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State Police Officers Justified In Use Of Deadly Force
CONTACT: Matthew I. Levine, Assistant Attorney General, (802) 828-5517
August 27, 2008 - Orange County State's Attorney William Porter and Attorney General William Sorrell announced today that they have completed their separate reviews of a shooting incident involving two state police officers that occurred on April 22, 2008, in Bradford, Vermont. Both offices have concluded, as a matter of law, that Vermont State Police Officers Sgt. Michael Manley and Tpr. Hugh O’Donnell were legally justified in the use of deadly force against Darren Tufts, who died as a result of the shooting. The legal standard for the use of deadly force is whether the officers reasonably believed that they or a third party were in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury, and that deadly force was necessary to respond to that threat.
On April 22, 2008, Bradford Police Chief Gene Martin, assisted by members of the Vermont State Police, responded to a series of noise complaints at 1284 Lower Plain Rd. (Rte. 5) in Bradford. A neighbor had complained that Darren Tufts, D.O.B. 10/3/66, had been making loud noises, banging on the walls, and possibly firing gunshots in his apartment. During their first two visits to the scene, the officers were unable to make contact with Tufts, but did learn from his long-term girlfriend, that she had moved out because of his excessive drinking, that Tufts had several guns and a police scanner. Tufts’ girlfriend also told police, that although she had concerns that he might harm himself, she had just spoken to him on the phone so she knew that he was all right. On these first two visits, because the noise had stopped, and no crime had been committed, police left the scene.
At about 8:22 p.m., Chief Martin and several other VSP officers including, Sgt. Manley, and Tpr. Hugh O’Donnell, returned to the scene because the neighbor had called 911 to report hearing gunshots. Both the Tactical Support Unit (TSU) and Hostage Negotiation Unit (HNU) were also called to assist. While the building was being evacuated of other residents, police received additional information from Tuft’s girlfriend advising them that she had just recently spoken by phone with Tufts who said that if the police came he was either going to shoot them or himself.
Chief Martin then saw a man on the front porch, whom he believed to be Tufts, holding what looked like a scanner with an antenna in one hand. He called out to try to speak to Tufts, asking him if he was OK, but Tufts did not respond and turned and ran back down the porch and into his apartment. A few moments later, VSP Tpr. Dion who was near the back of the building, saw a male subject on the back porch, and radioed that information to the other officers. Sgt. Manley, followed by Sgt. O’Donnell, then ran around towards the back of the building to back up Tpr. Dion.
Manley and O’Donnell then noticed that the house was on fire. Given the urgent situation, Sgt. Manley decided he could not wait for the TSU team or the HNU to arrive, and yelled “State Police!” Tufts then stepped out of the porch onto a stone step holding an assault rifle at waist level pointed in the direction of officers. It was dark, with only moonlight in the area, but O’Donnell had a spot light on his rifle that he switched on. The officers could then clearly see Tufts holding the assault rifle pointed at them. O’Donnell then saw Tufts take a step off the stone step on to the grass in the direction of the officers, still with the weapon pointed at them.
Fearing he was about to be shot, O’Donnell fired first, hitting Tufts who fell to his knees. The rifle fell next to Tufts. Tufts then made a twisting movement and reached to his side with one arm. It appeared to Manley that Tufts was reaching down to pick up the rifle. However, O’Donnell saw Tufts pulling out a handgun. Both Manley and O’Donnell then fired additional shots. Tufts was hit again and fell on his back, facing up. Fire and rescue were immediately called, but Tufts died at the scene as a result of his wounds.
Two weapons were collected from Tufts: an SKS NR 7.62x39 mm assault rifle, and a Cobray double barrel .45 caliber pistol. Both guns were found to be unloaded. However, subsequent test firing of Tufts’ SKS rifle at the Vermont Forensic Laboratory, and comparison of the test casings to 7 shell casings found by police in the backyard area, showed that those 7 casings had been fired from Tufts’ rifle at some time.
Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Steven L. Shapiro, performed an autopsy on April 23, 2008. Dr. Shapiro reported a total of 10 gunshot wounds and concluded that the cause of death was “gunshot wounds of torso,” with gunshot wounds of the extremities being a contributing factor. Toxicology results showed Mr. Tufts had Cannabinoids and THC in his blood (which would be consistent with his having consumed marijuana) and .22% ethanol in his urine (consistent with his having consumed alcohol). Toxicology results also revealed a significant amount of Venlafaxine (an anti-depressant) in Tufts’ blood. According to Dr. Shapiro the amount of Venlafaxine in Mr. Tuft’s blood was approximately 10 times the therapeutic dose, and was enough that it could have caused his death (had he not been killed by the gunshot wounds). The amount taken would be consistent with Mr. Tufts’ reportedly suicidal state of mind on the day of the shooting.
Under the facts of this case, Orange County State's Attorney William Porter and the Attorney General's Office have concluded that Tpr. O’Donnell had a reasonable belief that he and his fellow officers were in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury at the time he first fired at Darren Tufts, who was approaching him with an assault rifle pointed at him. Furthermore, both Tpr. O’Donnell and Sgt. Manley had a reasonable belief that they continued to be in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury when they fired at Darren Tufts who was on his knees and still appeared to be reaching for a weapon. Considering the serious and continuing threat, the officers’ decision to use deadly force was reasonable and justified.
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