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(NECN: Jack Thurston, Burlington, Vt.) - Wayne Brunette, 49, of Burlington, Vt. was killed late Wednesday afternoon after he was shot by an officer with the Burlington Police Dept., Chief Mike Schirling announced Thursday. Schirling identified Cpl. Ethan Thibault as the officer who fired at Brunette.
The shooting was the city's first police officer-involved shooting death since 1997, Schirling said.
"This is a tragic event, for all involved," he said. "It's just not the outcome we're looking for."
Schirling said a call came in from Brunette's mother, saying he was acting irrationally and destroying property. Schirling said when officers arrived, Brunette threatened them with a long-handled pointed shovel, and was heading toward them. Thibault's shot struck Brunette in the torso, Schirling said. He was later pronounced dead at the hospital. An autopsy was scheduled for Thursday, according to investigators.
Five neighbors on Randy Lane in Burlington declined interview requests from New England Cable News, saying they wanted to respect the privacy of the Brunette family. One man, who said he has known the family for more than 30 years, told NECN off-camera that Wayne Brunette was quiet and he rarely saw him.
Schirling said his department has had had several prior contacts with Brunette over the years, but none in recent memory. A 2003 simple assault and disorderly conduct charge was later dismissed, Burlington Deputy Chief Bruce Bovat told NECN.
Thibault, who has worked for Burlington Police for 12 years, and an officer with him, Cpl. Brent Navari, were uninjured and placed on administrative leave. Navari is a 10-year veteran of the force, according to the department. Both have received praise from the department in the past for their work, Schirling said.
A customary investigation from an outside agency, the Vt. State Police, will look at what happened between the policemen and the man with the shovel. NECN asked Maj. Glenn Hall of the Vt. State Police if investigators have ascertained how the shovel was being wielded and if they would consider a shovel a "deadly weapon."
"It certainly could be," Hall said. "The investigation will reveal those facts."
The Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is now questioning if the use of deadly force was the only way to defuse the situation.
"I think it makes people think twice before they call the police," ACLU of Vermont executive director Allen Gilbert told WPTZ-TV. "When somebody calls the police, they now have to think that they could have started a situation that will end in a person being shot."
Chief Schirling told NECN he has confidence in his officers’ training and in the policies of the department. Schirling said it appears Thibault and Navari reacted appropriately to the threatening situation. The investigation could take weeks to complete.