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Show me your hands! Down on the ground!

Dramatic arrest sends patrons scrambling for cover at Amtrak depot in Brattleboro

BRATTLEBORO—A routine afternoon train stop turned interesting for some, and terrifying for others, after Brattleboro and Vermont State Police arrested Donald Doutre for disorderly conduct.

Monday’s incident occurred around 5:30 p.m., while passengers waited for Amtrak’s northbound Vermonter to arrive.

According to Police Chief Eugene Wrinn, two Brattleboro police officers on patrol responded to a call at the Amtrak station of a man “threatening to shoot people.”

Wrinn said that a state trooper also responded to assist the officers.

Wrinn said Doutre, 44, of Brattleboro, appeared to be intoxicated. After his arrest, an officer took Doutre to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital. The officer later called for assistance after Doutre became unruly in the emergency room, said Wrinn.

No weapons were found on him, said Wrinn.

“[Doutre was] an alcoholic person who was getting unruly,” said Amtrak station manager Marshall Patton, who was there Monday afternoon.

Patton, who has worked at the Brattleboro station for three years, said Amtrak has a policy stating that drunken customers cannot board a train.

About once every five months, Patton turns an intoxicated passenger away.

Patton said he would have dealt with Doutre too, but was talking to other customers at the time.

Doutre did not appear drunk, according to Patton, who had seen him earlier. He said Doutre had a reservation for the Vermonter. 

“Someone made a mistake, and called the police,” said Patton.

Police will not comment on who made the call, or where it originated.

It is unclear whether Patton knew whether Doutre had threatened to shoot anyone.

“It only takes one person to perceive it as a threat to make it criminal,” said Brattleboro Police officer Chad Emery, who responded to the scene along with officers David Godinho and David Cerreto, and two state troopers from the Brattleboro barracks.

Margaret Shipman, exhibits and events manager for the Brattleboro Museum and Arts Center, which is housed above the Amtrak waiting room, said that she watched the events unfold beneath her office window.

She said she heard yelling.

“Show me your hands! Down on the ground!” is what she said she heard.

From her window overlooking the train platform, she saw officers with rifles and people hiding between parked cars. She couldn’t see Doutre.

“Nobody knew anything,” she said.

Shipman went back to her desk. About 10 to 15 minutes later, she said she heard a man yell, “I need to go to rehab.”

She describes the situation as “fascinating.”

“I felt pretty safe up here,” she said.

Judy Berger Tharp of Putney witnessed the action unfold while she waited to pick up her 15-year-old son, who was riding the train back from visiting his father in New Jersey.

She described feeling “bewildered” and “in limbo” because officers left without telling witnesses what had happened or whether they were safe.

Tharp said that she arrived late to pick up her son. Moments before the police appeared, she said she asked Doutre whether the train had arrived.

She said there seemed “nothing remarkable” about him. To Tharp, he seemed “friendly and smiling.”

When she heard an officer’s “booming voice” and saw the guns, which she’d never seen in public before, she said she hit the pavement.

“I’m not going to stand here being a gawker,” she thought. “Criminals don’t care.”

Tharp felt bewildered and “stressed” because she feels that the officers didn’t take any measures to protect the public. She said no instructions were given to the crowd, and that the officers didn’t get witness statements or tell people it was safe to leave.

Luckily, she said, no one panicked, or people could have been hurt.

“It was a free-for-all. There was no beginning or end. It didn’t feel orchestrated. Nothing seemed official,” said Tharp, who wondered if she’d been caught in the middle of a film shoot.

Emery said that “if we leave, things are probably over. Our priority was getting him away from the scene.”

On a more sarcastic note, Tharp later wrote in an e-mail, “This being somewhat of a “free spirit” area of the country to live in, perhaps law enforcement, not wanting to seem too “martial” just gave a non-verbal communication to the bystanders choosing to hide for their safety, that THE EVENT was over by signaling to the train engineer the train could resume it’s route and arrive at the station. It WORKED, everyone seemed to assume IT was over when the train arrived and passengers disembarked.”

She said Patton handled the situation better, and made her feel a little safer.

She plans to call a friend who works for the Bellows Falls Police Department to get his point of view, hoping that it will put her mind at ease.

“My thoughts and feelings about the law enforcement concerning how they apparently had no verbal command over the bystanders makes me feel less protected. They should have given instruction and direction,” said Tharp.

Emery said that Doutre made threats inside the station. “Just because some people didn’t hear something, others did,” he said.

After his trip to the emergency room, Doutre, who has had past court appearances, was held at the Brattleboro police station until he was sober, police said.

He was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and violation of his pre-existing conditions of release.

“Conditions of release” refers to a list of behaviors or conditions, like no drinking or maintaining a curfew, outlined by a judge that a person must meet to stay out of prison.

According to Brattleboro Police, Doutre will answer the Jan. 3 charges at a later date.

Wrinn said that when the department receives a shooting threat, its standard procedure is to arrive on the scene quickly, assess the situation by gathering information at the scene, and then resolve the incident safely.

He said that officers might respond with a variety of weapons or tactics, depending on the incident, adding officers didn’t know what, if any, weapon Doutre had, or where he would be by the time they arrived to the station.

“We want a weapon for stand-off distance,” said Chief Wrinn, about the rifles and shotguns that some witnesses say they saw officers carrying.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #82 (Wednesday, January 5, 2011).

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