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State Police Officer Justified In Use Of Deadly Force

CONTACT: Matthew I. Levine, Assistant Attorney General, (802) 828-5517

February 4, 2010

Orleans County State’s Attorney Alan Franklin and Attorney General William Sorrell announced today that they have completed independent separate reviews of the police-shooting incident that occurred on August 2, 2010, in West Charleston, Vermont. Both offices have concluded, as a matter of law, that Vermont State Police Trooper Benjamin Shelp was legally justified in the use of deadly force when he discharged his firearm at a vehicle being driven by Donald Poulin, of West Charleston, Vermont. 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.

The incident began as Trooper Shelp was responding to a complaint that a male, later identified as Donald Poulin, had reportedly seriously damaged a vehicle owned by another individual with whom Poulin had a dispute. En route to the complainant’s residence, Trooper Shelp encountered what he believed to be the suspect vehicle, a jacked up truck with no back bed, running without headlights. The truck also had no brake lights or rear running lights on the frame. Shelp initiated pursuit, deploying his blue lights, and subsequently, his siren, but the truck failed to stop. A number of times during the pursuit, the truck would stop, reverse direction, and back up towards Shelp’s cruiser. Trooper Shelp would slow down and back off to avoid being hit. The truck would then reverse direction again and attempt to escape.

Trooper Shelp pursued the vehicle onto a Class IV road with difficult terrain, where the truck continued to operate in the same manner. At one point, on a particularly narrow, muddy and rutted part of the road, the operator appeared to be having difficulty trying to get the truck through. Shelp stopped his cruiser, opened the door and got out of his vehicle, yelling to the driver to stop and get out of the truck. The driver, later identified as Poulin, leaned out of the truck’s driver side window, looked back at Trooper Shelp, revved the engine, put the truck in reverse, and backed up towards Shelp’s cruiser. Shelp continued to yell to Poulin to stop, but the truck kept coming towards him. In response, Trooper Shelp drew his gun and fired multiple shots at the driver’s area of the truck trying to stop the threat. Shelp stopped firing when Poulin put the truck in a forward gear and drove off. Shelp was unable to continue the pursuit given the terrain. Poulin was not injured during the shooting and was arrested later in the day.

Poulin was subsequently charged by police with a number of criminal and motor vehicle offenses based on his conduct. He is being prosecuted by the Orleans County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Under the facts of this case, the Orleans County State’s Attorney and the Attorney General’s Office concluded that Trooper Shelp was reasonable in his belief that he was in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury when he fired at the vehicle being driven by Donald Poulin, after Poulin had continued to back his truck in the direction of the officer despite repeated requests to stop, and with no ready means of escape. Given the serious threat, Trooper Shelp’s response of using deadly force was reasonable and justified.

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