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Donovan: Montpelier officer-involved shooting justified

(WCAX)
Published: Apr. 17, 2018 at 9:05 AM EDT
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There will be no charges filed against the eight Vermont State Police troopers and one Montpelier officer involved in the January shooting death of a suspected credit union robber.

Police fired as many as 23 shots at Nathan Giffin, 32, and Attorney General T.J. Donovan says all of them were justified.

"We've come to the conclusion -- and I ruled today -- that the shooting and death of Nathan Giffin was justified. Therefore, there will be no criminal charges filed against any of the police officers involved in the shooting," Donovan said.

After an hourlong standoff on Jan. 16, Giffin was struck by seven bullets on the athletic fields of Montpelier High School. Two hit him in the chest. He later died at the hospital. A report released Tuesday says Giffin made threatening statements to police and pointed what turned out to be a BB gun in the direction of officers.

"Mr. Giffin responded, 'I'm not going back to jail so something's going to happen,'" Assistant Attorney General Bram Kranichfeld said.

Law enforcement officials say Giffin robbed a nearby credit union, then ran down the city bike path and onto the grounds of Montpelier High School. With school in session and kids inside, officers opened fire on Giffin beside the athletic field.

The investigation found that Giffin's actions and words toward police justified their shots.

"Mr. Giffin began crossing himself and made statements such as, 'I'm gonna shoot you or you're gonna shoot me. Tell my girl she's too good for me, and tell my dad I'm sorry,'" Kranichfeld said.

Donovan and other law enforcement officials offered their condolences to Giffin's family.

"I didn't know Nate Giffin, but I'm sure he was a lot more than his last moments on this earth," Donovan said.

Montpelier Mayor Ann Watson teaches at Montpelier High School, where Giffin once attended, and she says teachers there knew him.

"He was more than just that day," she said. "Nate was a member of our community and we want to acknowledge that we wish this was not the way that his life had ended."

Watson called on the community to support each other as they grieve.

VERMONT STATE POLICE RE-EVALUATE USE OF FORCE

Vermont State Police are re-evaluating the way they respond to incidents like the deadly standoff in Montpelier. Tuesday, they released an action plan that includes less-lethal weapons and more training aimed at averting a fatal showdown.

After three fatal shootings in six months, Vermont State Police Col. Matthew Birmingham in February discussed an internal review he ordered to examine State Police policies and procedures. Those procedures often bring heavily armed officers in direct contact with despondent individuals. In many cases, men who are threatening to take their own lives and urging police to do it for them.

So VSP hired a consultant to re-examine training and tactics. One major recommendation

: find other ways besides bullets to end these standoffs.

"This includes the expansion of less-lethal weapon systems such as plastic ammunition, beanbag projectiles, long-range chemical munitions, percussion munitions and others," Birmingham said.

But Birmingham says having those less-lethal tools might not have changed the outcome in Montpelier.

"These situations involving force are very complicated. They unfold very rapidly and decisions are made in seconds," he said.

With so many responses involving suspects in emotional distress, another key change VSP will make is to get troopers more training in de-escalating situations and avoiding force altogether.

"State Police, and all law enforcement across the country for that matter, have to look at how to handle these mental health calls at the point of crisis," he said.

Among other changes State Police will adopt is putting body cameras on all tactical team members, and they will pursue getting those cameras for all troopers.

Tuesday's announcement comes on the heels of some other policy changes announced last week. A second

focused on the aftermath of police shootings. That will result in more leave time and more mental health screening for troopers involved in these incidents.