Four days of trial and six hours of deliberation
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION - A Windsor County jury deliberated for nearly six hours on Wednesday before returning a set of "not guilty" verdicts that cleared a former Windsor Police Department detective who'd been charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and reckless endangerment after he shot the driver of a car twice in the arm during a November 2014 sting operation that had been rapidly pulled together in order to try and capture a wanted heroin dealer.
Palmer's father, Patrick, and other family members hug him and his defense attorney, Dan Sedon, Wednesday night
Ryan Palmer, who was placed on administrative leave after the charges were filed and has since left law enforcement to become head of security at a private company in Kentucky, hugged his defense attorney Dan Sedon and then a series of family members and friends late Wednesday night after the verdicts were announced.
"Obviously I'm pleased with the verdicts," Palmer told reporters in the courtroom moments after the jury acquitted him. "This entire battle has always been bigger than me. I fought this for every police officer who is working currently and who will come down the road."
"We've always thought the prosecution's versions of events were unfair and the way that they evaluated a police officer's use of force was also unfair and didn't coincide with the way that the Supreme Court of the United States had ruled," Palmer continued.
"From the start the prosecution took one piece of really-not-that-great video and let their opinions and their feelings dictate where the investigation led, rather than letting the facts dictate that," Palmer said.
Sedon, Palmer's defense attorney, had suggested to the jury in his closing argument that the charges against Palmer were “political” since they were filed in 2014 amidst the heated national climate surrounding the protests and riots that were taking place then in Ferguson, Missouri when the “Black Lives Matter” movement was in it’s formative stages.
"He is subject to the same law as everyone else but on the other hand he is entitled to the protection of the law. He is entitled to the benefit of the doubt," Sedon told the jurors, adding, "It's almost unbelievable, if you hadn't witnessed it with your own eyes, that his own government would do this to him when all of the facts support the credible witnesses in this case."
Sedon suggested that in a bout of political correctness the investigation conducted by the Vermont State Police into the Windsor incident had leaned over backwards to adopt the statements of two wanted fugitive drug dealers who were trying to avoid potential charges of having tried to assault a police officer with a car and at the same time ignored the sworn statements and recollections of four police officers and a member of the local state's attorney's office who were present at the scene.
Vermont Assistant Attorney General Matthew Levine used his own closing argument to take offense at Sedon’s statements, saying that he felt Palmer had overstepped his authority and acted outside the law when he opened fire on Jorge Burgos, a former resident of Quechee who was wanted in Massachusetts at the time and who was the boyfriend of Claremont fugitive Brittany Smith who was wanted in New Hampshire on drug dealing and identity theft charges and who was seated in the passenger seat next to Burgos.
Much of the trial pivoted on a video of the shooting that was captured - although just barely - by a security camera mounted overlooking the parking lot of Ferguson's Auto alongside Route 5 in Windsor opposite the American Precision Museum.
What the video did make clear was that the entire encounter between a pair of detectives, two Windsor patrol officers in marked squad cars, a decoy waiting in a pickup truck and the fugitives who showed up in a car and then fled out of the parking lot to begin a 20-minute-long, 100-plus mile-per-hour two-state car chase that ended in their apprehension, lasted a mere 10 seconds.
Much of the four-day trial that began on Friday centered on conflicting testimony as to exactly when it was during the split-second events which were unfolding as the suspects' black Honda reversed several car-lengths and then sped forward, that Palmer squeezed off three rapid fire shots through the driver's side window, striking Burgos in the arm.
Burgos and Smith claimed the shots were fired after they came to a halt. Palmer and the other officers said he opened fire after Burgos turned his tires toward Palmer and stepped on the gas, sending the wheels spinning and gravel flying as Palmer sidestepped out of the way, avoiding being struck by just inches.
Pivotal to both side's arguments was the question of whether the couple knew they had just sprung a trap set by police to apprehend them or whether, as they claimed, their perception was that they were about to become the victims of an armed robbery by what appeared to be "a couple of woodchucks" because the detectives, who'd roared up in a pickup truck just seconds before the two marked police cruisers, were not dressed in police uniforms.
Speaking after the verdict, Palmer told reporters that he felt exonerated by the jury and he said that he waged the nearly three-year-long legal battle in the hopes that Vermont will “change the way they investigate officer-involved shootings in the future.”
"I've thought from the beginning that this was a political prosecution. It smelled that way from the very start and you could see (today) that the facts never supported the charges," Palmer said.
Asked if he planned to return to law enforcement given the outcome, Palmer replied, "At this point I'm trying to just decompress and re-evaluate things and we'll go from there. The reason that I fought this so hard was that I would never want this to happen to any officer ever. I think the state police conceded (during testimony at the trial this week) that they need to change the way that they investigate officer-involved shootings. For me it's been terrible but it was worse on my family and close friends. What kept me going was the outpouring of support from the community."
Palmer took the witness stand in his own defense on Wednesday, telling the jurors that it was "absurd" to think he would shoot someone just to stop them from fleeing an arrest
Vermont Assistant Attorney General Matthew Levine suggested that a rush to "be a hero" led Detective Palmer to be overly aggressive that November afternoon in 2014 in a parking lot alongside Route 5 in downtown Windsor.
Defense attorney Dan Sedon called the grand jury indictment of Palmer "political" in his closing arguments
Sedon spoke about the "view through their gunsights" as two Windsor detectives made split second decisions on whether to shoot or not while they were on opposite sides of the suspects' car.
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