
Although the report makes no mention of ballistics tests, press reports mentioned statements by State's Attorney Dan Davis, who remained on the case until his self-recusal on January 18th, 2001, indicating the existence of such tests. Our investigators could find no evidence, however, that the state ever collected or entered into evidence Woodward's shirt, the rug on which he fell, or documentation of blood spatter patterns at the scene. Our calls to the Attorney Generals office inquiring about the status of these artifacts were not returned.
Any thorough investigation would have collected and analyzed these artifacts. Analysis of the shirt for gunpowder residues could help establish or refute eyewitness testimony that Woodward was shot after he fell. The rug should have been similarly analyzed, and examined for evidence of bullet impacts. Blood spatter analysis could have gone a long way to establishing where Woodward was when he received the bullets.
The evidence package released by the Attorney General's office includes hand-written statements provided by most of the witnesses on the day of the shooting, transcriptions of some of those statements typed by police detectives, and transcripts of witness interviews by police detectives. As described in Final Shots, the written statements of two of the eyewitnesses, Tommy Thomas and Janis Chaillou, indicated that most of the shots were fired after Woodward had fallen to the floor.
The fact that neither of these eyewitnesses was questioned about this critical detail is an investigative failure of the first order. If Woodward was shot after he collapsed, he was shot at a time when the officers could not have reasonably believed he posed an imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury to them.
Vermont State Police Detective Sgt. Kevin Anderson was quoted as saying, shortly after the shooting, that the scene at the West Village Meeting House was being treated as a crime scene. Presumably the possible crime being investigated was the unjustified use of deadly force by officers Parker and Holbrook against Woodward. Yet the officers were not treated as though they might have committed a crime. They were not detained, nor were their persons or residences searched. All three officers were allowed to fill out their reports in the same room, unsupervised. Ten days after the shooting, and 110 days before Sorrell announced his conclusion that the shooters had committed no crime, both officers were allowed to return to full active duty.
Just one day after the shooting the State Police announced in a press release that officers Holbrook and Parker discharged their service pistols when they believed their safety and/or members of the congregation's safety was threatened. Since the purpose of the 4-month investigation was ostensibly to determine the reasons the officers opened fire on Woodward, this disclosure on its second day exposed a fatal flaw: that the investigators had already decided the central issue and were therefore not competent to conduct an impartial investigation.
One investigative failure apparent in the report itself is its use of merely a near-to-scale model instead of a scale model of the sanctuary. A central element of Sorrell's finding that Woodward made "a forward motion" toward the officers is its discrediting of many of the eyewitness accounts on the basis of their purported lack of a clear view of the action. Given the necessity of accurately reconstructing the positions of witnesses and obstructions to their lines of sight in order to determine their views of critical events, an accurate scale model is essential for a credible investigation. The report offers no explanation as to why a near-to-scale model is good enough.
Although the eyewitness interviews conducted by the State Police detectives in the hours and days following the shooting were tape-recorded and transcribed, the interviews conducted by the Attorney General's detectives in March were neither tape-recorded nor transcribed. The evidence packet released by the Attorney General provides only the detectives' summaries of the March interviews. One eyewitness who read the summary of her interview stated that she did not believe it accurately reflected her words. The fact that the report relies heavily on the March interviews of selected eyewitnesses, particular in the case of Michael Italia, raises questions about the credibility of the conclusions the report draws from those interviews, and raises red flags about why the Attorney General chose not to record them.
Through an analysis of the report, one can discern several goals. These include diverting attention from the details of the shooting, hiding the eyewitness consensus that Woodward never threatened others, making the officers' alleged fear of bodily harm seem more reasonable, and undermining any sympathy the reader might otherwise have for Woodard and obscuring his sanctuary plea. A variety of dissembling techniques are marshaled in service of these goals, ranging from selective presentation of evidence to outright fabrication. The present analysis organizes them into three broad of categories of misrepresentation:
The report devotes scarcely 20 percent of its space to analysis of the shooting itself and any legal justification thereof. The remainder of the report is taken up primarily by lengthy speculations about Woodward's mental state, misleading characterizations of his words and actions, unrepresentative quotes from selected eyewitnesses, and attempts to discredit the body of eyewitness evidence. The report's dwelling on these other subjects may distract the casual reader from noticing the sparsity of material with direct bearing on the shooting itself, such as the undisclosed facts noted in the first section.
