Vermont State Police Reviewing Third Officer-Involved Shooting Within Six Months

Feb 13, 2018

Vermont State Police are reviewing policies and an officer is on administrative leave until all investigations are completed after an officer-involved fatal shooting of a Sheldon, Vermont man on Interstate 89 Sunday.

Police say Benjamin Gregware’s ex-wife notified authorities on Sunday that he was despondent, had been drinking and had just purchased ammunition.  Trooper Jay Riggen contacted him by cellphone and Gregware confirmed he had a gun. He said he was on the interstate and when he ran out of gas he planned to “end it.”
Trooper Christopher Brown and Richmond Police Officer Richard Greenough stopped Gregware’s vehicle and ordered him out of the car.  Vermont State Police Colonel Matthew Birmingham says body and dash cam video show that Gregware did not obey commands to drop his gun.  “Mr. Gregware is then seen opening his door and stepping out of his vehicle holding a handgun which he immediately pointed at his own head. Trooper Brown and Corporal Greenough continuously ordered Mr. Gregware to put the gun down. Mr. Gregware did not comply with verbal orders and started walking towards the officers with the gun still pointed at his own head. Both Trooper Brown and Corporal Greenough fired multiple rounds at Mr. Gregware and he was seen immediately falling to the ground.”

State Police Criminal Division Commander Major Glen Hall says the review of the video shows that Gregware never pointed his gun at officers.  “The video is clear that the gun was to his head up until the time he was shot as he was advancing towards the officers.  Initial examination three shots hit him at least.  We believe a total of twelve rounds between the two officers were fired.”

Richmond Police Chief Alan Buck says Corporal Greenough was placed on 6 days of administrative leave.  “We’ll give him whatever time he actually needs. He’s taking this very hard.  It’s the first ever shooting that the Richmond Police Department’s been in in its almost 50 years of existence.”

Because Trooper Brown has been involved in four on duty shootings with three fatalities, Colonel Birmingham noted he has been placed on a longer leave as the State Police assess their procedures.  “Trooper Brown will not return to full duty until the legal review of this most recent shooting is complete. Let me be clear that this decision is not an indication of any wrongdoing by Trooper Brown but merely a change in the way the State Police will now manage our response to officer-involved shootings as it relates to the health and well being of our members.”

With this the third officer-involved shooting incident in Vermont within six months, ALCU of Vermont Staff Attorney Jay Diaz feels the state’s law enforcement agency needs stronger policies and training that protect life.  “We need officers to be thinking are there other means for them to deescalate situations.  There’s really a lot more to this as well.  We need to insure independent investigations after the fact. You know not having the state police investigating the state police.  We have zero data on officer lethal use of force at the state level.  We have been arguing for a long time now we need to be tracking this data so that we can understand it, know what happens in the field and know what types of training might be necessary.”

Colonel Birmingham outlined a series of steps his agency will take to try to determine why there has a been a number of officer-involved shootings.  “I’m very concerned and I’m taking as many steps as I possibly can take to insure that I have all the information that I need and that the command staff has all the information that it needs so that we are making the right decisions about the state police resource and how we manage these incidents. That’s not to insinuate we are doing anything wrong.  It’s  the responsibility of the command staff of the state police to insure that we are always evolving and learning and trying to make these situations safer.  But in the end they end tragically sometimes and that’s out of our control.”

No one except Gregware was injured during Sunday’s shooting.  Body and dash cam video will not be released until the end of the investigation. The Vermont State Police is contracting with an independent use of force expert from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, a former member of the National Tactical Officers’ Association, to review the incident.

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FULLL STATEMENT FROM COLONEL MATTHEW T. BIRMINGHAM PROVIDED BY THE VERMONT STATE POLICE
February 12, 2018

Good morning, I am Colonel Matthew Birmingham, Director of the Vermont State Police.  On Sunday afternoon at approximately 3:00pm the Vermont State Police received a call from Melissa Gregware, of Sheldon, Vermont.   Mrs. Gregware advised us that she was concerned about the well-being of her ex-husband Benjamin Gregware, also of Sheldon.  

Mrs. Gregware stated that her ex-husband had just left the Walmart in St. Albans where he had purchased ammunition and was driving southbound on Interstate 89.  She advised that he had been struggling with alcohol addiction and she believed that he had been drinking because he was slurring his words.  She also advised that he was not acting normal and that his speech and behavior appeared different than what she had been accustomed to when he was intoxicated.  She said that Mr. Gregware owns guns and she was concerned he might harm himself.  A BOL (be on the lookout) was immediately issued to law enforcement for Mr. Gregware and his vehicle.  

Trooper Jay Riggen was able to make contact with Mr. Gregware via his cellphone.  Mr. Gregware told Trooper Riggen that he was "not OK."  He stated that he was an alcoholic and he felt that he was going to lose custody of his children.  Mr. Gregware told Trooper Riggen that he had a 9mm handgun with him and that he had just bought ammunition at Walmart.  Trooper Riggen continued to remain on the phone with Mr. Gregware while dispatchers relayed information to other troopers in the field that Mr. Gregware was possibly suicidal and armed.    

