State Police defend use of force in Corinth shooting

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(Host) Vermont State police are defending their use of deadly force against a mentally ill man this past weekend.

Police shot and killed 40-year-old Joseph Fortunati in Corinth.

They said the use of force was justified because Fortunati had a gun and pulled the weapon in the direction of troopers.

But Fortunati’s father says the police response was excessive.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Police say that for several days last week 40-year-old Joseph Fortunati had set up a tent and blocked a remote road in Corinth.

Police say Fortunati threatened his family with a handgun, and that they had grounds to arrest him.

State Police Director Colonel Tom Powlovich says that when officers when to make the arrest, he ignored their commands and pulled the gun out of his waistband in the direction of officers. Powlovich says the troopers were justified in their use of deadly force.

(Powlovich) “They believe that he posed an imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury to themselves and others when he pulled the handgun from his waistband in the direction of the troopers and was failing to follow their verbal commands. Both troopers followed the department’s the departments policy and procedures in the use of deadly force.”

(Dillon) But Fortunati’s father, Robert Fortunati, says police overreacted by sending in a SWAT team and hostage negotiation unit.

He says his son was mentally ill, and could not react quickly to police commands. He said he urged police to take their time and to treat him gently.

(Fortunati) “You know, he’s off his medications, and been off them for quite a while, doesn’t seem like he’s going to move. I says but it’s a real quiet area. It’s a secluded area and why don’t we just go in there with some bullhorns or something and just hold him off.'”

(Dillon) Powlovich says police knew Fortunati was mentally ill, but that they could not just leave him the woods without arresting him.

(Powlovich) “I don’t believe we can do that. Because I’m sure it would come under question. He had threatened his family members. We knew he had a weapon. We knew there were possibly mental health issues. If we had failed to take action and he had hurt somebody else, obviously that would very much come under question. So when we’re faced with those circumstances, I believe it’s our responsibility to the public that we have to deal with it.”

(Dillon) Powlovich says police first tried to subdue Fortunati by shooting at him with non-lethal bean bags. But he still refused to comply with their orders.

Robert Fortunati says the police used excessive force.

(Fortunati) “He wasn’t threatening them. Because he didn’t come at them. They came at him.”

(Dillon) The shooting will be investigated by state police, and the case will be turned over to the state’s attorney and the attorney general’s office for review.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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