Beyond its diversionary function, the anger and psychosis theme is used to tie alleged threatening movements by Woodward to a justification of the shooting. This is done in the voice of featured witness Michael Italia, extrapolated from March interview summaries:
"According to Italia, given Woodward's level of anger and psychosis ('his intense absorption with his delusions was striking') his movement towards the police with the knife prior to the first shot could reasonably have been construed by the officers as threatening."
This is the only place in the report where the oft-reiterated theme of anger and psychosis is explicitly linked to a justification for the shooting. Since this link is not stated as a finding of the report, that theme can have no legal significance in supporting the justification.
The psychosis and threatening themes seem designed to make Woodward appear completely unsympathetic to the reader, his killing deserved, inevitable, or both. But should these ploys fail to have their desired effect, the reader might at least find Woodward's death less tragic if they can be made to believe he had a death wish. This is the apparent goal of the suicide theme, which is prominently introduced as a highlighted quote on the first page of the report.
Disposing of Woodward's sanctuary plea is perhaps one of the central aims of the psychosis theme. Woodward made his plea to the congregation with such clarity that every one of the eyewitnesses recalled it in their interviews, though none were asked about it specifically. Each referred to it using either the words "sanctuary" or "political asylum." Most recalled him speaking of persecution, including threats against his life. Since the principal of political asylum has significance in international law, it could potentially bring troublesome attention to the case if not rendered meaningless with appropriate diversions. To this end the report employs the anger and psychosis theme, in the manner described below.
Two major themes, that Woodward was an angry psychotic and that he posed an ever-escalating threat, run throughout most of the report. A third theme, that he was suicidal, is provided as a kind of clincher, passing from implied to explicit after the shooting. Yet another theme -- that of fear among congregation members -- is treated here as a sub-theme of the threat theme.
Since no eyewitnesses stated that Woodward threatened, even under leading questioning by police detectives, convincing the reader that he did so would require some finesse. The report introduces the idea that Woodward threatened by presenting misinformed hearsay as fact; then reinforces the idea with deceptive language, semantic tricks with the word threatened, and manipulative statements about people's fear. A repetitive theme of escalation is added to further obscure the lack of evidence he threatened -- evidence the report goes to considerable lengths to hide.
The tragedy of December 2 might have been avoided if not for a miscommunication between Charles Butterfield and the dispatcher handling the 911 call. Yet rather than examining that failure to gain an understanding which might prevent future mishaps, the report hides the breakdown in order to exploit it for it's agenda of establishing the idea that Woodward threatened. The DETAILED FINDINGS OF FACT state:
"En route the officers received updated information from the dispatcher, including that the individual was 'making threats towards the congrega- tion'"The report fails to point out that the "updated information" was in fact misinformation, thereby implanting the idea that Woodward had threatened. Later, in the DISCUSSION OF FINDINGS, the report repeats the hearsay, again without indicating its fallacy:
"Mr. Butterfield provided updated information to the dispatcher that the man now had a knife and was threatening members of the congregation."The second iteration of the "updated information" is falsified in two ways. First, it converts the phrase, "making threats towards the congregation," which was actually used in the 911 call, to the phrase, "threatening members of the congregation," which was not. Whereas the ambiguity of former expression allows that Woodward was merely expressing his self-threats to the congregants and not threatening them, the latter does not. Second, it implies that these threats were made with a knife, when in fact the entire exchange between Butterfield and the dispatcher about threats toward the congregation occurred before either was aware Woodward had a knife.
The use of deceptive language can be found throughout the report, but its use in service of the escalating threat theme is particularly egregious. One technique inserts unneeded qualifiers into a true statement to make a true but misleading one. For example, consider the following statement in the DETAILED FINDINGS OF FACT:
"Virtually all eyewitnesses are clear that at this particular point in time Mr. Woodward was not directly threatening anyone other than himself."Removing qualifiers yields the equally true but far more descriptive statement:
All witnesses are clear that Mr. Woodward did not threaten anyone other than himself.Another such example implies Woodward would later "brandish" his knife, when the body of evidence indicates he never did.
"At this point in time Woodward had not yet brandished the knife."The report also uses misleading quantifiers. In the following statement, "some witnesses" actually refers to a single witness.
"Some witnesses later told police they felt threatened in that they could not leave."It fails to mention that said witness stated that he was never in fear of bodily harm. The report also exploits ambiguities in language as exemplified by the phrase "present a threat" in the following statement:
"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."While the sentence may imply the presence of threatening behavior to most readers, it can also simply mean the potential of a threat.
