Friday, December 14, 2001 - 12:48:35 AM MST
BRATTLEBORO -- Citing a need to prevent a potential grand jury from being "tainted" by a premature release of information, officials on Thursday suspended all public communications in the Dec. 2 police shooting of Robert Woodward.
The decision was made after consultations between State's Attorney Dan Davis and Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell, and forced the abrupt cancellation of a scheduled news conference.
"It had been my intention to release the results of a preliminary autopsy at today's press conference," Davis said. "That will not be released."
General release of an abbreviated transcript of emergency communications, obtained Wednesday by the Reformer, was also canceled.
Woodward, 37, was shot seven times by Brattleboro police officers after he entered the All Souls Unitarian -Universalist Church in West Brattleboro weeping, calling loudly to the congregation for protection from the government, and threatening to kill himself with a pocket knife. He died less than four hours later from his wounds.
Assistant Attorney General Cindy Maguire said Thursday her office would conduct an "independent and yet parallel" review into the propriety of that use of deadly force, adding that the attorney general or Davis could then convene a grand jury if they wished. Data from the ongoing State Police investigation will not be complete for "several weeks," she said.
At that point a secret grand jury probe might or might not be launched, Maguire said, vowing to release information during that process but making no commitments as to the timing.
"If the question is 'Will the public be kept informed about this case?' the answer is yes," she said. "We do realize there is tremendous public interest in this case. (But) the risks are so high in terms of tainting potential grand jurors. Those risks are just not worth taking in this sort of case."
Davis said the decision had come following discussions Thursday morning with Sorrell.
"I did have conversations with the attorney general's office and also spoke with Bill Sorrell. After those conversations, I decided to cancel the press conference," he said. "We'll have no further release of information until the investigation is complete and we've had conversations with the attorney general."
Lead investigator Lt. David Tetrault of the Vermont State Police could not be reached for comment on the decision by presstime.
Tetrault, who had been in Quantico, Va., for training with the FBI when the shooting occurred, took over the case from Detective Sgt. Kevin Anderson upon his return earlier this week. Officials said the switch in leadership was not connected to details of the investigation.
Maguire said she was sensitive to concerns of investigative bias, with police investigating other police, but said the involvement of different agencies and prosecutorial offices could serve as a check.
"Many of our witness interviews are tape recorded," she said. "I would expect that. That's certainly been the case in the past.
"I have full confidence in the state police's ability to conduct a free and fair investigation," Maguire added.