Prosecutor Matthew Levine cross-examines Brittany Smith on the first day of a trail for a Windsor detective accused of wrongfully shooting a man while attempting to apprehend a passenger in the man's vehicle several years ago. — ALLAN STEIN

Wrongful shooting trial begins for Windsor officer

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By ALLAN STEIN, Eagle Times correspondent

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — The trial of a Windsor police detective accused of wrongfully shooting a man while trying to apprehend a passenger in his vehicle on a drug warrant began Friday with opening statements and testimony from the passenger herself.

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Ryan Palmer, 30, of Windsor, faces charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and reckless endangerment in connection with the Nov. 16, 2014 incident that left Jorge Burgos, 37, injured with a bullet wound in his arm.

Palmer told investigators that he fired his service weapon in self-defense, thinking he was about to be run over.

In her opening remarks, prosecutor Elizabeth Anderson told a 14-member jury of 10 women and four men that Palmer acted recklessly in carrying out a "rushed plan" to arrest Brittany Smith on a warrant for identity theft and selling heroin.

"It was a rushed plan and an ill-advised plan to make an arrest," Anderson said. 

Anderson said the plan was to lure Smith into the parking lot of Ferguson's Auto in Windsor, where Smith believed she would be meeting an acquaintance who owed her $800. 

Palmer and another officer sat in an unmarked pickup truck in the parking lot waiting to arrest Smith on the outstanding warrant. Both men wore plain clothes and remained in radio contact with officers parked in police vehicles nearby.

At 4 p.m., Smith entered the parking lot in a Toyota wagon driven by Burgos. The two officers sprang into action, blocking the car's exit with the pickup truck.

"Go, go, go!" Palmer reportedly shouted over his police radio before other officers converged on the scene, Anderson said.

Anderson said Burgos and Smith both panicked, thinking it was a robbery. Burgos then put the vehicle in reverse, she said. 

From the driver side of the vehicle Palmer allegedly fired off three rounds from his service weapon into the driver's side window, striking Burgos in the arm before the vehicle sped off southbound on Route 5, the prosecutor said. 

Both occupants were arrested after a high-speed chase in Claremont.

In her opening remarks, Anderson said Palmer was "never in jeopardy of being run over" by Burgos and that Palmer fired his weapon "without any justification whatsoever. He simply shot him to stop him from fleeing that day."

Anderson said that trajectory analysis of the bullets will show that Palmer fired from the side of the vehicle.

Defense attorney Dan Sedon described Palmer as an Air Force veteran who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and as a former police officer in Claremont who had worked his way up to become a detective on the Windsor police force. 

He is not the kind of officer who would "go and get a cup of coffee if he could take a criminal off the streets," Sedon said.

Sedon said after his arrest on Nov. 16, 2014, Burgos watched a surveillance video Vermont State Police obtained of the incident and adapted his story. He also claims he didn't know the men in the parking lot were police officers.

Prosecutor Matthew Levine played a copy of the video for the jury. Because the video does not contain sound, Sedon said there is no way to determine the precise moment the shots were fired.  

However, "[Burgos] knew that [Palmer] was a cop, and he knew [Palmer] was at the front of the vehicle," Sedon said. "He knew he had turned the wheels toward him and he knew it would be assault and battery on a police officer."

The first witness who gave testimony on Friday was Smith, who broke into tears immediately upon taking the stand.

Smith testified to having been in contact on Facebook with a woman who used the name Veronica Monique, an acquaintance Smith said owed her nearly $800.

"So you are not working for cops or anything? LOL," Smith reportedly said during the conversation on social media, Sedon said, reading from court documents.

"You were worried about cops? Getting arrested was high in your mind?" Sedon said to the witness, who later testified that she was unaware that there were grand jury indictments against her for selling heroin and identity theft.  

In her testimony, Smith stood by her earlier statements that Palmer was standing alongside rather than in front of the vehicle when the Palmer fired his weapon. 


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