The report further promotes the idea that Woodward threatened through the conflation of expressions of feeling threatened with observations of being threatened. Only the latter can be used to establish objective facts that could justify the use of lethal force, the former reflecting merely subjective experiences. Yet the report expends considerable space recounting people's fears, sometimes couched in the language of feeling threatened. One particularly gratuitous example of this is the following:
"One woman was so frightened that she took her eight-year-old son and fled to a classroom and barricaded herself inside until the police arrived."Eyewitness Norman Hunt illuminates the importance of precision regarding the different uses of the word threatened, in a letter he penned to the Brattleboro Police a few days after the shooting:
"Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary defines a threat as 'an expression of an intention to inflict evil, injury or damage.' No one could possibly say that Woodward expressed to him or her or anyone else such an intention. I heard a couple of individuals say they felt "threatened". They were not using the word according to the dictionary definition. I am not attempting to say whether they felt alarmed, tense, afraid, or whatever. Obviously, many of us felt that way after the shots were fired."
The report is clearly intended to convince the reader that the "threat" could only increase. This is accomplished through a drumbeat of repetition of words such as "escalate" to describe Woodward's behavior, and "mounted" and "increasingly frightened" to describe parishioners' concerns. "Escalate" is used four times in the report, in all cases to describe Woodward. The one use of "de-escalate" is minimized as an attempt, even through the said de-escalation was so successful that Woodward had put away the knife, and Officer Holbrook was unable to tell who was the "subject" when he surveyed the room before entering. No such words are used to describe the rapid transition by Officer Parker from making "requests" of Woodward to employing deadly force against him.
A key assertion the report advances in order to persuade the reader that Woodward's actions required violent police intervention is that Woodward "significantly escalated" in response to church-member Tom Baehr's loud admonition to clear the room, rather than to the arrival of the police. The omission of the observations of several eyewitnesses that Woodward's panic was precipitated by his awareness of the police, coupled with its concealment of Woodward's relative composure and cooperation with parishioners prior to that moment, gives the impression of a situation spiraling out of control. The success of the church-members in managing the situation was recalled by Polly Wilson in her December second interview:
"And I thought this really is a terrible tragedy because here was a man who was almost under control, he'd been talked into being quiet ..."Since Woodward could be expected to "escalate very rapidly" in response to the arrival of the police, based on the fears he expressed to the congregation, the misattribution of his behavior makes him appear less predictable, and reinforces the anger and psychosis theme in addition to the escalation one. It is also worth noting that Baehr's order was directed by the police.
Hiding the eyewitness consensus that Woodward did not threaten others is essential to the success of the escalating threat theme. In their interviews, 17 of the 18 eyewitnesses either volunteered that he did not threaten others, or stated the same in response to a direct question. The remaining eyewitness, Donna Payne, said nothing to contradict that consensus. This fact is nowhere apparent in the report, which uses all of the deceptive techniques outlined above to hide it.
The anger and psychosis theme permeates the report even more thoroughly than the escalating threat theme, perhaps because Sorrell had more material to work with in the eyewitness evidence. Variants of the word "psychotic" are found in several of the statements and interviews, but the idea of anger virtually absent, being explicitly mentioned only in the Attorney General's recounting of the March interviews of Michael Italia. Angry may be a more effective characterization than psychotic for making Woodward appear less sympathetic and his alleged charge at the police officers more plausible. Hence the coupling of these two ideas within a single theme serves to leverage the idea of psychosis to support that of anger.
Although the report contains only two occurrences of the word anger in reference to Woodward, and two occurrences of the word enraged, their placement in key quotes from featured eyewitness Michael Italia gives them prominence. A number of techniques, such as misrepresentations of Woodward's speech, and of his interactions with church-members, are used to reinforce the idea of anger.
The word fear, by contrast, appears only once in describing Woodward, and then only as part of the phrase "fearful but enraged." Given that many of the eyewitnesses experienced Woodward as fearful, while only Michael Italia recalls him as angry -- and then only in his March interviews -- it appears that the report is intended to substitute anger for fear as Woodward's dominant emotion. The purposes served by this deception are discussed at the end of this section, following a description of some of the methods used to advance the anger and psychosis theme.
