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State Police Officer Justified in use of Deadly Force
CONTACT: Matthew I. Levine, Assistant Attorney General, (802) 828-5512, Lisa A. Warren, Caledonia County State’s Attorney, 802-748-6657, ,
May 22, 2013
Caledonia County State’s Attorney Lisa A. Warren and Vermont Attorney General William H. Sorrell announced today that they have completed independent separate reviews of a police-shooting incident that occurred on September 18, 2012, in Danville, Vermont. Both offices have concluded, as a matter of law, that Vermont State Police Sgt. Brian May was legally justified in the use of deadly force when he discharged his firearm at William Mahoney, a resident of St. Johnsbury. 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 at about 9:45 p.m. on September 18, 2012, when police were notified of a one car accident on Route 2 in Danville. VSP Tpr. Seth Loomis was dispatched to the scene, where he met with a volunteer firefighter who called in the crash. The firefighter indicated that there was no one at the scene when he first got there. Tpr. Loomis observed that there was significant damage to the car and that the airbags had deployed. He also noted that there was a partially empty beer can in the center console, and a BB gun on the rear seat. While at the scene Tpr. Loomis received information from dispatch that the operator of the vehicle was believed to be William Mahoney, that he had been violent in the past, and may have a knife. Trooper Loomis also learned that the owner of the vehicle was unaware that it was involved in a crash, and that the vehicle had been taken without the owner’s permission.
At about 9:59 p.m., police were notified of a break-in at a residence on Route 2 in Danville, across the road, and very close to the site of the motor vehicle accident. The homeowners reported that they were asleep when they were awakened by loud banging, and then the sound of glass breaking. One of the homeowners, possessing a gun, then confronted the male intruder inside the residence. The intruder, who was described as a white male wearing a dark navy blue windbreaker, then fled the scene. This information was passed on to Tpr. Loomis as well as Tpr. Sean Brennan, who was also dispatched to assist.
A short time later, a volunteer firefighter who was still at the motor vehicle accident scene reported to VSP that an unknown male was broadcasting over the town radio frequency. The firefighter told police that the individual had said he “had a .45 to his head” and was making suicidal comments. The male also said that he “could see them, but they couldn’t see him,” indicating that he was likely somewhere near the area of the accident scene. Based on this information Tpr. Loomis, Tpr. Brennan, and Sgt. May began checking various possible locations from which these radio transmissions could be made. As the search continued, the unknown male kept talking, and made several comments indicating that he was armed with a gun, a knife, was going to slit his wrist, and “was not going alone,” and would “take someone with him.”
The male, later confirmed to be William Mahoney, was eventually located by Sgt. May and Tprs. Loomis and Brennan, hiding on a school bus in the parking lot of the Danville School. Sgt. May announced his presence, entered the bus and tried to engage Mahoney in conversation, while Tprs. Loomis and Brennan remained outside, looking in the windows on the side of the bus. Sgt. May noted that Mahoney was wearing a blue windbreaker and had a black holster strapped to his right hip, partially concealed by the windbreaker. Sgt. May yelled “let me see your hands” several times to Mahoney, who did not comply. Instead,
Mahoney made a quick motion sweeping his windbreaker back, moved his right hand as if reaching for the holster, and then quickly moved his left arm up shielding his right hand and the holster from view with the windbreaker. Tpr. Brennan also reported he saw this movement and the holster as he shined his flashlight on the suspect through the window. Sgt. May asked Mahoney if he had a gun, but could not understand Mahoney’s mumbled response. Mahoney then took a “bladed” stance (turning sideways to Sgt. May in the aisle of the bus), with his left side facing Sgt. May and his right side away from him. Mahoney then made a “drawing motion” with his right hand, as if he was drawing a weapon from the holster. Sgt. May shouted to Mahoney, “Don’t, don’t, don’t…,” multiple times, and also told Mahoney to “Put it down; we want to talk.” Again, Mahoney did not comply, and made an aggressive movement forward towards Sgt. May who, fearing he was about to be shot, fired 5 shots at Mahoney, hitting him once.
Mahoney was then taken into custody, an ambulance was called, and the police officers at the scene rendered first aid to Mahoney until the ambulance arrived. During this period, Mahoney told the officers he “just wanted to die.” Mahoney was transported first to Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital and later to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center for further treatment. He was eventually released into police custody.
No gun was found on Mahoney at the scene, however the holster he was wearing contained 3 silver CO2 canisters which matched the compressed air BB handgun found in the vehicle involved in the earlier accident.
Mahoney was subsequently charged with a number of criminal and motor vehicle offenses based on his conduct. He is being prosecuted by the Caledonia County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Under the facts of this case, the Caledonia County State’s Attorney and the Vermont Attorney General’s Office concluded that Sgt. May was reasonable in his belief that he was in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury when he fired at William Mahoney, who appeared to be drawing a weapon from a holster, and was moving aggressively towards Sgt. May, despite repeated commands to stop. Given the apparent serious threat, Sgt. May’s response of using deadly force was reasonable and justified.
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