WCAX reports that a Burlington (VT) police officer has been cleared in a fatal shooting. Investigators on Tuesday detailed the final moments before a mentally ill Burlington man was shot by police in March. They said Ofc. David Bowers feared for his life and the lives of his fellow officers, making the shooting legally justified. But this case also raised questions about the role police play in mental health cases and whether the fatal confrontation could have been avoided.
Ralph “Phil” Grenon’s daughter, Nikki Carpenter, said she hopes the case will help spark change in the way police respond to calls like the one that led to her father’s death.
“It did not start in the last five minutes, but in the last hours and months preceding my father’s death,” Carpenter said.
In the news conference, Carpenter told police via the phone that while Ofc. Bowers may have been justified in firing the fatal shots the night of March 21, she expressed frustration with a system that she says failed her father in his struggle with paranoid schizophrenia.
“He was a wonderful man,” Carpenter said emotionally. “Greatly loved and greatly missed, and I just hope he’s remembered for who he was as a whole and not the last few hours of his life.”
“I saw Phil’s mental illness progress over the years,” said Jim Leddy, a longtime friend of Grenon and a former state senator.
Leddy spoke about the man he knew for nearly 60 years– an orphan, veteran and father. Leddy said he had to ask what was or wasn’t done that could have prevented Grenon’s death.
“Was this the only outcome? We have to question why when a man is about to be evicted at the age of 76– for good reason– where do they go? What’s next? How this ended cannot be the what’s next,” Leddy said.
“We consider our efforts a failure in this case,” Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo said.
Del Pozo says they were trying to subdue Grenon and get him back on his medications when they entered his apartment after an hourslong standoff. They say Grenon was armed with kitchen knives, and when they got backed up against the wall, Bowers fired the fatal shots. That confrontation lasted just 12 seconds.
“The legal analysis, frankly, is limited really to those last minutes, if not seconds,” Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan said.
Donovan says they’re now looking at what broader tactics could be changed to prevent this from happening again.
They did not offer any concrete steps that are being taken as a result of this case. Donovan and del Pozo say the problem and the solution will have to be larger than law enforcement. Both spoke Tuesday about officers not being equipped to handle mental illness the same way as trained clinicians. But they say they do not have the answer yet.
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