Sorrell's findings advance dubious characterizations of Woodward's mental state couched in terms of a medical diagnosis. The SUMMARY FINDINGS describe Woodward as, "Manifesting signs of experiencing an extreme psychotic episode ..." and the DETAILED FINDINGS OF FACT state: "Mental health professionals in the congregation described him as being in a highly psychotic state." In fact, neither the phrase "extreme psychotic episode" nor "highly psychotic state" are used by any of said professionals. Nor do any use any two words from either phrase in combination of either their statements or interviews. The use of these clinical-sounding phrases in the Attorney General's findings implies that there was a clinical diagnosis when in fact there was none, only speculations by eyewitnesses based on a brief period of observation.
An examination of Woodward's history reveals he had no history of mental illness or delusional thinking. He was not under treatment from any mental health professional either in the church or outside of it.
Since no one knows whether Woodward's claims of government threats and harassment are true, no one is qualified to definitively assign such words as "paranoid" and "delusional" to his statements. And since terror in response to a real threat can mirror very closely the symptoms of mental illness, a diagnosis of psychosis is not substantiated. Any assessment of his mental state would consist of mere speculation which, while interesting, certainly carries no weight in the justification of a shooting.
The medically and legally insignificant characterization of Woodward's mental state advanced in the findings is reinforced by the enumeration of a laundry list of adjectives culled from the eyewitness evidence including, "ranting and raving," "upset," "hyper," "psychotic," "deranged," "insane," "rambling incoherently," "delusional," "clearly psychotic," "obviously paranoid," "psychotic break," and "genuinely deranged." One can only wish the Attorney General was so thorough in exploring issues with direct bearing on the shooting.
The report misrepresents the content and delivery of Woodward's speech to serve the anger and psychosis theme. Of the many written messages Woodward distributed to the congregation on the backs of checks, the report included only two, apparently chosen for their incoherent-sounding quality. "I love you all" and "Please have my pers'nn statemet (Sic) read from the pulpit of every Unitarian church." Not mentioned are any of the several checks that urge specific programs of environmental activism, such as creating car-share co-ops, or the ones that state he had received threats and sought sanctuary.
The report states, "He spoke to the congregation, sometimes while shouting", even though none of the witnesses describe Woodward as shouting until the police arrived. The report describes sounds of him "screaming 'political assassination'" captured on the answering machine message tape, when a more accurate description would be yelling. It states he can be heard to say "murder" on the tape, when those of us who have listened to the tape over 50 times cannot hear it.
Notably absent from the report is Woodward's use of the word witness, which many recall him using when urging people not to leave. This word is key to understanding his self-threats. The report explains he threatened himself to persuade people not to leave, but omits the reason he did not want them to leave -- He urgently needed people to stay as witnesses for him.
But these specific complaints about inaccuracies in the portrayal of his speech do not convey the overall distortion one senses when comparing accounts of what Woodward said contained in the eyewitness statements to those contained in the report. Lost in the report are the care he took in identifying and describing himself, the urgency of his sanctuary plea, and the reasons he wanted his witnesses not to leave.
The report misrepresents specific interactions between Woodward and parishioners in order to make him appear unreasonable. An example is an interaction with Jane Worley. The report 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. His emotional state continued to be very agitated and unstable."There is nothing in the evidence to support the assertion she offered to listen to him if he put the knife away. The effect of this fabricated statement is to suggest he was tricked by the psychiatric nurse into putting the knife away, when in fact he complied with an unconditional request. It omits the words Worley remembers Woody using in making the apology, through which he explained his actions:
"he apologized for 'needing to take desperate action, but I feel justified because such drastic action has been taken against me.'"
A major purpose of the anger and psychosis theme is to obscure Woodward's motives for entering the church and threatening himself. It is used to render his plea for sanctuary and political asylum -- which was the context for his self-threats -- meaningless, and substitute for it anger and psychosis which the reader need not bother to try to understand. The only mention of his sanctuary request in the report is in the following passage from Finding 1:
"... highly psychotic state. He spoke to the congregation, sometimes while shouting, about a number of matters, including various government conspiracies, his concerns that he was going to be tortured and killed for his environmental activism and his need for sanctuary. He seemed to suggest that the CIA was involved in the deaths of certain famous people including George Harrison and Bob Marley."By surrounding the mention with descriptions of mental illness and nonsensical-sounding talk about conspiracies, it is made to appear just part of an incoherent stream of babble. The report dishonestly mentions Bob Marley in this context where no eyewitness recalled such talk before the shooting.