Mr. Gregware told Trooper Riggen that he was going to continue driving south on the interstate and when he ran out of gas he was going to "end it."  Trooper Riggen remained on the phone and tried to engage Mr. Gregware in further dialog.  Trooper Riggen continued to attempt to persuade Mr. Gregware to pull off the interstate so Troopers could meet with him and get him help.  Mr. Gregware declined and indicated he was going to keep driving.

Trooper Christopher Brown and Richmond Police Officer Richard Greenough were traveling south on Interstate 89 from the Williston area attempting to locate the vehicle that Mr. Gregware was reported to be driving.  At approximately 3:50pm they observed a vehicle matching the description, identified as a Red Honda Accord southbound on the interstate and Trooper Brown initiated a traffic stop out of concern for Mr. Gregware’s welfare and out of concern that he may be driving impaired putting other motorists at risk.  The operator, later identified as Mr. Gregware pulled over in the breakdown lane and came to a stop.  The entire incident was captured on the mobile video camera from Trooper Brown’s cruiser as well as Officer Greenough’s body camera and cruiser camera.  

Once stopped Trooper Brown and Officer Greenough initiated a high-risk motor vehicle stop based on the information that Mr. Gregware was likely armed.  A high risk stop involves officers maintaining cover with their firearms drawn, while ordering an operator out of their vehicle, as opposed to officers approaching the vehicle.   

Once Mr. Gregware’s vehicle came to a stop, Trooper Brown exited his vehicle and was standing with his driver’s side door open.  Corporal Greenough took a position on the passenger side of Trooper Brown’s vehicle.  Trooper Brown immediately began yelling for the operator to exit the vehicle.  Trooper Brown can then be heard yelling “put the gun down” multiple times.  Mr. Gregware is then seen opening his door and stepping out of his vehicle holding a handgun which he immediately pointed at his own head.  Trooper Brown and Corporal Greenough continuously ordered Mr. Gregware to put the gun down.  As these events are unfolding, multiple vehicles can be seen traveling southbound on Interstate 89 pass their location.  Mr. Gregware did not comply with verbal orders and started walking toward the officers with the gun still pointed at his own head.  Both Trooper Brown and Corporal Greenough fired multiple rounds at Mr. Gregware and he was seen immediately falling to the ground.  The handgun Mr. Gregware was holding was later identified as a Masterpiece Arms 9mm tactical pistol, more commonly known as a MAC 10.  It was loaded.  We will release a photo of that handgun at the conclusion of this press conference.  

All video and audio recordings of this incident are being withheld until the criminal review of this shooting is complete.  As has been our past practice, once the review is complete and after consultation with the State’s Attorney’s Office and Attorney General’s Office we anticipate releasing the recordings to the public.  The State Police Major Crime Unit will continue to investigate this incident with the Chittenden County State’s Attorney’s Office and the Vermont Attorney General’s Office.  We do not have a specific timeframe when this review will be complete.  

In the past six months the Vermont State Police has experienced three officer involved shootings.  Each one is incredibly tragic and challenging for all those involved.  There is no greater responsibility for a police officer than decision to use lethal force.  Each of these officer involved shootings is independently reviewed by both the appropriate State’s Attorney and the Vermont Attorney General to determine the legal justification for the use of lethal force by law enforcement.  

In addition to this independent legal review, the Vermont State Police conducts an internal affairs investigation on every shooting to ensure that all applicable policies and procedures were followed by our members.  The Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, along with the State Police Advisory Commission, a civilian review panel, have the final determination as to whether any policies or procedures have been violated, and if so, what discipline is warranted.

Since the officer involved shooting that took place in East Poultney on September 1st of last year the Vermont State Police has taken additional steps to ensure that our operational procedures and tactics are in line with national best practices, accreditation standards and other state police agencies.  

First, we have established a Critical Incident Administrative Review Committee to assess our administrative policies as they relate to critical incidents, including officer involved shootings.  The committee is tasked with providing recommendations on the length of administrative leave our members take after a shooting, return to work protocols, and the mental toll that critical incidents take on our members and their families, to include the manifestation of post-traumatic stress disorder.  A final report on these administrative recommendations is due to me in early March.

Our current policy mandates that any state police member involved in a deadly force incident must take, at minimum, three days of administrative leave and be cleared by our department clinician before returning to work.  This policy has been in effect for decades and it is important that we assess whether more time is needed for our members after a critical incident.  This committee is assessing the policies of other agencies across the country as well as consult with critical incident mental health clinicians to determine the best policy for our members.

Although a final decision on the new policy has not been determined we are not waiting to take appropriate action in this regard.  Trooper Brown will not return to full duty until the legal review of this most recent shooting is complete.  Let me be clear that this decision is not an indication of any wrongdoing by Trooper Brown, but merely a change in the way the state police will now manage our response to officer involved shootings as it relates to the health and wellbeing of our members.

Additionally, we established an external operational review process for incidents involving specialized state police resources by subject matter experts.  The purpose of this external review is to look closely at operational decision making and policies related to state police special teams.  This process has already begun for the officer involved shooting in East Poultney.  This same external operational review will also take place for the officer shooting incident in Montpelier last month once the legal review by the Washington County State’s Attorney and the Vermont Attorney General is complete.        

The State Police will continue to carefully assess each one of these shootings and make changes to training, policy and tactics as needed.  Because this current shooting is under investigation I will not be able to answer any specific questions about the incident but I will take any other questions that you have at this time.