Former state police detective testifies in Palmer trial
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — A former Vermont State Police detective faced heated questioning from a defense attorney on Monday during the second day of testimony in the wrongful shooting trial of suspended Windsor police detective Ryan Palmer.Former Vermont State Police Detective Sgt. Robert Patton, now retired, testified in the Windsor Criminal Division of Vermont Superior Court that he had no "reasonable" cause to challenge statements from suspects Jorge Burgos and Brittany Smith — both described as "convicted liars" by Palmer's defense attorney, Dan Sedon.Patton testified on Friday that he had been assigned as head of the state police investigation to determine whether Palmer wrongfully fired three shots from his service weapon at a fleeing vehicle driven by Burgos, 35, formerly of Quechee, wounding him in the arm. The trial began on Friday with Smith, who testified to having been tricked on Facebook into meeting a woman named "Veronica Monique," who reportedly owed her money. In fact, the woman was a complete stranger who told police she had seen Smith on WMUR's "Fugitive of the Week."
Smith also testified to being unaware of two recent grand jury indictments charging her with identity fraud and selling heroin.The two women agreed to meet in the Ferguson's Auto parking lot in Windsor at 4 p.m. on Nov. 16, 2014. There, Smith believed she would be handed the $800 owed to her. Instead, police had set a trap to apprehend Smith in the parking lot. On Friday, state prosecutors played a surveillance video obtained by state police that captures the entire 10-second police encounter.The video shows the Toyota wagon, driven by Burgos, pulling into the parking lot at about 4 p.m. Smith is in the passenger seat. As the vehicle makes a slow left turn in the parking lot, police in an unmarked silver pickup truck block its path.Detectives Christopher Connor and Palmer are seen jumping out of the vehicle with guns drawn.
The Toyota begins moving backward as far as it can go, then inches forward and rapidly accelerates in Palmer’s direction, through the parking lot and onto Route 5 southbound. Several marked police cruisers are then seen pursuing the vehicle with blue lights flashing. On Monday, Patton testified that state police forensic examiners were unable to determine at which point Palmer fired his weapon due to the video's lack of sound and poor image quality. The video was later sent to the FBI and enhanced.Prosecutor Matthew Levine on Monday played the enhanced video in two parts. The video shows Palmer standing near the front left driver's side of Burgos’ vehicle before it makes a slight left turn and begins to accelerate.
There is no visible muzzle flash from Palmer's semi-automatic pistol.However, Palmer and Connor told investigators as they approached the Burgos vehicle they were shouting "police" and "put your hands up," Patton testified. A third witness, who reportedly viewed the police encounter in her rearview mirror, corroborated statements of both detectives, Patton said.
Burgos and Smith told investigators they heard nothing to identify the officers and panicked, thinking they were about to be robbed.Patton testified he did not closely inspect the crime scene and that his experience with police-involved shootings is limited to two cases, including Palmer's.In assessing Palmer's state of mind during the brief encounter, Patton used the terms "auditory exclusion" and "tunnel vision" to describe Palmer being intensely focused on the "perceived threat" of being run over by Burgos.Investigators recovered three shell casings from the scene, the closest of which is believed to have been ejected by Palmer’s firearm 13 inches from the Burgos vehicle.Patton acknowledged Burgos has a conviction for giving false information to police. Regardless, Burgos and Smith both appeared honest in their statements to police, he said.
Patton said there is "no reason" to challenge their statements."That's not a detective's job? Doesn't the truth matter somewhere?" Sedon fired back. "Doesn't the truth matter to you?""I have no reason to challenge their credibility," Patton responded."Really? That's the long answer?""It's a truthful answer," Patton said.
The trial is expected to go into its third day of testimony on Tuesday. Judge Timothy B. Tomasi is presiding.Palmer, 30, is charged with aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon and misdemeanor reckless endangerment. He is currently on suspension pending the outcome of the trial.