His use of the phrase political asylum and the word witness is purged from the report. By disposing of the sanctuary request early on, then harping on the anger and psychosis theme, the report effectively dissociates his stated motives from his actions described later in the report. Thus his refusal to comply with the requests of church officials to move to a different room, and his self threats, are made to appear irrational rather than part of a strategy of self-protection.
The suicide theme is less dominant than the threat and psychosis themes, but works in concert with them, serving some of the same goals. It makes Woodward's alleged charge toward the officers seem more plausible, and makes his death seem inevitable. It is advanced through two methods, the concealment his sanctuary plea as the basis of his self- threats, and the presentation of his alleged confession.
The first page of the report prominently features the following quote attributed to Woodward, variants of which were recounted by several of the rescue workers who arrived after the shooting:
"Please tell the officer I assaulted that I did not want to hurt him. I would not have harmed him. I just wanted him to shoot me."Setting aside the propriety of an Attorney General beginning an official report with an alleged statement of the victim of a police killing, probably in a state of delirium due to profound trauma and blood loss, we consider the significance of the statement.
None of the three police officers involved in the shooting reported that they heard Woodward say the words "assault" or "apologize". The only similar statement reported by an officer is that Marshall Holbrook says he heard Woodward say he "'didn't intend to hurt the officer' but 'wanted us to kill him'." Parker, Davies and Holbrook all wrote statements on December 2, the day of the shooting, and were interviewed the following day. The word "assault" does not appear in any of their accounts of Woodward's verbalizations.
It is disquieting that the longer after December 2 an official's statement was taken, the more likely the word "assault" is to appear in their recollection of Woodward's last words. Considering how unlikely it seems that a civilian in Woodward's medical condition would use such a word, considering that none of the civilian witnesses heard the word, and considering how helpful it would be to the shooters if a confession of "assault" could be attributed to Woodward, this would seem to merit particular scrutiny.
In a study of the EMT and other officials' reports, the congruity with which all the attending personnel recall Woodward's apologies is quite striking, as is how prominently these alleged utterances figure in their recollection of the events. In fact, the Brattleboro officials' reports are so emphatic in their repetition of Woodward's apologies that their descriptions of the care they administered seem to get lost in the retelling. The accounts contain very little detail about the measures taken to preserve Woodward's life, with much greater attention given to repeating these alleged apologies.
How much weight can be given to these apologies in seeking to evaluate the conduct of the officers, given there is serious doubt as to whether Woodward was in his right mind when he allegedly uttered these admissions of guilt? To wit: Nurse Jane Worley states that she estimated that Woodward was "in shock." EMT Brian Patno recalls, "I'm not an expert at it, but he was not in his right mind at the time." Regardless of Woodward's state of mind after the shooting, any statements made while in custody were made without having been read his Miranda rights.
The report is purged of any mention of evidence that portrays the actions of the officers in a less than favorable light. Following are some examples.
The report hides the failure of the officers to assess the scene and develop a plan based on the conditions they observed upon arriving. It states: "Holbrook also stated that on the way in he heard a comment to the effect of 'there is only one officer, I hope there are more coming.'" It omits Parker's recollection of a woman he passed on entering the building as saying, "please be gentle, he seems like a sick man."
Nor does the report relate impressions of all three officers recalled about the surprising calm they observed upon arrival at the scene, as described in the Narrative of Events. Also missing is Holbrook's account of being unable to guess which of the two men at the front of the sanctuary was Woodward.
The DETAILED FINDINGS OF FACT describe Parker as, "repeatedly requested [Woodward] to put down the knife". Elsewhere the communication is also described as a request. In fact, as documented in the Narrative of Events virtually all eyewitnesses recall the communication by Parker as an order rather than a request, and several recalled him shouting the words, which most remember as "drop the knife". The report cites an atypical sampling of witness recollections of the tone Parker used to "address" Woodward -- "calm, professional manner," "not shouting," "very calm," "direct voice," and "shouted" -- without noting that none recalled the communication as a request.
The DETAILED FINDINGS OF FACT state that Woodward "made a forward motion in the direction of Parker, with the knife still in his hand. Officer Parker fired the first shot, which struck Woodward..." without stating whether that forward motion was with his body mass or merely a body part. If the forward motion was with the hand not holding the knife, waving the officers away in a defensive posture, then the finding is consistent with the body of eyewitness statements.
