"He was a great guy, and there was a lot more upside to Wayne Brunette than a downside," said Burlington City Council member David Hartnett.
Hartnett says he knew Wayne Brunette for decades -- since their early years at Burlington High school. He says Brunette was a family man and loved his two daughters.
But a shooting on November 6th left the 49-year-old dead. Last month two Burlington police officers responded to the Randy Lane home Brunette shared with his wife and parents after his mom made a 911 call.
"Mrs. Brunette had stated that her son had gone berserk and had cut down her apple tree and was 'violent'" said Chittenden County States Attorney T.J. Donovan, during a Monday press conference.
Authorities say upon arrival, Brunette was still inside. Officers tried to get him to talk. He refused to cooperate. When he finally made an appearance, police say he was holding a large shovel and refusing to put it down.
"Mr. Brunette then stated, 'You are going to have to shoot me,' and charged at Cpl. Navari," Donovan said.
The Attorney General's report says Brunette then took off toward Corporal Ethan Thibault. "Cpl. Thibault continued to yell, 'drop the shovel and stop.' Mr. Brunette was able to advance on Cpl. Thibault quicker than Cpl. Thibault could back pedal, and when Mr. Brunette was in striking distance of hitting Cpl. Thibault with the shovel, Cpl. Thibault shot Wayne Brunette twice," Donovan said.
Donovan says Cpl. Thibault then shot Brunette two more times in the torso after he didn't fall to the ground. After both an internal review and a external review by the states' attorney, no criminal charges will be filed. "Our review of the facts has concluded that Cpl. Thibault's belief that he was in danger of being killed or suffer great bodily harm was reasonable. Our review has further concluded that Cpl. Thibault's use of deadly force was reasonably necessary to repel that force," Donovan said.
Officials say Brunette had a history of mental health issues and a few run-ins with the police years ago. Burlington Police Chief Mike Schirling says a new system installed three years ago allows for officers to do quick checks on the history of suspects, but Brunette's dated record didn't show up. "There are alerts on individuals who have prior histories of violence or using weapons -- things that would pose a danger either to the community, themselves or an officer. There is also the ability to look very quickly at history so a dispatcher would be able to bring that history up," Chief Schirling said.
Although the Attorney General ruled the shooting was justified, many say the incident raises questions about what officers should do when responding to people with mental illness -- including Council Member Hartnett. "I think everyone wants a different outcome. So if we can put different procedures in place or make sure that we are using the proper procedures we have now. I think we at least owe it to the Brunette family and the next family that has to call," he said.
Hartnett has already drafted a resolution calling for a review of all procedures. And police officials say this tragedy is another sign that more needs to be done to improve our mental health system.
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