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State Police Officer Justified In Use Of Deadly Force

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

May 7, 2012

Attorney General William H. Sorrell and Addison County State’s Attorney David R. Fenster announced today that they have completed independent separate reviews of a police-shooting incident that occurred on November 17, 2011, in Salisbury, Vermont. Both offices have concluded, as a matter of law, that Vermont State Police Trooper Lewis Hatch was legally justified in the use of deadly force when he discharged his firearm at Gerald Woodburn. 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 took place during the early morning hours on November 17, 2011, shortly before 1:00 a.m. in Salisbury, Vermont. Trooper Hatch had been dispatched along with Trooper Kaitlyn Armstrong, both from the New Haven barracks, to respond to a 911 call made by a woman living on Lake Dunmore Road, who had reported that Gerald Woodburn, who was living with her at the time, had left their residence with a gun, and was looking for another individual she had started dating, to cause him harm.

According to the facts uncovered during the investigation, by the time Troopers Hatch and Armstrong arrived at the woman’s residence, Gerald Woodburn had already returned and was in the apartment with the woman. The apartment door was partly open, and also contained a glass window on top allowing the troopers to see in to a hallway. The officers observed the woman and Woodburn standing next to each other in the hallway. The officers announced their presence and entered the hallway. They were about 6 feet from the woman and Woodburn, who were standing very close together. It appeared to the troopers that Woodburn had the woman pinned against the wall, and had his left hand hidden behind her right arm. The troopers attempted to speak to the woman and Woodburn separately, but Woodburn declined. The woman then mouthed the word “gun” to Trooper Armstrong, who in turn alerted Trooper Hatch.

Troopers Hatch and Armstrong unholstered and drew their weapons, while repeatedly commanding Woodburn to show his hands. Woodburn did not comply. Woodburn then moved slightly away from the woman, and the officers saw that he was holding a gun in his left hand. Woodburn quickly raised the gun up in a swinging arc pointing it first at Trooper Armstrong and then at Trooper Hatch. Both troopers feared for their lives and the life of the woman. Trooper Hatch fired one shot from his .40 caliber handgun, injuring Woodburn in the arm and lower torso. The shot was not fatal, and Woodburn retreated back down the hallway toward the kitchen area.

Trooper Armstrong told the woman to go into a bedroom adjacent to the hallway for her safety. Woodburn pointed his gun towards his own head, and then backed into the kitchen out of sight. As Troopers Armstrong and Hatch were backing out of the hallway, Woodburn fired a shot in their direction, traveling from the kitchen through a wall into the hallway before lodging in a metal door a few feet from Trooper Hatch. Troopers Hatch and Armstrong left the apartment and called for back-up. However, before other officers arrived, the woman came out of the house and said that Woodburn was dead. She also later told police that Woodburn had threatened to kill himself if she started dating someone else.

An autopsy concluded that the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head, and listed the manner of death as a suicide. Firearms analysis at the Vermont Forensic Laboratory concluded that a bullet jacket removed from Woodburn’s head at autopsy was fired by Woodburn’s 9mm gun. Additionally, two apparent suicide notes by Woodburn were found on a coffee table in the living room of the apartment.

Under the facts of this case, Trooper Hatch was reasonable in his belief that he was in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury when he fired at Gerald Woodburn who was pointing a gun at him. Given the serious threat, Trooper Hatch’s response of using deadly force was reasonable and justified.

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