Sorrell: Hartford police officers acted lawfully in Burwell case

MONTPELIER, VT 05609-1001
Assistant Attorney General
November 23, 2010 802-828-5517

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.”

Press Release

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