MONTPELIER – Vermont State Police have identified the Montpelier police officer who fatally shot a 62-year-old local man in the early hours of Friday morning.
A statement from VSP on Saturday identified the officer as Cpl. Chad Bean. He has been employed by the Montpelier Police Department since February 2007.
Also present at the time of the shooting was Montpelier Police Officer Chris Quesnel, the statement added.
Police officials said that Mark Johnson was shot twice in the torso with a patrol rifle on Spring Street after failing to respond to police commands to drop a pistol he was holding before pointing it at the officers.
Officers immediately administered first aid before Johnson was transported to Central Vermont Medical Center where he was pronounced dead.
Johnson’s body was taken to the Chief Medical Examiner in Burlington for an autopsy where Johnson’s death was ruled a homicide.
Police responded at 5:04 a.m. to reports that a man with a knife had attempted to enter another man’s residence at nearby Pioneer Apartments before leaving the area, police said.
Two responding police officers saw a man, later identified as Johnson, running away from the apartment complex and carrying what appeared to be a handgun, police said.
Police officials said officers repeatedly asked Johnson to drop the gun and attempted to de-escalate the situation and offered to get help for Johnson.
Johnson then climbed onto the railing of the bridge and raised the pistol in the direction of the officers and one of the officers fired his patrol rifle, striking Johnson, police said.
According to a news release, no police officers or other individuals were injured during the incident which lasted 12 minutes from the time police were summoned to when shots were fired.
The Vermont State Police responded to investigate the officer-involved shooting. Police secured the weapon, which was determined to be a Daisy Powerline pellet pistol. Police could not say if the weapon was loaded.
Police said the incident was captured on cruiser dashboard-mounted video. Montpelier police officers are not equipped with body cameras. A VSP spokesman could not say if or when the video footage would be released.
According to the release, per protocol, the names of the officers are being withheld while the investigation continues. The officers have been placed on paid administrative leave.
When the state police investigation is complete, it will be turned over for independent reviews by the Vermont Attorney General’s Office and the Washington County State’s Attorney’s Office, the release stated.
Traffic into the downtown was disrupted following the incident, with Spring Street, between Elm and Main streets, and Main Street between School and Liberty streets, blocked off to traffic until mid-afternoon.
White tarpaulins covered a space on the Spring Street bridge, with officers from VSP, Montpelier and Barre police departments and University of Vermont Police on-scene.
The VSP Crime Scene Search Team arrived shortly after 9 a.m. to begin an investigation.
Montpelier Police Chief Tony Facos, dressed in civilian clothing, arrived shortly before 9:30 a.m. to join the investigation.
Facos declined to comment, referring inquiries to Vermont State Police.
It is the second fatal shooting in the city following the shooting death of Nathan Giffin, of Essex, after a nearly hour-long standoff at Montpelier High School in January 2018. After an investigation, the Attorney General’s Office did not press charges against any of the officers involved.
The incidents involving Johnson and Giffin have raised questions about the use of lethal force by police in situations involving people with mental health and substance abuse issues.
Just this month, Montpelier Police Department was commended in the newsletter of Team Two Vermont for its use of non-lethal force in March in a similar incident to subdue a Montpelier man wielding a knife and threatening to harm himself. Montpelier police used a modified shotgun to fire a bean-bag round that halted the man’s advance before he surrendered.
Team Two Vermont takes its name from a collaboration between law enforcement and mental health crisis workers to intervene where someone with mental health or substance abuse problems poses a danger to themselves or others. The program, which began in 2013 in Washington County has been adopted by 35 law enforcement agencies and associated mental health services around Vermont. Vermont State Police has also requested additional Team Two Vermont training for troopers to deal with such incidents.
Last month, Montpelier City Council formed a task force to address the needs of the homeless and people with mental health issues in Montpelier. An update on the task force will discussed at a meeting of the council on Wednesday.
At a press conference at the scene of incident on Friday afternoon, Maj. Dan Trudeau, criminal division commander of Vermont State Police, said he did not know if Washington County Mental Health Services was called to assist in de-escalating the conflict with Johnson.
However, Johnson was known to Montpelier police as a person with mental health issues, but no charges were filed against him, Trudeau said. In June, police responded to two incidents in Montpelier and one incident in Barre involving Johnson, he added.
“What I can say is that, yes, Mr. Johnson does have a history of some mental illness, we’re still looking into that, “Trudeau said. “But the officers did perceive him holding the pistol. It was actually identified at a Daisy pellet pistol.
“I can say from personal knowledge it looks very similar to a Beretta real pistol,” Trudeau added but could not confirm if the weapon was loaded.
Trudeau was asked whether Johnson was actually using the knife to try to get into his own apartment after reports that he had left his keys inside.
“I don’t actually have any information that he was trying to jimmy his way into his own apartment – he was at another apartment trying to get in,” said Trudeau, who confirmed Johnson was also found to be in possession of a “small-bladed knife.”
Trudeau stressed that Montpelier police officers did everything possible to de-escalate the situation before Johnson pointed his weapon at them and was shot.
“Repeatedly, they attempted to offer him help, asked him to put the weapon down, put his hands up, asked him the climb down from the bridge railing – over and over they offered their assistance to him and encouraged him to put down the weapon,” Trudeau said. “It was a very, very short period of time that this all transpired.”
Trudeau said he could not second-guess whether police officers could have attempted to use other non-lethal methods in responding to the threat posed by Johnson.
“What is fair to say is that they felt threatened by the weapon being pointed at them,” Trudeau said. “And as you know, guns can fire at any range, so that may not have been a reasonable option to them.”
Trudeau added that Johnson first climbed onto the railing on one side of the bridge before climbing down, crossing the street and climbing onto the railing on the opposite side.
“Once he came down again, he did point the pellet pistol at the officers,” Trudeau said.
Residents at Pioneer Apartments said they knew Johnson to be a quiet, gentle man, who would get up early in the morning and go to nearby convenience stores to buy coffee and cigarettes.
One resident, Gale Cotnoir, said he heard a commotion and then heard shots fired.
“By the time I got to the window and saw blue lights, I heard three pops (of gunfire),” Cotnoir said.
Cotnoir said his view of Spring Street was partially obscured by trees but he also saw an ambulance leave the scene.
“When an ambulance leaves slowly with just lights and no siren, I said, ‘That’s a bad sign,’ because if you’re trying to save someone, they load up and go,” Cotnoir said.
Anyone information about the incident is asked to the call the Vermont State Police barracks in Middlesex at 229-919.