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Vermont AG Deems January Police Shooting In Montpelier 'Justified'

Vermont State trooper cars parked.
Steve Zind
VPR file
Eight Vermont State Police troopers and a Montpelier Police officer discharged their firearms in a shooting in January that left Nathan Giffin dead. Attorney General TJ Donovan said Tuesday officers were justified in their decision to use lethal force.

Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan says no charges will be filed against the police officers who shot and killed an alleged bank robber in Montpelier in January.

Nathan Giffin was in a standoff with police outside Montpelier High School when the shooting occurred on Jan. 16.

According to police, Giffin was brandishing a gun — which turned out to be a BB gun — and making threatening statements when officers opened fire

At a press conference Tuesday, Donovan said police had reason to believe Giffin posed an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury, and he said officers were justified in the decision to use lethal force against him.

That January incident was the second fatal police shooting in four months. State police have since shot and killed another man, during a traffic stop in I-89 in Bolton.

Col. Matt Birmingham, the director of the Vermont State Police, says his agency has revised its use-of-force policy in the wake of those incidents.

“Tactics and technology in this discipline are always evolving and improving,” Birmingham said.

Specifically, state police plan to improve training in what they refer to as “less-lethal capabilities.” They also plan to bring on new weapons technologies that could be used in place of lethal force.

Vermont State Police Maj. John Merrigan says conventional beanbag projectiles, for instance, have a relatively limited range.

“There’s some new technology out there that other departments are starting to use that extends that range, and makes it something that is viable at greater distances,” Merrigan said.

Merrigan said the agency will also acquire equipment that allows them to fire tear gas at longer ranges.

Birmingham said he won’t speculate on whether the availability of those technologies would have led to a different outcome in the case of Nathan Giffin. He says less-than-lethal options can be a useful alternative to bullets.

“That does not mean though that they will always be using non-lethal capabilities. It’s another tool for them to consider in every situation. But every situation’s different,” Birmingham said.

Now that the attorney general’s review is complete, Birmingham said the state police will begin its own internal investigation to see whether officers acted appropriately.

Update 3:34 p.m. This post was updated to include information about changes to the state police's use-of-force policy

Watch a video of Tuesday's press conference with Attorney General TJ Donovan, via the Vermont State Police Facebook page:

The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
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