Although the report is carefully worded to avoid stating unsupported findings of fact on this issue, it is clearly crafted to lead the reader to believe that Woodward began to advance toward the officers before the shooting started. This is accomplished by a variety of means including:
There is also considerable evidence that Sorrell misrepresents what he knows about the final moments of the shooting. The DETAILED FINDINGS OF FACT state: "After the last shot was fired, Mr. Woodward fell..." However, even with the limited evidence at our disposal we are able to make a compelling case that Woodward received the final fusillade of bullets as he lay on the floor, as discussed in Final Shots. Given his access to the forensic evidence not yet released, the Attorney General almost certainly has the means to definitively resolve the question of whether this was the case. The facts that he has continued to suppress that evidence, and that the report nowhere discloses the basis for its finding that Woodward fell after the last shot, strongly suggest that he is concealing what he knows to be the case about the final shots.
In keeping with its motif of omitting any facts that might reflect badly on the police, the report fails to mention disturbing evidence about interference in the delivery of medical care to the victim. The DETAILED FINDINGS OF FACT state:
"The Officers pried the knife from his hands and handcuffed him. The handcuffs were removed when requested by rescue personnel." "Medical assistance was rendered promptly, first by those present, then by Brattleboro Rescue,"It does not mention eyewitness Clifton Johnson's recollection of physician Phyllis Woodring asking the officers not to handcuff Woodward, nor Woodring's account of her repeatedly refused requests to the officers' that they remove the handcuffs so she could access his wounds. There is reason to believe that Woodward may have lived had not the officers handcuffed him then refused to remove the handcuffs, based on the totality of the following observations.
First, we know that Woodward was bleeding heavily from accounts of eyewitnesses recollections about the rug becoming saturated with blood shortly after the shooting. Second, we believe the abdominal wound was probably the cause of death. Third, we know that Phyllis could not access the abdominal wound to stop the blood loss from it until the handcuffs had been removed and Woodward was rolled onto his back. Fourth, Shawn Hammond's statement indicates that EMTs were able to control the bleeding after Woodward was rolled over. Finally, Hammond's account of the series of actions he performed before witnessing Brian Patno discussing the removal of handcuffs with an officer, described in the Narrative of Events, indicates Woodward continued to bleed uncontrollably for a considerable amount of time, perhaps more than 10 minutes.
There were 18 eyewitnesses present in the sanctuary at the time of Woodward's shooting. Each of them gave statements about what they saw, the great majority on the same day, and a small number the following day. There is a wealth of information in these statements. Taken in total, they present a starkly different account of the shooting than that of the police officers. But Sorrell's report aggressively attempts to reduce these powerful testimonials down to a useless heap of "DIFFERING RECOLLECTIONS."
The report's DIFFERING WITNESS RECOLLECTIONS section opens with a quote reading "The mind picks up some things and shuts off others." The unattributed statement was taken from the testimony of one of the most elderly witnesses. The attack on witness credibility continues by emphasizing the fallibility of memories and their susceptibility to contamination by the recollections of others, failing to mention that witnesses deliberately avoided discussing the incident before completing their statements.
The report cherry-picks some of the most unrepresentative and discrepant statements from the extensive body of eyewitness evidence and presents them as representative in order to conceal the agreement that characterizes the evidence as a whole. Noting that "even deeply held beliefs as to what happened can turn out to be wrong," the report exhibits the outlandish misperceptions that the officers picked up and moved Woodward's fallen body, and that seven minutes passed in between the first and last shot, to suggest that eyewitness perceptions simply cannot be trusted.
On May 30, 2002, Mr. Sorrell was the guest of a radio call-in show on Vermont Public Radio, whose topics included the shooting. When confronted by a member of Justice for Woody regarding the lack of corroboration by eyewitnesses for the officers' claim of a charge before the first shot, Sorrell replied:
"This was a very traumatic incident - it happened quickly and ... the mind ... can play tricks. Uh, and that happened here."
The report alleges that its process of evaluating eyewitness accounts involved more than just the wholesale dismissal due to the fallibility of perception and memory described above, stating that not all the witnesses were looking at, or had a clear line of sight to Woodward. But it gives no indication of which witnesses were found to have full, partial, or blocked views, except in the case of Michael Italia. In fact the report disregards the accounts of eyewitness who apparently did have unobstructed views without disclosing that fact.
