He's a cop accused of aggravated assault for allegedly shooting a mentally ill man in the line of duty. Now, a new report clears Winooski Police Cpl. Jason Nokes, but reveals problems with his department.
The City of Winooski says it commissioned this independent review as part of its own internal investigation to determine whether Nokes followed departmental policies. Prosecutors say it will not change the criminal charges against him and they plan to proceed with their case. And the lawyer for the man who was shot tells us the report is Winooski's attempt to buy some cover.
Nokes has surrendered his badge while his court case plays out. The Winooski police officer is charged with aggravated assault after allegedly shooting an unarmed, mentally ill, trespass suspect back in April.
Prosecutors say Nokes crossed the line when he fired one shot into Isaac Sage's thigh. Police say Sage resisted arrest, punched Nokes in the nose and was unfazed by the other officer's Taser.
Nokes denied the charges in court and the city of Winooski hired a nationally recognized police consultant to independently review the case. Lou Reiter looked at the state police report, interviewed the officers involved and examined Winooski Police Department's mental health training materials. In the end he exonerated the veteran officer, a finding that surprises the shooting victim's lawyer, Robert Appel.
"I understand him to be a large individual, over 6 feet, over 200 pounds. He's armed, he has a partner, he's in front of the police station. I find it rather incredible he would fear for his life," Appel said. "It leaves me speechless that somebody would find this a reasonable use of force."
The independent review says Nokes did violate policy by using confrontational language with Sage that escalated the situation, but concluded his use of deadly force-- given the circumstance-- was justified.
Nokes told Reiter Sage was attacking him and his partner, and Nokes said, "I was scared to death, like I was afraid, awful afraid... I did not want to die." Nokes also said he thought Sage was holding a knife, keys or sunglasses, but later admitted when he pulled the trigger he didn't see anything in the suspect's hand.
"Corporal Nokes was punched and that's no fun, but being punched doesn't warrant the use of deadly force. Period," Appel said.
"It was a very thoughtful report. I think it was very comprehensive," Bob Bick said.
Bick is director of mental health and substance abuse services for the HowardCenter. He was particularly drawn to the report's critique of the police department's policies and procedures.
The report calls Winooski PD's mental health policy "adequate," but points out it has not been updated in nearly a decade.
"I think reviewing the policies and procedures more frequently than every 10-12 years probably makes sense," Bick said. "The world changes. What we know about how to work with folks who are challenged changes."
The report calls for the Winooski police department to make changes, including:
Expanding policies and training for handling interactions with people with diminished capacity
"We would look forward to an opportunity to be called when, in the officer's opinion, an incident is developing and they think it would be helpful to have one of our staff there," Bick said. "Rather than have someone in a uniform with a gun trying to confront the situation."
We reached out the chief of police in Winooski. He declined to comment on the findings.
The city clerk says five months after the shooting, Nokes remains on paid administrative leave. She says his employment status will be determined by the outcome of his criminal case, not this report.
As for the man who was shot, Isaac Sage, his lawyer says no matter what happens he is set to sue the city of Winooski and Cpl. Nokes.
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