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Memorial service honors Woodward

December 14, 2001

(from the Front Page section)

By SUSAN SMALLHEER Southern Vermont Bureau

SPRINGFIELD — His mother remembered him as a toddler, with a quest for adventure even then.

By the time Robert Woodward was in eighth grade, he realized his life’s calling: helping handicapped or needy children when he volunteered at a local recreation center, she said.

Joanne Woodward of Bozrah, Conn., returned Thursday to the Springfield Methodist Church, where she her husband Paul had been married decades earlier.

Only this time it was to remember her 37-year-old son who was mortally wounded by two Brattleboro police officers on Dec. 2 at the Unitarian Universalist Church in West Brattleboro. He was seeking refuge from a fear that his friends and family still can’t explain, almost two weeks later.

Police shot a ranting Woodward, who friends described as a pacifist, seven times. And as Woodward lay dying, he shouted he was a victim of a political assassination.

As people mourned the man they either called Bob, Robbie or Woody, none had the answer about what pushed Woodward to stop at the politically active church and ask for protection, claiming he was being hunted by the FBI and CIA. He had told friends he was going to a Northampton, Mass., meditation center that Sunday.

But Woodward’s friends said they were angry, and were made angrier by the decision by Brattleboro police to put the two officers involved in the shooting back on the street 10 days after Woodward was shot.

“There were three police officers, in bulletproof vests, with semi-automatic handguns, and they had to shoot a man with a pocket knife seven times,” said Stephen Tomczak of Connecticut, a friend from college who last saw Woodward during the Thanksgiving holiday.

“It’s inappropriate, it’s offensive to me. It’s like having potential murder suspects loose with their weapons,” he said.

Tomczak kept his anger to himself until after Thursday’s service “of resurrection and remembrance.”

“What we want is justice, not the ‘frontier’ style, so-called justice as he sought sanctuary, but true justice, achieved through the legal system, and not at the end of a gun barrel,” Tomczak said.

But Woodward’s mother, Joanne, said so far she was satisfied with the official response to her son’s death and the investigation into why police shot him.

Woodward, a retired schoolteacher, said she and her husband, Paul, had received a personal visit in Connecticut from Windham County State’s Attorney Dan Davis, who briefed them on the details of the case and gave them the results of the autopsy.

“That wouldn’t happen in Connecticut,” she said.

Meanwhile, acting Brattleboro Police Chief John Martin said officers Terrance Parker and Marshall Holbrook were being partnered with other officers until they were completely used to being back.

“They are being returned in a graduated program, placing them with other officers,” Martin said. The two officers will undergo evaluation as time goes by, he said.

Parker and Holbrook are two of 28 full-time patrol officers, he said.

Martin said he agreed the officers were ready to return.

He said the overall mood of the department was subdued.

“Everything here is very serious, and concerned about the two officers and supportive,” Martin said.

Department policy doesn’t set a specified time for the officers to return to work, but sets up some requirements, such as a critical incident debriefing and an evaluation by a professional “in the field” but outside the police department, Martin said.

The case is being investigated concurrently by the Vermont State Police, the Windham County State’s Attorneys Office and the Vermont Attorney General’s Office.

The state’s attorney canceled a planned press conference Thursday afternoon at the request of Attorney General William Sorrell.

Davis had said he planned to release the preliminary results of Woodward’s autopsy. So far, Davis has only said that Woodward died of a gunshot wound to the stomach and had been shot seven times. He said ballistics tests on the two officers’ weapons would be made to trace the fatal shot to a specific handgun.

Davis released a cryptic announcement Thursday, saying all statements would now come jointly from both offices, but gave no time frame .

“(Sorrell) did request that I not release the results and I decided to honor his request,” Davis said later.

In Vermont, county prosecutors are elected independently and do not work for the attorney general, who is also elected. However, both county and state law enforcement officials in recent years have conducted joint or parallel investigations into police shootings.

Martin said there had been two shootings by Brattleboro police in recent memory, one in the 1950s and the second in the early 1980s. Neither was a fatal shooting, he said.

A person was wounded during a shooting in the 1950s, he said. That person survived. The second involved a miss by an officer, who fired at a Brattleboro man who had his shotgun aimed at an officer. The officer’s shot missed, and the man dropped his gun, Martin said.

“We don’t shoot to scare people,” Martin said.

Parker has 13 years experience with the department and Holbrook eight.