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Brattleboro Police Officer Justified In Use Of Deadly Force

CONTACT: Cindy Maguire, Assistant Attorney General, (802) 828-5512

February 18, 2011

Attorney General William Sorrell announced today that his office has completed an independent review of the police-shooting incident that occurred on September 28, 2010, in Brattleboro, Vermont. After this review, the Attorney General’s Office concluded that Brattleboro Police Officer Amy Hamilton was legally justified in the use of deadly force when she shot at Brendan Houston. As a result of the shooting Houston received a non-life-threatening injury. The legal standard for the use of deadly force is whether the officer reasonably believed that she or a third party was in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury, and that deadly force was necessary to respond to that threat.

According to the investigation conducted by the Vermont State Police, the incident started when Officer Hamilton responded to a 911 call stating that a male subject, later identified as Brendan Houston, had eloped from a nearby mental health facility carrying a large knife and was headed towards downtown Brattleboro. Hamilton was the first officer to encounter Houston near the parking lot for the Brattleboro municipal buildings. According to the police investigation when Hamilton arrived, she ordered Houston to drop his knife and get down on the ground. Houston did not comply and instead raised the knife over his head, started making a stabbing motion, advanced towards Hamilton, and verbally threatened to kill her. Hamilton continued to order Houston to put down the knife and warned him that she would deploy her Taser if he did not comply. Houston did not comply, continued to advance, and Officer Hamilton deployed her Taser which did not make clean contact with Houston. Houston pulled the Taser prongs out and continued to advance towards Officer Hamilton. Hamilton then drew her hand gun and again ordered Houston to put down the knife. Houston did not comply and continued to advance towards Hamilton with the knife over his head. In response, Hamilton fired one round hitting Houston in his left hand.

At some point during the encounter with Houston, Officer John Frechette arrived on scene. Despite being shot by Officer Hamilton, Houston continued to hold on to the knife. Officer Frechette ordered Houston to put down the knife and when he refused to comply Officer Frechette successfully deployed his Taser. Houston was then restrained and transported to the hospital where he received medical treatment.

Under the facts of this case, the Attorney General’s Office has concluded that Officer Hamilton was reasonable in her belief that she was in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury when she fired at Brendan Houston who was threatening to kill her with a large knife. Given the seriousness of the threat, Officer Hamilton’s response of using deadly force was reasonable and justified.

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