Of particular note are the techniques the report uses to discredit the following troublesome sentence in Tommy Thomas' written statement: "Although there might have been six shots, some after Woodward fell." The report positions the quote immediately after a confused-sounding account by an elderly woman that the police had forced Woodward to the floor before shooting him. Then it immediately follows Thomas' statement with a paragraph about differences in recollections being explainable due to different vantage points, not mentioning that Thomas was standing on an elevated ramp in the right rear of the room, focusing on the action throughout the course of the shooting.
The report effectively hides the consensus views of the eyewitnesses about the central facts of the incident, such as that Woodward did not threaten the police. Since the report disregards the testimony of most of the eyewitnesses with the generic justification that many looked away or had partially blocked views, let us examine the statements of only those witnesses who were looking at Woodward at the moment of the first shot, and whose statements indicate they did not have any obstruction to their view. There are six such witnesses. A detailed accounting of the manner in which they stated that their view was focused on Woodward and unobstructed, can be found in the Narrative of Events.
"There was no threatening done. I mean, he did not threaten anybody except himself. I didn't see him point [the knife] at any time except to his own eye."Jane Worley:
"I didn't see him move toward anybody else. Like I said, the knife got closer to his right eye ... He made no threats to the officers. He made no threats to anyone else."Adelbert Ames:
"Not that I saw, I would have remembered, I think, if he had turned in any aggressive way, and threatened them."Tommy Thomas:
"I would not say that he threatened them. He was always threatening himself, threatening to harm himself. He wasn't coming at them with the knife like this. The knife was always pointed toward himself."Polly Wilson:
"At the time of the first shot, he was standing to the left hand side of the lectern. At the time of the first shot he had a knife towards his own eye. He looked defensive, not offensive, if you know what I mean by that difference."Sheri Manning: (when asked what caused the officers to shoot.)
"You got me. I think it was the fear factor. I don't know how they were trained. I don't know."
There were four additional witnesses who did have some view of Woodward during that period, and no matter how closely they were questioned, they did not corroborate the Officers' account of a "charge" prior to the first shot. That makes ten witnesses in total who can claim either a full or a partial view of Woodward at the moment of the first shot, and none saw him run forward. The witnesses agree on this point, yet the report has dismissed their statements based on the idea that
"People tend to take particular note of different things."
Interestingly, the officers' own accounts are not entirely consistent. Officer Parker states the Woodward "ran" at him for a total of approximately twenty feet prior to the first shot. Holbrook recalls a "lunge" of perhaps six feet. Parker does not state at any point that he instructed Woodward to drop the knife, but Holbrook says he heard Parker do so. Parker states he did not say anything after Woodward began his alleged charge, but "just shot", however, Holbrook recalls that Parker "yelled stop." Both of these statements are inconsistent not only with the total eyewitness body of statements, but with each other. Yet the report portrays them as being in complete agreement, and does not suggest that their recollections were subject to any of the many fallibilities attributed to the recollections of the eyewitnesses.
Officer Davies explained that he did not fire his weapon because "there were other people that were in front of me - there was not a direct line of fire." But at no time during his interview was he asked if his view of the proceedings was impaired by these other people standing in the way, nor does the report consider obstructions to his view. His statement corroborating the other officers' account of the "charge" is admitted without question. The report exhibits a clear double standard between the treatment of the accounts of the officers and those of the eyewitnesses.
The report features four eyewitnesses whom it quotes and paraphrases to "partially corroborate" the police account of the shooting: Donna Payne, Janis Chaillou, Jane Worley, and Michael Italia. In almost all cases, the report presents statements or paraphrases from the March interviews, and avoids quoting their December interviews. We will examine statements from all four witnesses relating Woodward's gestures with the knife, and from the two witnesses who addressed Woodward's movements prior to the first shot. Statements on these topics taken from the report are contrasted with statements in their December interviews not included in the report.
Woodward Shooting Report:
"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.'"December third interview:
".. 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."Woodward Shooting Report:
"as recalling Woody making 'some movement with the knife other than at himself'"December third interview:
"OK, just before he was shot he had the knife ..." "Up, definitely." "Towards his head?" "Yup ... yup."
Woodward Shooting Report:
"Chaillou said she did see Woodward make a horizontal swinging gesture with the knife pointed toward the officers but could not be completely sure whether it was before or after the first shot."December second interview:
"After the first gunshot I saw his arm swung around. There were several additional shots fired." "He took the blade and made a gesture towards the officers? He walked toward them or moved toward them?" "I'll be honest with you. I believe it was after the first gunshot."
