BRATTLEBORO -- With their own report on the December shooting death of Robert "Woody" Woodward, released Tuesday, the Justice for Woody organization basically refuted the attorney general's report on the incident.
"We hope to do what Attorney General William Sorrel should have done, which is detail the shooting," said Paul Borneo, one of the members of the panel of the group that released the report. "Our goal is to expose the attorney general's deception, because it was a travesty how far the attorney general went to protect these officers."
Woodward, 37, had come to the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church seeking sanctuary on Dec. 2, 2001, when he was shot seven times by Brattleboro Police Officers Terrance Parker and Marshall Holbrook. Woodward died from his injuries, and on April 2, Sorrell released a report saying the shooting was justified.
However, the report issued by Justice for Woody disagrees. "This report is a direct result of the group's investigation and analysis, and was sorrowfully written by many of Woody's close friends," the report states. "It is an attempt to portray the incident in light of the actual evidence as well as expose the apparent attempt by the Vermont Attorney General to conceal the evidence of an unjust police shooting."
Though the members of the panel were made of up Woodward's friends, and Borneo admitted that they might have a slight bias, not all of those present at Tuesday's press conference and supportive of the panel's report were.
"I was not a friend of Woody's, I was a witness to the shooting," said Polly Wilson. "I feel that it was excessive force that was used against Woody on that day. I have benefited from knowing Woody's friends and family members, but I would hope I would be here for anyone who was attacked in this manner."
Borneo and Justice for Woody member Stephen Monroe Tomczak maintained that the members of the panel being Woodward's friends did not interfere with the report.
"They approached this in a fair and objective manner," said Tomczak. "This analysis, I assure you, is considerably less biased than the one produced by the attorney general and the police."
The members of the panel who composed the report relied upon statements by witnesses, police and rescue personnel, and 9-1-1 transcripts.
One of the main areas where the Justice for Woody report differs from Sorrell's report is in the final shots fired by police officers. Sorell's report states that Woodward fell after the last shot. However, the Justice for Woody report cites witnesses, such as Tommy Thomas, who said that Woodward was shot after he fell on the ground. In addition, the Justice for Woody report cites a statement by physician Phyllis Woodring, who said she saw one bullet in Woodward's left side, just under the skin, with no exit wound.
"Such a wound must be unusual, since a bullet would have to lose it's kinetic energy just as it emerged from the body cavity in order to be stopped by the skin," the report states. "But if his left side was lying on the carpet when the bullet hit him, the carpet could have absorbed the bullet's remaining energy while stretching, but not breaking, the skin. This evidence alone provides a troubling indication that Woodward was shot from above as he lay on the floor, confirming the observations of eye witnesses."
The Justice for Woody report also called into question the methods used to compile Sorrell's report. "The report blatantly ignores the substantial portions of the evidence which do not support a simple exoneration," the Justice for Woody report states. "The eye witness 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."
In particular, the members of the panel emphasized that statements were taken in December and March, but the March statements were not recorded or transcribed, even though Sorrell's report relied heavily upon them.
"So the Attorney General went out fishing to find something to put in his report, because none of the December statements supported him," said Borneo.
Sorrell said Tuesday afternoon that he had not seen the group's report. "In our report, we clearly had a section on different witness recollections and I think we hit that issue on the head," he added. "We tried to accommodate the inconsistencies as much as possible, but it was impossible to do. So if the group that put out this report wishes to focus or emphasize other comments or statements made, that's entirely their right. We stand by our report."
The Justice for Woody report also indicates that Holbrook, Parker and Brattleboro Police Officer William Davies Jr., who also responded to the call, all filled out their reports in the same room, with then-acting Chief John Martin telling them not to discuss the incident before leaving.
When asked what was the most important thing uncovered in their report, members of Justice for Woody had different responses. For Borneo, it was that "Woody was shot while lying on the floor," while for Monroe Tomczak, the most significant thing was discrepancies between the stories told by police and the EMTs and the other witnesses.
There were a number of people at Tuesday's conference, including Michael Badamo, Progressive Party candidate for governor.
"I'm here to offer moral support for these people," he said. "In December, I wrote on this and called it murder, and that might have been a rush to judgment. After Attorney General Sorrell issued his opinion, I called it a whitewash, and I don't think that was a rush to judgment."
Dennis Lee of Boston voiced similar comments. "It's everybody's general opinion that this was a whitewash, and yet we can't do anything about it," he said.
One effect the members of Justice for Woody hope the report has is to raise awareness about the issue and affect changes in police policy and procedures, in order to avoid similar incidents in the future.
"We have to do something," said Wilson. "We can't sweep things under the rug and say it's not important, because it is important."