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So, here's the thing
Bill Bilodeau

Not Heroism


Questionable Police Work Rewarded

Stop me if you’ve heard this one …

A man walks into a church. He says, "Help, I need political sanctuary! The CIA and the FBI are after me! The police are gonna kill me!"

Fifteen minutes later, he’s lying in a pool of his own blood, shot seven times by two police officers within 60 seconds of their arrival at the church. He dies three hours later on the operating table at one of the best hospitals in the world.

Four months later, the officers are not only cleared of any wrongdoing by the state attorney general, but he dubs their actions "heroic."

It could only happen in New York City. Or maybe not.

This particular conspiracy buff’s wet dream took place recently in Vermont – that’s right, and not a cow in sight. Everything stated above is true, and the real tale is as bizarre as it seems.

Robert "Woody" Woodward was, by all accounts, a gentle, helpful, 38-year-old, environmentally conscious volunteer-with-the-disadvantaged-kids type.

No one knows what set him off on Dec. 2, 2001, but he drove a half-hour south of his Bellows Falls, Vt. Home to an out-of-the-way little church in the town of Brattleboro. There, he burst in upon a service attended by about 65 people, announced the police were out to get him, and begged for asylum.

The response from the president of the congregation? Well, he did exactly what you’d expect of a good Christian (actually, it was a Unitarian Universalist church). Honoring Woodward’s request, he dug out his cell phone and called the cops, telling them there was a deranged "outsider" in his church.

While others moved children to safety or tried to talk calmly to Woodward, congregation president Charles Butterworth (that’s right, THE Mr. Butterworth of "40 Days and 40 Nights" fame) called the police back to tell them Woodworth was armed and ranting.

True enough. Woodward had taken out a 3-inch pocket knife and, following the example of Cleavon Little in "Blazing Saddles," held it to his own face, threatening to harm HIMSELF if he didn’t get what he was asking for. Along the way, he at least hinted that the CIA was responsible for the deaths of Bob Marley and George Harrison (who had died days earlier).

At one point, Woodward had been calmed down by several congregation members trained in psychology. He put the knife away. Then, as if on cue, a church official ran in and announced everyone must leave the dangerous situation (presumably not Woodward, though, who undoubtedly felt left out and became agitated once again).

Out came the knife. This time, he threatened his eye.

Three police officers arrived, with one walking slowly, gun drawn, to the front of the church, where Woodward stood. Another took up a similar position to Woodward’s left. The third worked on getting people out of the room.

Here’s where accounts get dicey.

At some point, within 60 seconds of the officers’ arrival, Woodward made some sort of move forward. Officer Terrence Parker, right in front of him, says Woodward charged him. Others say it was less aggressive. The attorney general’s final report on the matter quotes Marshall Holbrook, the officer off to his left, as saying Woodward charged.

Whatever, Parker fired, hitting Woodward in the arm. When Woodward didn’t stop and say he was sorry, Parker fired three more times. So did Holbrook, by the way, including the fatal shot that pierced Woodward’s abdomen. One of the shots hit the man in the back.

All of which is understandable, given the situation: man armed with a knife (however small), coming at a cop who’s warned him to put the knife down and who has been told the man’s a raving lunatic. What would you do?

Well, you might use your pepper spray, which the police chief said the officers carried, but which the attorney general later said they "might have" had. Shouldn’t he know, after an exhaustive, four-month investigation? But let’s not quibble. If I were Parker, I’d have had my gun out.

The rest of the sad tale rests with Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell. First, he refused to allow an independent investigator to take on the case, even though in Vermont, it’s his job to work closely with state and local cops, and even though his investigative arm, the Vermont State Police, had all but declared Parker and Holbrook cleared before they even started the official investigation.

Next, he admitted in the report and in the press conference announcing his findings that witnesses’ accounts of the events in the church varied widely, and that he basically ignored those that didn’t fit his investigators’ theories and the evidence they collected.

He then announced there were "large concentrations" of ephedrine found in Woodward’s blood. My God!! Not ephedrine! You mean the stuff in my asthma inhaler? What could it all mean? According to Woodward’s supporters, it means Woody had allergies. But the unstated hint from Sorrell was that Woodward was somehow having a Fen-Phen moment. No other drugs were found nor were any other explanations for his odd behavior offered.

Last, and perhaps worst of all, he stood before a crowd of dozens of Woodward’s friends and family, and announced that the officers who shot Woodward seven times, including in the back, were heroic for doing so.

Hey, it wasn’t 44 shots at an unarmed man in a doorway, but in small-town Vermont, it’s been enough to spur quite a bit of animosity against the local police, who are now (if they weren’t before) seen as trigger-happy, untrained
yahoos doing whatever they want and covering up for each other when the shit hits the fanatic.

And those are the people who aren’t simply scared silly that Robert Woodward’s prediction came true so quickly.

Now, how exactly did Bob Marley die?


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