By Alan J. Keays/VTDigger
POWNAL — Vermont State Police say a Bennington County man critically injured in an officer-involved shooting Thursday night has “stabilized” and is expected to survive.
Bernard Rougeau, 48, of Pownal, who police said was shot by Trooper Thomas Sandberg outside his home after he refused orders to drop his shotgun, was airlifted to Albany Medical Center in New York for treatment.
Police said they were called to Rougeau’s home on Short Drive in Pownal late Thursday night by a family member reporting that he was intoxicated and had cut himself.
State police Maj. Glenn Hall, head of the criminal division, said at press conference Friday afternoon that Rougeau was listed in critical condition at the hospital.
Hall added that the trooper who fired on Rougeau, identified later Friday afternoon as Sandberg, shot twice and struck him with buckshot. Hall said it appeared the buckshot pellets stuck Rougeau in his torso area.
“From what we hear, he is expected to survive,” Hall said. “I can’t tell you right now how many pellets hit him.”
Later Friday afternoon, police reported that Rougeau’s condition has “stabilized.”
Hall said that Rougeau had two rounds in the chamber of his double-barrelled shotgun at the time he was shot. Rougeau did not fire his shotgun.
“This shooting is captured on a cruiser camera from one of the responding officers that was pointed in the direction of where this happened,” Hall said. “I am not going to talk in detail about that video right now because it’s an active investigation. We’re still interviewing witnesses.”
Asked if Rougeau pointed his shotgun at the trooper, Hall responded, “He raised that shotgun.”
And, the major said, Rougeau refused orders to drop the firearm.
Hall said the dash-cam video of the shooting won’t be released to the public at this time because the investigation is ongoing.
Rougeau’s mobile home is on dirt road that runs a few hundred yards off Middle Pownal Road, and several miles from Route 7.
About a half-dozen state police SUVs filled the home’s driveway Friday afternoon, with a large mobile crime scene command post vehicle parked there too. Yellow crime scene tape lined the property, which was blocked to the public.
Pownal, a southern Bennington County town with a population of 3,415, is bordered to the south by Williamstown, Massachusetts, and to the west by Petersburgh, New York.
Greg Racicot, 66, said Friday afternoon that his home is about 200 feet from Rougeau’s home and where the shooting took place.
Racicot said he was glued to the television Thursday night watching the Boston Red Sox playoff baseball game and didn’t hear anything until after the shooting was well over, when he went outside around midnight to let his dog out.
“I was watching the Red Sox game so I guess I kind of missed everything,” Racicot said. “Usually, I can hear a shot, but with all the cheering and the home run, I didn’t hear a thing.”
He said his wife, who was in a different part of his home in a bedroom closer to Rougeau’s residence, did tell him she had heard shots.However, he said, hearing shots in that area is not that unusual or cause for alarm since the area is pretty wooded and there’s a shooting range only a short distance away.
Racicot said he had known Rougeau for some time, though not all that well.
“I think he was a hard guy to get to know even if you wanted to,” Racicot said, adding, “We weren’t tight with him or anything, but we knew him.”
He described Rougeau as a person who would race vehicles up and down the short road and cause a bit of nuisance, but he never knew him to have a gun.
“My wife and I had a joke that he was almost 50 going on 15,” Racicot said.
Hall, head of the state police criminal division, said Friday that police were called to Rougeau’s home around 9:22 p.m. Thursday. Troopers arrived at the scene at 9:45 p.m. along with an officer from the Bennington Police Department, according to Hall.
At the scene, police said, they learned Rougeau had left the residence with a long gun and was believed to be in a wooded area behind the home.
Troopers remained on the scene and communicated directly with Rougeau’s family members while taking a position outside the residence, Hall said.
At about 10:40 p.m., according to the major, Rougeau came out of the woods holding a shotgun and refused orders from troopers to drop it.
“A trooper closest to Rougeau’s position fired his department-issued shotgun at Rougeau, wounding him,” according to the statement from the state police. Rougeau was then airlifted the Albany hospital.
Vermont State Police had been reviewing its use of force policies following three fatal shootings involving the state police over a six-month span, from Sept. 1, 2017, to Feb. 11, 2018. In each case, prosecutors ruled that officers were justified in their use of deadly force.
Asked if the use of buckshot was a change in policy by state police away from shotgun shells in such situations, Hall said that wasn’t the case.
“Troopers normally carry with them shotguns, buckshot and also shotgun shells,” he said. “They can utilize one or the other in specific situations. It really is what they feel is the appropriate ammunition at the time.”
Hall declined to comment further on the tactics employed in Thursday night’s shooting pending the outcome of the ongoing investigation.
Rougeau is not currently facing any charges and is not in custody, Hall said, though a state police detective is at the hospital in Albany.
Rougeau is a convicted felon, with felony convictions for arson and drunken driving, third offense, Hall said. It is illegal under federal law for a convicted felon to possess a firearm.
Bennington County State’s Attorney Erica Marthage said at the press conference Friday that it was too early to say what, if any, criminal charges would be brought against Rougeau.
“I review the investigation that [state police] do and then make that decision,” she said.
Late Friday afternoon, police identified Sandberg as the trooper who fired on Rougeau. Sandberg, 23, was hired by state police in July 2017, and was assigned to the Shaftsbury Barracks in January.
Also at the scene when the shooting took place were troopers Justin Walker and Raymond Witkowski, both of the Shaftsbury Barracks, and Bennington Police Department Sgt. Jason Burnham.
According to a policy adopted earlier this year, a trooper who fires in an officer-involved shooting is placed on administrative leave for at least five days.
Also, after that period, the trooper is then placed on “administrative duty status” pending the outcome of a review of the officer-involved shooting by the Vermont Attorney General’s Office and the local State’s Attorney.
The process that could run several months.