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Prosecutors Say Deputy Was Justified In Shooting Winooski Man

Taylor Dobbs
Members of the Franklin County Sheriff's Department looked on as Deputy Chittenden County State's Attorney Bram Kranichfeld announced that Franklin County Sheriff's Deputy Nicholas Palmier was justified in killing Jesse Beshaw on Sept. 16 in Winooski.

Prosecutors announced Thursday that a Franklin County Sheriff’s deputy will face no charges over the fatal shooting of 29-year-old Jesse Beshaw of Winooski last month.

At a news conference Thursday morning, Chittenden County Deputy State’s Attorney Bram Kranichfeld said a review of the investigation showed that Franklin County Sheriff’s Deputy Nicholas Palmier’suse of deadly force was reasonable in the situation.

The official account of the incident was corroborated by footage recorded by Palmier’s body camera.

Police say Palmier was driving home from a shift in Franklin County when he saw multiple Winooski police cars surrounding a house, so he offered to help and Winooski officers on the scene accepted. Officers at the scene told Palmier that they’d seen Beshaw, who was wanted in connection with multiple armed robberies, enter the home. They also said Beshaw carries a gun.

After officers saw Beshaw running away from the residence, Palmier chased him on foot to an area behind the O’Brien Community Center in Winooski. Beshaw confronted Palmier in a lot behind the building.

As Palmier approached, police say Beshaw said, “I’ll pull a gun out." Beshaw can be heard on the video recording saying something to Palmier as Palmier spoke into his radio.

“I will shoot you. I will shoot you,” Palmier yelled in response as he approached Beshaw, who was standing with his left side toward Palmier and his right hand concealed.

“Let’s do it,” Beshaw responded, walking toward Palmier still hiding his right hand from view.

“I will shoot you,” Palmier repeated.

As Beshaw drew closer to Palmier shouting “do it” repeatedly, the deputy backed up while yelling, “Step back. Step back.”

Palmier fired eight shots in under two seconds. All but one hit Beshaw.

Prosecutors were tasked with figuring out if Palmier’s use of deadly force was justified given the situation.

Deputy Chittenden County State’s Attorney Bram Kranichfeld explained the legal standard at Thursday’s news conference.

“An officer may use reasonable force to make an arrest, or to maintain sufficient control of a suspect in custody, or to prevent the suspect from harming himself, the officer, or others,” he said. “What constitutes a reasonable amount of force depends on the facts and circumstances at the time.”

"What constitutes a reasonable amount of force depends on the facts and circumstances at the time." - Bram Kranichfeld, Chittenden County deputy state's attorney

In this case, as with the two other fatal shootings by police in Chittenden County in the past year, prosecutors determined that the shooting was justified.

“Throughout the entire confrontation, Jesse Beshaw concealed his right hand at waist level in a manner consistent with holding a firearm,” Kranichfeld said Thursday. In addition to that, Kranichfeld said prosecutors thought the shooting was justified because Beshaw wasn’t responding to Palmier’s commands and was quickly closing the distance between the two of them, even as Palmier backed away.

A Winooski officer arrived seconds after Beshaw fell, handcuffed him, and began administering CPR about one minute and 15 seconds after the shots were fired.

Multiple officers arrived at the scene in the first minutes after the shooting, some asking Palmier if he was injured.

“I’m good,” he said. “We just need — we need a medic kit for this kid.”

As an officer sends Palmier away, he says, “I just want to help this kid.”

Palmier and other officers tried to help by bandaging the wounds and doing chest compressions on Beshaw. The video shows that EMTs from St. Michael’s Fire and Rescue arrived on the scene 10 minutes after Palmier shot Beshaw.

At Thursday’s news conference, police and prosecutors stopped short of calling the incident a “suicide-by-cop,” but said Beshaw’s behavior wasn’t typical.

"What we can see is the actions that he [Beshaw] took. And I'll just say this: This isn't normal behavior." - Vermont State Police Major Glenn Hall

“We obviously don’t know what was going through Mr. Beshaw’s mind, and we can’t predict that,” said Vermont State Police Major Glenn Hall, the head of the state’s Major Crimes Unity. “But what we can see is the actions that he took. And I’ll just say this: This isn’t normal behavior. When people are confronted by police officers, especially when a police officer draws their weapon and gives commands, the vast majority of incidents like this end with someone complying with those commands. So for reasons that we don’t know, he made the decision to do what he did. And that included, in our opinion, making him [Palmier] believe that he had a weapon, and not only that but moving aggressively towards a police officer while he’s getting commands to stop and step back, and to show his hands.”

Hall said police aren’t specifically trained on how to deal with people attempting suicide-by-cop.

The fact that a sheriff’s deputy from another county did the shooting raised questions at Thursday’s announcement about “mutual aid” policies that govern how police operate outside of their own jurisdiction. Palmier’s work history has come under scrutiny in the weeks since the shooting as well.

The Burlington Free Press reported that Palmier was fired from two departments, including the Winooski Police Department, before joining the Franklin County Sheriff’s office. The Free Press reported that Palmier was fired from the St. Albans police force for failing to add important information to a report. Winooski Police Chief Rick Hebert said he doesn’t know why Palmier was fired from his department because he wasn’t chief at the time and the records are unclear.

“This happened seven years ago,” he said. “My HR director pulled his employee file at the request of several public records requests and the only information that is in that file is that then-Chief [Steve] McQueen had decided to end his [Palmier’s] probation five days prior to him becoming tenured, and it does not explain a reason.”

Hebert also said he understands why people in Winooski would feel unsettled about relations with police.

“I think there’s no secret that nationwide we need to have some tough conversations about policing in America, [to] start to build transparency and trust,” Hebert said.

Transparency has been an issue in the case of Beshaw’s death, as the New England First Amendment Coalition and news organizations called on police to release body camera footage of the incident right away but authorities opted to withhold the footage until the results of their investigation was announced.

The video ultimately released by Vermont State Police after Thursday’s news conference includes 25 minutes of footage, an uncut view of what Palmier’s camera – mounted on his chest – captured from the moment he arrived to help Winooski officers until he was sitting in an interview room at the Winooski Police station after the shooting.

VPR is publishing an edited version of the video that shows everything that happened in the minutes leading up to the shooting. Because of the graphic nature of the full footage, the edited version does not show visuals of the moment of the shooting or the scene afterwards. Audio of the shooting and excerpts of audio after the shooting took place are included with the video to convey what was happening at the scene after the incident.

Video editing by Emily Alfin Johnson and Taylor Dobbs, with help from Meg Malone.

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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