Public Safety

Judge finds no probable cause for assault charges against troopers in beanbag case

Trooper Zachary Trocki, left, and Sgt. Ryan Wood from the Westminster barracks. Photos courtesy of Vermont State Police

A judge has struck down an assault charge filed by the Vermont Attorney General’s Office against two state troopers, but allowed another misdemeanor charge to proceed.

Trooper Zachary Trocki and Sgt. Ryan Wood, both of the Westminster barracks, were cited Monday on charges of simple assault and reckless endangerment in a 2022 incident that seriously injured a 61-year-old Newfane man.

Each charge is punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

According to Vermont State Police, the troopers’ criminal cases stem from last June, when a Newfane resident called about a guest behaving irrationally and inflicting damage to his house.

When Trocki and Wood arrived, investigators said, the troopers found Marshall Dean on the roof of the house. Police said the troopers tried to de-escalate the situation but were unsuccessful, and Trocki eventually fired a beanbag projectile at Dean, who fell about 15 feet to the ground. 

State police said Dean underwent surgery for life-threatening injuries. His present condition is unclear.  

On Tuesday, a week before the troopers were scheduled to answer the charges in Windham County Superior criminal court, Judge Katherine Hayes found probable cause to arraign them on a charge of reckless endangerment. 

But the judge said she didn’t find probable cause for the simple assault charges.

“The affidavit fails to establish that the shooting of the beanbag caused Mr. Dean’s fall and injury,” Hayes wrote in an entry order in both cases, court records show.

The Vermont Troopers’ Association, which has denounced the charges against Trocki and Wood, called on Vermont Attorney General Charity Clark on Wednesday to dismiss the remaining charges.

Association director Michael O’Neil said the judge’s finding that there was no probable cause confirms his group’s position that the troopers were performing their official duties in good faith.

“This case does not rise to the level of criminal conduct,” O’Neil said in an interview. “If there are questions of policy, they should be addressed through the internal affairs process, and, if appropriate, through discipline.”

He said Vermont cannot create a law enforcement environment that criminalizes human error, good-faith mistakes and policy violations by officers.

“How do we find and recruit qualified people to come into a job when there's a fear that lawfully doing your job in good faith could result in you facing criminal charges, the loss of your livelihood and ability to support your family?” O’Neil said.

Wood’s attorney, David Sleigh, told VTDigger he intends to ask the court to dismiss his client’s remaining charge. He said he doesn’t believe the facts support reckless endangerment.

“But the most troubling aspect of all of this is, really, how the Attorney General's Office has essentially declared war on Vermont state troopers, who do their best under the most challenging of circumstances to try to protect all of us,” Sleigh said, “and to subject them to this kind of picayune, hindsight second-guessing.”

Trocki’s attorney, Robert Sussman, didn’t immediately return requests for comment on Wednesday.

In response to a request to interview the attorney general, Clark’s chief of staff, Lauren Jandl, said the office doesn’t want to comment because of rules of professional responsibility that govern prosecutors.

As of Monday, Vermont State Police said both Wood and Trocki were suspended from their jobs. In accordance with agency policy, they will be placed on unpaid leave once they have been arraigned. Their arraignment on the remaining charge is scheduled for May 30 in Brattleboro.

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Tiffany Tan

About Tiffany

Tiffany Tan is VTDigger's Southern Vermont reporter. Before joining VTDigger, she covered cops and courts for the Bennington Banner from 2018 to 2021. Prior to that, Tiffany worked for the Rapid City Journal in South Dakota and spent more than 10 years working for newspapers and television stations in Manila, Singapore and Beijing.

Email: ttan@vtdigger.org

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