It was a very unusual scene Tuesday as Kelly O'Brien, 45, of Burlington, was wheeled into a room at Fletcher Allen Health Care to be formally arraigned on charges of assaulting a police officer with his car and reckless driving.
The court hearing-- judge included-- was moved to the hospital because O'Brien is still recuperating from being shot by the police officer O'Brien allegedly tried to run over.
O'Brien pleaded not guilty to four charges. His lawyer Margaret Jansch says she is far from satisfied that the use of deadly force was justified.
"What should be done in a crowded gas station at 6:30 at night in Shelburne? Whether discharging a magazine is appropriate? But it's too early to speculate and I'm not going to," Jansch said.
"Mr. O'Brien essentially used his vehicle as a weapon plain and simple," Chittenden County Prosecutor T.J. Donovan said. "He drove at the officer. He attempted to strike the officer. By all accounts he was intoxicated at the time."
O'Brien was shot by Shelburne Police Officer Robert Barrows at a mini-mart on Shelburne Road.
Police say Barrows responded to a complaint of an erratic driver there. O'Brien reportedly refused to get out of his car, went into reverse, nearly hit a woman pumping gas and then accelerated directly at Barrows. The officer was grazed by the car and then fired at least six shots into O'Brien's car as he sped by. One of the shots hit O'Brien in his lower back.
"The officer was standing in front of the left front part of the vehicle when it came at him. The wheels turned in his direction. You know, you have a 3,000, 4,000 pound vehicle coming at you, that's a deadly weapon," Vt. State Police Capt. Ed Ledo said.
Ledo is overseeing the investigation to determine if Barrows' use of deadly force was justified. It could take weeks to complete the investigation but Ledo says the early findings support the officer.
"There's no indication at the scene, there's no indication from the officer or from a witness that was at the Jiffy Mart gassing up at the time, that indicated the officer touched off any rounds as the vehicle was fleeing the scene," Ledo said.
Defense lawyer Brad Stetler has been involved in several cases involving claims police use of deadly force. He says the law gives police latitude to shoot if they believe it is justified.
"Whenever it's necessary to protect either himself or the public from a threat posed by a person," Stetler said. "The harder question is how immediate is the threat? Or is it more of a future threat? And third, how reasonable is the police officer's response to that threat?"
O'Brien has a prior record of assaulting police officers on three separate occasions. There's no indication Barrows knew that when he responded to the mini-mart. However, lawyers say if he did, that would further justify his use of deadly force.
O'Brien will go from his hospital bed to jail when he recovers.
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