FBI investigates Woodward shooting

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(Host) The FBI is investigating whether Brattleboro police violated Robert Woodward’s civil rights when they shot him six times last December. Attorney General William Sorrell concluded that the shooting was legally justified, but he says he welcomes the new federal investigation.

VPR’s John Dillon has more.

(Dillon) The civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department has asked the FBI to investigate the police shooting that shocked Brattleboro last December. Two town police officers shot 37-year-old Robert Woodward after he entered a church carrying a knife and asking for sanctuary. Police said they shot six times after Woodward made a threatening gesture with his knife. Woodward died hours later.

After a four-month investigaton, Attorney General Sorrell concluded that the officers were justified in using deadly force. Sorrell says he did not anticipate the FBI review:

(Sorrell) “I was surprised that the FBI has apparently opened an investigative file, because I’d been told that was not going to happen. Whether this will just be a paper review by the FBI or whether they will wish to question some of the witnesses again, that’s entirely up to the FBI. I welcome them taking a look and I look forward to the results of their review.”

(Dillon) Woodward’s friends say they’re pleased the case is being reopened. A group called Justice for Woody has created a detailed web site that raises questions about the official investigation. The site quotes witnesses who say Woodward was not a threat to anyone but himself.

Mary Rives of Amherst, Massachusetts was a close friend of Woodward:

(Rives) “We definitely hope this investigation will come up with a different conclusion because it’s obvious that the conclusion that Attorney General Sorrell’s report made… it was based on very biased and incomplete investigation. It didn’t take into account volumes of evidence.”

(Dillon) But the town police chief, John Martin, says he’s confident that the FBI and the civil rights division will come to the same conclusion as Sorrell.

(Martin) “I believe that the Attorney General’s Office made a very deliberate attempt to be unbiased and to truly look at all of the facts even though in this case here there were conflicting statements. I think that the overwhelming evidence supported the attorney general’s findings. And I can’t imagine the facts are going to change by looking at it one more time.”

(Dillon) Martin says he asked the Justice Department to get involved last December. He says the FBI still hasn’t contacted him.

Woodward’s family has also filed a wrongful death suit against the town. A lawyer for the family says he’s pleased that the Justice Department has stepped in.

A Justice Department spokesman says he believes the FBI has already started its preliminary review. Depending on the outcome of this review, the case could be presented to a federal grand jury.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon

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