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Police Criticized In Woodward Killing
September 25, 2002
By GARY LIBOW, Courant Staff Writer

A citizens' group has concluded that Brattleboro, Vt., police used excessive force when they shot and killed Robert Woodward, a former Bozrah resident who sought sanctuary in a local church.

The "Justice for Woody" group, which includes friends of Woodward, Tuesday unveiled the findings of its six-month investigation into the Dec. 2 shooting.

The citizens' group says Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell's report - exonerating Brattleboro Police Officers Marshall Holbrook and Terrance Parker - is seriously flawed.

The two police officers, who shot Woodward seven times inside All Souls Unitarian Church in West Brattleboro, responded to a 911 report of a man with a knife.

An agitated Woodward, a slight man whom friends described as very peaceful, disrupted a church service. Many witnesses did not consider him a threat to congregants.

In April, Sorrell called Woodward's death tragic but legally justified because the officers could reasonably believe they were in imminent danger of death or serious injury.

"Justice for Woody" said forensic evidence and witness testimony raised a number of serious questions about the actions of the officers, the reactions of law enforcement and Sorrell's findings.

In July, at the direction of the U.S. Justice Department, the FBI was called in to investigate whether Woodward's civil rights were violated. The FBI has not concluded its probe.

"Justice for Woody" says police dispatchers relayed faulty information to the officers that Woodward was threatening the congregation with a knife.

The organization said the officers failed to properly assess the situation and calmly negotiate with Woodward, who weighed 140 pounds and was holding what witnesses described as a small knife. They also concluded police should have had at their disposal means of nonlethal restraint, such as stun guns or rubber bullets.

"Justice for Woody" questioned why the officers continued to fire shots in Woodward after he collapsed on the floor, why he was handcuffed after the shooting and why an ambulance didn't transport the wounded man to a hospital promptly.

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