Officers in Burlington Shooting Were Trained in Crisis Response | Crime | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Officers in Burlington Shooting Were Trained in Crisis Response


Published August 22, 2022 at 2:19 p.m.
Updated September 6, 2022 at 7:25 p.m.

Footwear and other items on Manhattan Drive at the scene of a police shooting - FILE: MATTHEW ROY ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Matthew Roy ©️ Seven Days
  • Footwear and other items on Manhattan Drive at the scene of a police shooting
The police supervisor who shot and wounded a suicidal man in Burlington’s Old North End earlier this month was trained to handle mental health calls and leads the department’s crisis negotiation team.

But the three officers who were on scene at the time of the shooting were the only city police on duty that summer Saturday afternoon, acting Chief Jon Murad said, which may have limited their response.

Sgt. Simon Bombard, who fired three shots, completed 24 hours of advanced hostage and crisis negotiation training in April, in addition to previous courses on mental health-related intervention, according to Murad. And Officer Brock Marvin, who talked to 20-year-old David Johnson for several minutes before Johnson ran at him with a kitchen knife, received a department award last year for training he received on mental health crisis de-escalation techniques.

Bombard shot Johnson in the leg, wounding him, while Marvin “nearly simultaneously” deployed his Taser, investigators with the Vermont State Police have said. One of the three shots Bombard fired at Johnson struck his coworker’s pant leg before ricocheting off a police cruiser and piercing the windshield of a nearby motorist — nearly striking him as well.
The driver recalled the experience in emails to Seven Days last week, describing a brief standoff on a public street. The city resident, Colin Burch, questioned how officers managed the situation, noting that the shooting took place after a line of drivers had backed up “down range” of Bombard.

Officers arrived at the scene on August 13 in response to a 911 call, placed by Johnson, about an unspecified emergency. During the roughly four-and-a-half minute encounter that ensued, Burlington officers requested that the University of Vermont Police Services assist with traffic control, Chief Timothy Bilodeau said on Monday. The call for help was quickly updated to a “shots fired” situation before UVM officers could respond, Bilodeau said.

Johnson, who survived, now faces felony and misdemeanor charges for his actions. Chittenden County prosecutors said he intentionally provoked police to shoot him.
Bombard is on paid leave while Vermont State Police investigate whether the shooting was legally justified. Murad said he’s conducting a separate internal review of the events.

Police departments nationwide, like other public service sectors, are dealing with staff shortages. In Burlington, the number of officers has dropped well below reductions imposed by the city council in the wake of racial justice protests in the summer of 2020.

In an email, Murad wrote that the department in recent years has “learned, and often helped pioneer, a lot with regard to deescalating and decelerating critical incidents.

“The efficacy of all of it is affected by resources,” he said.

Police are not trained experts in mental health, and their role as first responders during mental health crises can lead to violent outcomes. Many of the police shootings in Burlington and across Vermont have involved residents in mental health crises. A 2020 Washington Post analysis found that nearly a quarter of all fatal police shootings involved someone in a mental health crisis, and that the risk is highest in small and mid-sized cities.

Burlington police have faced recurring criticism for their handling of such incidents. A state probe of the fatal 2016 police shooting of Ralph "Phil" Grenon in his apartment concluded that numerous missteps by the Howard Center and Burlington police led to his death. Three years before, Burlington police officers shot and killed a mentally ill man who approached them with a shovel in the New North End. Both Marvin and Bombard had undergone a scenario-based training in crisis intervention called “Team Two,” a version of what Seven Days has previously described as the gold standard model of de-escalation for law enforcement.

Vermont State Police are investigating a separate police shooting that occurred on August 15 in Ludlow, which also appeared to involve a man in mental health crisis.

In that case, 35-year-old Michael Mills led Ludlow officers on a car chase after calling 911 more than two dozen times and making suicidal statements. Mills drove into a tree, and when officers approached, one yelled “Gun!” and the other shot Mills in the head, according to state police. Investigators recovered a handgun from the car, though it’s unclear whether Mills had tried to use it. He was hospitalized with critical injuries.

The Ludlow officer who shot Mills was a 21-year-old trainee, Zachary Paul, who graduated from the Vermont Police Academy in July.