Sorrell: Hartford police officers acted lawfully in Burwell case

STATE OF VERMONT OFFICE OF ATTORNEY GENERAL
109 STATE STREET
MONTPELIER, VT 05609-1001
802-828-3171
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Matthew I. Levine
Assistant Attorney General
November 23, 2010 802-828-5517
NO CRIMINAL CHARGES FILED AGAINST HARTFORD POLICE OFFICERS
IN USE OF FORCE CASE

Attorney General William H. Sorrell announced today that his Office has completed its review of a Vermont State Police investigation of the non-lethal use of force by officers of the Hartford Police Department during an incident that occurred on May 29, 2010, in Hartford, Vermont. The Attorney General’s Office has concluded that there is no basis for criminal charges against Officers Frederick Peyton and Kristinnah Adams under the circumstances of this case.

On May 29, 2010, Hartford Police officers responded to a 911 call of a possible burglary in progress. The call came from a cleaning service employee at the residence of a customer, Wayne Burwell. Upon arrival, officers spoke with the employee and confirmed the report of an apparent intruder in the residence. Officers Peyton and Adams entered the residence and found it apparently ransacked, filling with smoke, and with smoke detector fire alarms blaring. They located a lone male individual in an upstairs bathroom. The male was unclothed, extremely muscular, sweating profusely, and appeared to the officers to be in some kind of drug-induced state. He was sitting on a closed toilet seat cover, leaning back, with his hands hidden from view.

The officers gave repeated commands to the male to show his hands, but he did not comply. Fearing that the male might be concealing a weapon, Officer Peyton used OC spray on
the suspect. The male became briefly disoriented and fell, but then got up and moved towards the officers. After repeated commands to get down on the floor, and obtaining no compliance with the verbal commands, a scuffle ensued. The male individual was extremely strong, actively resisting, and the officers had difficulty trying to subdue him. Officer Peyton used strikes with an expandable baton to try to get him to comply, again without success. It was not until a third officer arrived that they were able to get the male individual under control and handcuff him.

The officers then wrapped a blanket around him and walked him downstairs and out of the apartment to decontaminate him from the OC spray. It was then that the “suspect” was positively identified to Officers Adams and Peyton as Wayne Burwell, who was in fact the owner of the apartment. They also learned that Mr. Burwell suffered from a serious medical condition. At that point Mr. Burwell’s handcuffs were removed, and he was cleansed of the OC spray by police and fire rescue personnel. Mr. Burwell had no memory of the incident. He received additional treatment for his condition by EMTs at the scene, and subsequently at a local hospital.

Under the facts of this case, the Attorney General’s Office concluded that Officers Peyton and Adams did not engage in criminal misconduct in their response to the potential threat they faced. Based on the facts known to them at the time: an individual reported to be an intruder, in a home apparently ransacked and filling with smoke, not complying with their repeated verbal commands, and engaging in a lengthy scuffle with the police as they attempted to subdue him, criminal charges against the officers are not warranted in this case. Attorney General Sorrell commented: “This is certainly an unfortunate and regrettable incident. We can be thankful that no one, either Mr. Burwell or the officers, was seriously injured. But this was not criminal conduct by the Hartford Police.”

Comments

  1. kraig richard :

    Witnesses reported that Burwell had been warned about buying sugary beverages and that the community was not going to stand for this type of behaviour.

    Other states have the Innocence Project to find and help those not guilty. AG Sorrell has his own version as seen in this article. He could have been shot and Sorrell’s verdict would still be the same.

    Lets all hope for the best of our civil rights that this general is never given a gavel.

  2. Christian Noll :

    So why not make the records public then? If there are no charges of any kind to worry of, why not affirm the state’s good reputation by making the records and audio of the incident public?

    Since both officers and vicitm’s names are now public, it would only seem fair and just to uncover the actual records of the incident.

    Its my understanding that once no charges of any kind are brought forth or dropped, these records may be destroyed to permanently conceal the footage or audio from public scrutiny.

    Why so much secrecy? I mean if every one’s innocent, why not show us (the public) how you arrived at that decision?

    Records of the incident, albeit digital, audio or hand written, are public records, not secret records.

  3. I agree w/ Christian. If this is what really happened, they should have made the records public.
    It casts doubt on this version of the story, which looked like it took some time to concoct.

    But the problem is also that the cops immediately assumed the guy had done something wrong. They saw him as a criminal, not a person in need of help. I mean, the guy was naked, for crissakes. Could this just possibly have been b/c he was black?

  4. Too many loose ends to trust the story yet.
    What’s with the cleaning service person?
    What’s with the smoke?
    What’s with the rush by the police?
    Are they not trained not to panic in front of naked people?
    If records can be withheld in a criminal case,
    and this is clearly NOT a criminal case (all agree),
    what lawful basis is there to withhold any records?

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