Woodward Shooting Report:
"Woodward was holding the knife in such a manner that the blade was pointed out, and his hand was definitely not up near his eye at the time of the first shot."December second interview:
"But right after that the gun was out and then came forth the other order, 'drop the knife' and then the shooting ensued." "Woodward said No I'm not going to, though?" "The one time. And he wasn't pointing the knife at anyone else. It was only at his eye."
Woodward Shooting Report:
"Woodward came around the podium towards the police officers before the first shot. Italia recalled that it 'almost seemed like he [Woodward] was taunting the police, fearful but enraged.'"December second interview:
"The only act of aggression that I could see the last time I had repeating line, direct line of sight with him with the knife that it was held up toward himself."Woodward Shooting Report:
"given Woodward's level of anger and psychosis ('his intense absorption with his delusions was striking') his movement towards the police with the knife prior to the first shot could reasonably have been construed by the officers as threatening."December second interview:
"Did you ever see him point the knife at the Officers?" "No." "Did you ever see him point the knife at you or other members of the congregation?" "No."
Given the above analysis, consider the following claims the report makes about the standards it used in evaluating the evidence. "When possible, we put emphasis on photographs and other forensic evidence obtained at the scene." "We gave particular weight to statements made just after the shooting, certainly within 24 hours of its occurrence." "In other respects, we paid extra attention to statements that uniformly seemed most consistent with the weight of the accounts of the other eyewitnesses." In each case, the report claims to use a standard which it does not appear to employ. The report claims to put emphasis on forensic evidence without presenting it, give particular weight to statements close to the shooting without using them, and pay extra attention to the consistent body of statements while concealing it.
The principal conclusions of the report appear to be designed not only to exonerate the officers but preempt criticism of official actions which might point out the need for reforms such as improvements in police training. Our analysis using only the limited evidence that the Attorney General's office has released, supplemented by our limited investigative efforts, shows that none of the key conclusions of the report are justified in light of this evidence. Summary descriptions of those conclusions are listed here with references to the portions of this analysis that address them.
The characterizations of Woodward's mental state and church-members' reactions takes up the majority of the report. The speciousness and irrelevance of these themes to the justification for the shooting is treated in the MISREPRESENTATIONS OF WOODWARD'S ACTIONS AND INTENTIONS section of this analysis.
The description of Officer Parker's instruction to Woodward to drop the knife as a request in the DETAILED FINDINGS OF FACT suggests negotiation. Eyewitness evidence to the contrary is summarized in the MISREPRESENTATION OF POLICE ACTIONS section of this analysis and the ONE MINUTE FROM POLICE ENTRANCE TO THE FIRST SHOT section of the Narrative of Events.
The finding that Woodward made a forward motion before the shooting began is difficult to evaluate given its vagueness. If the motion was merely the motion of his hand not holding the knife, then it would at least be consistent with the body of eyewitness evidence. If it were an advance as described in the SUMMARY FINDINGS, then it would contradict much of the evidence described in the MISREPRESENTATION OF EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS section and in the WOODWARD'S KNIFE WAS POINTED AT HIMSELF IN THE MOMENT BEFORE THE SHOOTING section of the Narrative of Events.
The finding that Woodward received all of the shots before he fell is advanced without any evidentiary support. The Final Shots part of this analysis addresses the problems with this claim.
The finding that Woodward received prompt medical attention implies that his medical care was not interfered with by the police. Evidence to the contrary is briefly addressed in the Medical Assistance subsection of the MISRREPRESENTATION OF POLICE ACTIONS section and in the WOODWARD WAS HANDCUFFED WHILE HE BLED section of the Narrative of Events.
The eyewitness statements form a consistent account of events which are contradicted only by police claims. What few eyewitness statements differ from the consensus account are carefully culled by Attorney General Sorrell from interviews of witnesses whose accounts otherwise match the consensus view of events.
Close inspection reveals Sorrell's report to be a carefully constructed facade resting on the foundation of the officers' accounts, buttressed by those carefully culled statements. Through a brilliantly crafted deception, The Attorney General of Vermont makes a mockery of his responsibility to seek the truth in this matter. By misdirecting public resources in an attempt to short-circuit the justice system, Sorrell attempts to shield himself and the officers from accountability.