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State Police Officers Justified In Use Of Deadly Force

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

October 28, 2011

Attorney General William H. Sorrell announced today that his office has completed its review of the police-shooting incident that occurred on April 26, 2011, in Williamstown, Vermont. The Attorney General’s Office has concluded, as a matter of law, that Vermont State Police Troopers Paul Feeney, Roger Farmer, and Steven Cuttita were legally justified in the use of deadly force when they discharged their firearms at a vehicle being driven by Jeffrey Davis. The legal standard for the use of deadly force is whether the officers reasonably believed that they or others were 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 evening hours on April 26, 2011, in Williamstown, Vermont. The three troopers were assisting in a pursuit that began earlier in Waterbury. At the time Troopers Feeney, Farmer and Cuttita joined the pursuit, they had information that the suspect, later identified as Jeffrey Davis, had already led state, county, and local officers on a high speed chase on and off the interstate and through various towns, and had rammed and significantly damaged three police cruisers. Troopers Feeney, Farmer and Cuttita encountered the suspect vehicle, a four wheel drive Jeep Cherokee, on Route 14 in Williamstown. After chasing him South on Route 14 at speeds up to 90 MPH and witnessing him use both North and Southbound lanes without any regard for other vehicles on the road, the troopers followed the Jeep as it turned into a dirt pull off area. As the Jeep was attempting to turn around, Trooper Cuttita tried to push it further off the road. Troopers Farmer and Feeney arrived seconds later and attempted to box the suspect in along with Trooper Cuttita. Davis then began ramming the cruisers in an attempt to get away, and at one point partially drove over the front of Trooper Farmer’s cruiser, again causing significant damage. During the time Davis was ramming the cruisers, all three Troopers got out, drew their weapons and fired shots at Davis. They briefly continued to fire as Davis left the pull off area and headed back North on Route 14. A short time later, Davis pulled over in Williamstown, where he was taken into custody without further incident. Davis was hit and injured as a result of the shooting. He received medical treatment at the scene by emergency personnel and later at a local hospital, and was then released into police custody.

Davis was subsequently charged by police with numerous counts of criminal and motor vehicle offenses based on his alleged conduct in both Washington and Orange counties. He is being prosecuted by both the Washington and Orange County State’s Attorney’s Offices.

Under the facts of this case, the Attorney General’s Office concluded that Troopers Feeney, Farmer and Cuttita had a reasonable belief that they were in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury at the time they fired the shots at Davis as he was actively ramming their cruisers. The Troopers also had a reasonable belief that, given how Davis had been driving, he posed a substantial danger of death or serious bodily injury to the public if he got away. Thus the additional shots fired to try to prevent the Jeep from getting back on the road were also justified. Under such circumstances, the Troopers’ decision to use deadly force to try to stop the continuing threat was reasonable and justified.

  Website consulting provided by The National Association of Attorneys General.