Burlington police, mayor warned not to interfere in investigation

Published: Apr. 19, 2019 at 4:07 PM EDT
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State officials are warning the Burlington Police Dept. and Burlington mayor's office not to interfere in a state police investigation. This, after a Burlington man was found dead days after a fight with a police officer. Our Cat Viglienzoni reports.

On March 11, Ofc. Cory Campbell responded to a report of a disorderly man at the UVM Medical Center. Douglas Kilburn, 54, of Burlington, had been trying to visit his wife but became combative with Campbell after being asked to move his car. After Kilburn punched Campbell, Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo says Campbell hit back.

"If an officer is being attacked, he's allowed to use the level of force to end that attack," del Pozo said.

Del Pozo says Kilburn was punched more than once but wouldn't say how many times. Kilburn was treated for his injuries and released, but three days later he was found dead in his home. According to the medical examiner, a skull fracture was among the causes of his death. It was ruled a medical homicide.

"We had some questions about the death certificate that I think when it all comes out will seem like quite reasonable questions," del Pozo said.

The chief maintains his inquiry to the health commissioner was for clarification on the homicide classification, not to pressure the health commissioner to change anything.

"To ask the other part of government that does it to account for its actions-- that's democracy, that's not meddling," del Pozo said.

But other top state officials see it differently.

WCAX News got emails showing the governor's office and the state's public safety commissioner both expressed concerns about the chief's inquiry.

Vt. Public Safety Commissioner Thomas Anderson said it was "completely inappropriate" and said it wasn't the first time the chief had crossed the line.

And it wasn't just the chief. Emails show Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger's chief of staff also reached out to Jason Gibbs, the governor's chief of staff, to try to discuss it and delay the information's release to the public. Gibbs said that inquiry "did not feel right to me, at any level."

And Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine weighed in, too, agreeing it didn't "feel right."

We asked him what happened during his conversation with the chief.

"He was troubled by the medical examiner's designation of the word 'homicide,'" Levine said.

Levine says the medical definition of homicide differs from the legal one. State police and the attorney general's office will determine whether a legal homicide took place during their investigation.

"The medical examiner is using very different evidence than what would come out in this police investigation," Levine explained.

Levine says calling Kilburn's death a homicide was in line with clinical practice standards. He told us he explained that to the chief and reiterated this to him: "The fact that I had full faith in our medical examiner, full confidence in the decision-making of that office."

The death certificate officially listed Kilburn's cause of death as being from an "undetermined terminal mechanism due to multiple underlying conditions." Skull fractures were one cause. Others were obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cardiac and cerebral vascular disease.

It was classified a medical homicide because the medical examiner couldn't figure out which of those-- or which combination of those-- killed him.

There is police body camera video of the fight between Douglas Kilburn and Ofc. Cory Campbell. That has not been released yet.