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Montpelier officer-involved shooting ruled justified

(WCAX)
Published: Oct. 29, 2019 at 5:49 PM EDT
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Two Montpelier police officers who shot and killed a man this summer have been cleared. But the way that information came out was unusual. Our Cat Viglienzoni explains.

Usually, when we hear the results of an investigation into an officer-involved shooting it comes from the Vermont attorney general's office. But Tuesday, the Washington County state's attorney's office announced it had conducted its own inquest into the incident because they didn't agree with the way part of the investigation was being handled.

In a letter released Tuesday afternoon, Washington County State's Attorney Rory Thibault said he felt his department needed more information than state police were going to collect, specifically interviews with the officers who were on the scene.

And in the memo to state police, Thibault says his office started an inquest because state police declined to interview either of the Montpelier police officers involved, Cpl. Chad Bean and Ofc. Christopher Quesnel.

State police have said Bean fired twice the morning of Aug. 9, hitting Mark Johnson, 62, in the torso and killing him. Quesnel was also on the scene.

Police thought Johnson, who has a history of mental illness, was carrying a handgun. They later discovered it was a pellet gun.

Thibault says because Johnson ignored officers' commands and because of how realistic the gun looked, his office determined the shooting was justified. He also noted that officers tried to de-escalate the situation.

Both officers are on paid administrative leave per department policy.

We reached out to the attorney general's office for comment. They said they aren't commenting on the state's attorney's decision to do an inquest but did rule that the officers' actions were reasonable and justified under the circumstances. The AG's office says it will release details of its findings on Wednesday morning.

Anchor Celine McArthur: Cat, you said the independent investigation centered on the state police decision not to interview the officers involved. Why wouldn't they do that?

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: It stems from a Vermont State Police protocol to interview officers before they review any video to make sure they are giving answers based only on their recollection of the incident. State police say because the officers were able to review footage of the incident before state police spoke with them, they did not get interviewed.

We've seen this policy come up twice this year. You may remember a similar issue came up in Burlington after a man died after a fight with an officer at the hospital. The officer, Cory Campbell, didn't want to be interviewed until he had seen the body camera video of the incident. Eventually, he sued and won the right to see it. And Tuesday, Campbell's lawyer confirmed to WCAX News the officer has not been interviewed by state police yet. The AG's office has not issued a ruling yet on that case.