Death of man following fight with police ruled homicide

Published: Apr. 10, 2019 at 12:17 PM EDT
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Vermont State Police are launching an investigation into the death of a Burlington man after a run-in with police.

Douglas Kilburn, 54, was found dead on March 14, three days after he was punched in the face by a Burlington Police officer. While the medical examiners officer has ruled the death a homicide, it doesn't necessarily mean a crime was committed.

"I think that this is a rare occasion all around," said Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo on Wednesday. "The whole thing lasted a few seconds."

Police say Officer Cory Campbell was called to UVM Medical Center back in March to mediate a situation between the victim, Douglas Kilburn, and the hospital after Kilburn wanted to visit his wife. "He was being irate and disruptive," del Pozo said.

After Kilburn visited his wife, Officer Campbell found him blocking the ambulance bays with his vehicle. Authorities say Campbell asked Kilburn to leave or be arrested. That's when they say Kilburn attacked the officer and the two exchanged punches.

"Officers are allowed to use the level of force necessary and efficient to defend themselves or others. If an officer is being attacked, he's allowed to use the level of force to end that attack," del Pozo said.

Kilburn was punched more than once, according to del Pozo. He was treated for his injuries and released, but three days later he was found dead in his home. The medical examiner's report says skull fractures are partly responsible for Kilburn's death, along with other contributing factors. It has been ruled a homicide.

"People hear the word homicide and immediately think that someone has committed a crime," said WCAX legal expert Jerry O'Neill. He says a homicide is defined as the killing of one person by another. In many situations he says it is justified. "That doesn't mean the police officer committed a crime, it simply means that in the course of his duty, his actions resulted in the death of someone. Then you have to look to see whether that was justifiable."

Vermont State Police are leading the investigation into the case, which will then be reviewed by the Vermont Attorney General's office. Chief del Pozo also says the Burlington Police will launch an internal investigation once the state investigation has wrapped up.

Campbell was on desk duty while the investigation continues.