Local man alleges Bristol officer put gun to his head
BRISTOL — A Bristol man has filed a federal lawsuit against the town of Bristol and its police department, alleging that when he went to check on an alarm going off late at night, a responding officer put a gun to his head and placed him in handcuffs.
The lawsuit comes two years to the day after the incident outside Bristol Discount Beverage in Bristol. The complaint was filed Monday in federal court in Burlington.
Tyler Westbrook, and his wife, Piper Wallace Westbrook, are seeking unspecified damages on several civil claims, including assault and battery, excessive force and emotional distress.
In addition to the town and its police department, the lawsuit names then-Police Chief Kevin Gibbs, who has since retired, and Officer George Crowe.
Vermont State Police troopers who responded to the call are also listed as defendants. They are Brett Flansburg, Matthew Daly and Eden Neary.
According to the lawsuit, prior to midnight on March 25, 2016, an alarm sounded at the discount beverage store in Bristol.
Tyler Westbrook, who lived at a neighboring property, after hearing the alarm sounding for an extended period time, went out in his slippers to check on his friend’s business, the lawsuit stated.
Westbrook had started returning to his home when he noticed a Bristol police cruiser arrive in the store’s parking lot, and the alarm, that had been sounding for 20 to 30 minutes, was no longer going off, according to the filing.
Bristol officer Crowe got out of the cruiser, the lawsuit stated, and Westbrook told him that he had heard an alarm and went to check on his friend’s business.
According to the lawsuit, Crowe, “in a low voice from some distance,” told Westbrook to stay where he was. Westbrook replied, “What’s that,” and indicated in the direction of his yard and house and said, “I’m heading home.”
Crowe then told him not to leave, adding, “you’re going to do what I tell you,” the lawsuit stated.
Westbrook, who had turned to walk to his yard, told the officer that the business owner was his friend, the lawsuit stated. Westbrook, who had no weapon and “made no overt action to harm Officer Crowe in any way” was “casually walking” away from the officer back toward his home, according to the filing.
“Officer Crowe then pointed his pistol directly at Mr. Westbrook’s head and said ‘I don’t care! Get on the ground! Now! Get on the ground! All the way on the ground!’” the lawsuit stated.
“Mr. Westbrook immediately complied and went face down on the ground,” according to the lawsuit, “Officer Crowe kneeled on Mr. Westbrook’s back keeping the gun pointed directly at Mr. Westbrook’s head at point blank range.”
Crowe, with the gun still pointed at Westbrook’s head, then yelled, “If you’re not going to listen to me, I’m going to make you listen to me! You understand!” the lawsuit stated.
“Yes sir. What I’m trying to tell ya is … I just came up here because I live right there … here … Adam’s my friend,” Westbrook replied, according to the filing, adding, “The alarm went off. I heard rattling inside.”
According to the lawsuit, at no time did Crowe ask Westbrook to put his hands up or use any other “de-escalation techniques” or commands.
“His first instinct and action were the use of deadly force, i.e. drawing his firearm on Mr. Westbrook,” the lawsuit stated. “Mr. Westbrook did not have a weapon, and made no physically aggressive or overt behaviors toward Mr. Crowe at any time.”
Crowe patted Westbrook down, found no weapons and told him, “You’re not moving do you understand me?” according to the lawsuit.
Mr. Westbrook replied, “I understand you,” the filing stated.
The lawsuit also recounts Crowe telling a dispatcher he had a “subject detained.”
And from the ground, Westbrook responded, “I am not suspect.”
Crowe then yelled, “I said don’t move,” and Westbrook replied, “I’m not moving. I’m talking. I have a right to talk.”
Westbrook was handcuffed and placed in the cruiser, according the lawsuit.
Troopers Flansburg and Neary then arrived at the scene; Crowe asked Flansburg to watch Westbrook while state police Sgt. Daly, who arrived at the scene, and Crowe walked around the business, and confirmed the building was secure, the lawsuit stated.
The business owner also arrived, and confirmed that he knew Westbrook, and after nearly an hour Crowe released Westbrook, according to the lawsuit.
“Mr. Westbrook was angry with the Officer and yelled profanity as he walked toward his home for a few minutes and before entering his home,” the lawsuit stated. “One of the troopers joked about driving Mr. Westbrook to an isolated dirt road and making him walk home.”
Current Bristol Police Chief Bruce Nason did not immediately return a phone message Tuesday seeking comment. Crowe also could not be reached Tuesday for comment.
Bristol Town Administrator Valerie Capels said Tuesday that she had not yet seen the filing, and because it was a matter of pending litigation would have no comment.
Gibbs, who is no longer the police chief in Bristol, said Tuesday afternoon that an internal investigation was conducted of the incident, but referred comment on its outcome to the town administrator.
Gibbs declined further comment, other than to say he was not called to the scene of the incident.
Adam Silverman, a Vermont State Police spokesperson, said all three troopers named in the lawsuit are still working for state police.
Silverman referred further comment on the pending litigation to the Vermont Attorney General’s office.
Assistant Attorney General Kate Gallagher said Tuesday that the state had not yet been served with a copy of the lawsuit. She said it appeared that the troopers named as defendants were only “peripherally” involved in the incident.
She added that she will further research the matter and the state would provide a “vigorous” defense for the troopers.
Katina Francis Ready, a Bristol lawyer representing the Westbrooks, said in an email response to questions that the Westbrooks are declining further comment other than what is outlined in the lawsuit.
An online posting a few months after the incident in July 2016 titled “Quest for Justice” states that it provides dash cam video from the incident obtained from a cruiser at the scene.
The video is mostly focused on the front of the business and not much footage of the officer and Westbrook. However, it does capture on audio the exchanges between the officer and Westbrook.
The posting also talked of a proposed settlement offer from Westbrook to the town that included Crowe taking part in additional training and be disciplined by the town for his actions.
The settlement offer also asked for $3,000 for Westbrook’s legal expenses, and for the town to pay him $1 in damages.
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