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Shelburne Officer Justified In Use Of Deadly Force

CONTACT: Matthew I. Levine, Assistant Attorney General, (802) 828-5512

July 23, 2009 - Attorney General William H. Sorrell announced today that his Office has completed its review of a police-shooting incident that occurred on February 13, 2009, in Shelburne, Vermont. The Office has concluded, as a matter of law, that Shelburne Police Officer Robert Barrows was legally justified in the use of deadly force when he discharged his firearm at a vehicle being driven by Kelley O’Brien. The legal standard for the use of deadly force is whether the officer reasonably believed that he 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 began on February 13, 2009, at about 6:30 p.m. when Officer Barrows was responding to a 911 call report of erratic operation. He encountered the suspect vehicle parked at a Jiffy Mart. Officer Barrows approached the vehicle and briefly spoke with the driver (later identified as Kelley O’Brien). Officer Barrows noted an odor of alcohol coming from the vehicle and other signs that the driver might be intoxicated. O’Brien then put the vehicle in reverse, turned, and accelerated backwards, striking Officer Barrows’ leg, and backed up narrowly missing a barrier protecting some gas pumps where vehicles were refueling. Officer Barrows continued to approach O’Brien’s car, and repeatedly ordered the driver to stop. O’Brien then put his car in a forward gear and drove right at Officer Barrows. Officer Barrows fired several shots at the driver of the vehicle, as the car approached him, hit him again as he tried to move out of the way, and the vehicle fled. Barrows then got in his cruiser and pursued the fleeing suspect vehicle. O’Brien hit another vehicle as he fled, and eventually stopped in a nearby parking lot, where he was apprehended by Officer Barrows and two other Shelburne PD officers who arrived to assist.

O’Brien was injured by one of the shots that Officer Barrows fired. He was taken to the Fletcher Allen hospital where he underwent surgery, which was successful. A blood sample was also taken to determine alcohol content, with a result above the legal limit. Officer Barrows also received injuries to an arm and a leg as a result of this incident.

O’Brien was subsequently charged by police with a number of motor vehicle and criminal offenses based on his conduct. He is being prosecuted by the Chittenden County State’s Attorneys Office.

Under the facts of this case, the Attorney General's Office has concluded that Officer Barrows had a reasonable belief that he was in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury at the time he fired at Kelley O’Brien who, after hitting him once going backwards, was driving a motor vehicle directly at him, despite commands to stop. Given the serious threat he faced, Officer Barrows’ response of using deadly force was reasonable and justified.

  Website consulting provided by The National Association of Attorneys General.