Grand jury to investigate Winooski police shooting - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Grand jury to investigate Winooski officer-involved shooting

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Isaac Sage Isaac Sage

A witness caught it on camera-- a scuffle between Winooski Police officers and a trespassing suspect that ended in a shooting.

Police located Isaac Sage not far from the police department back in April. When they tried to question him he became agitated. Police say Sage punched Cpl. Jason Nokes in the face. Officers tased the unarmed, mentally ill man. And when that didn't work, Nokes ended up shooting Sage in the leg.

"In the state of Vermont it's very unusual to have a grand jury," said Jerry O'Neil, a former federal prosecutor.

Now we've learned a grand jury will convene to decide if Nokes was justified or if he should face criminal charges for the shooting.

Grand juries in state cases are rare. Usually the attorney general or state's attorneys determine if someone should be charged.

"It makes it easier for the state's attorney not to be the decision-maker in that situation," O'Neil said.

O'Neil says going to a grand jury can be a way prosecutors protect themselves in the court of public opinion.

"That way the prosecuting authority doesn't have to decide if the police officer is charged or not. Let's let the citizens take a look at it. I can't be accused of being biased toward a police officer if we don't go forward. The grand jury makes that decision," O'Neil explained.

Assault charges against Isaac Sage were dropped. That's because a state psychologist determined Sage was insane at the time of the brawl and mentally incompetent to stand trial.

"It's not rocket science to figure a way to not to get involved in this use of force. So it's disturbing to me," said Robert Appel, Sage's lawyer.

Appel is the former leader of Vermont's Human Rights Commission and the former state defender general, defending kids and poor Vermonters charged with crimes.

Reporter Darren Perron: Do you suspect that in this case it's because there has been such heightened awareness about the state of mental health care in the state of Vermont?

Robert Appel: I think it has more to do with the frequency in which police conduct has been called into question... Police serve the public. They are accountable to the public. They are not above the law. If they violate the law, they should be held accountable. I think that's why this case is getting the attention it is getting... You know, to date, prosecuting authorities have not held cops to account. Period.

Cpl. Nokes, Winooski Police, the attorney general and state's attorney aren't talking about the grand jury unless charges are actually brought. But the AG did acknowledge state grand juries are sometimes used when the case involves police.

Nokes' history may play a role, too, in this going to a grand jury. He was convicted in a high-profile drunk driving case in 2011. And in 2007, Nokes was stabbed in the hand during a fight when he was off-duty.

Related Stories:

Vt. to dismiss charges against man shot by police

Vt. man shot by police found incompetent for trial

Man shot by police charged in court

Officer-involved shooting in Winooski

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