What leads to deadly standoffs with police?

Published: Sep. 7, 2017 at 4:45 PM EDT
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A week after a Poultney man died in a deadly standoff with the Vermont State Police, authorities have released few details of what happened. Channel 3's Alexandra Montgomery sat down with a criminal justice professor, who is also a former cop, to get more insight into standoff situations.

John Sonnick, a criminal justice professor at Champlain College, says from what he's watched on the news, he thinks the Vermont State Police were justified in shooting and killing Michael Battles.

Police say Battles refused to come out of his house and then pointed a weapon at them. That's when he was shot.

Sonnick was also a Burlington Police officer for 25 years and in that time was involved in two standoffs. "In both of those instances they worked out very, very well," he said.

He says each standoff is different, but there are only a few possible outcomes for the suspect. "At what point does that deadly force become an option? Is it always an option, or is it a last resort?" Sonnick said. "It's a last resort. I don't think any officer goes into these situations saying, 'I wanna shoot somebody.'"

In the case of Michael Battles, Vermont State Police officials say officers responded to a home around 5 p.m. for reports of a domestic assault. It escalated to a standoff. A tactical unit took over at 11 p.m. At 1:40 a.m. in the morning troopers burst open the front door.

"When you're going to burst into a house -- or whatever -- now we have no other options available. That's kind of like the last ditch. We have to get in there to either safely take this individual out or safely extricated other people in the house," Sonnick said.

But that wasn't the end in the Poultney standoff. Battles shut the door and at about 2 a.m. Police say he was at a second story window when he pointed what looked like a real gun at them.

"That's one of the toughest questions that people ask -- is there something I would have done differently? I don't know. I wasn't there," Sonnick said.

Sonnick says one the most important things officers do when they arrive at a standoff is isolate the situation and figure out who and what they're dealing with. "Initally, in these situations, things move very quickly you know, you don't want to make a snap decision, you want to slow down the process so that you get the time to get the correct personnel on site that you need," he said.

He says there isn't a set rule book to follow, or a time limit when it comes to standoffs, although he expects departments do have policies. The former cop says he has noticed more hostage or barricade situations in Vermont. "The reasons for that? I don't know. Other than clearly people tend to go to the extreme very quickly, versus negotiate and talk about things," he said.

The Vermont State Police have refused multiple Channel 3 requests for comment following the standoff in Poultney.