The Vermont Attorney General’s Office and the Grand Isle County State’s Attorney’s Office today announced the conclusions of their independent reviews of the officer-involved shooting incident that occurred on June 14, 2022, in Woodstock, Vermont. Attorney General Susanne Young and Grand Isle County State’s Attorney Douglas DiSabito have declined to prosecute Woodstock Police Sergeant Joseph Swanson for charges related to the use of deadly force in a shooting incident involving Jay Wilson. State’s Attorney DiSabito agreed to conduct an independent review of the investigation, as the Windsor County State’s Attorney’s Office recused itself.
Based on the facts and circumstances and consistent with Vermont law, Attorney General Young and State’s Attorney DiSabito have independently concluded that the use of force by Sergeant Swanson was objectively reasonable and justified. Under the totality of the circumstances, Sergeant Swanson reasonably believed that he and those around him were in imminent danger of being killed or suffering great bodily harm at the hands of Mr. Wilson, and Sergeant Swanson used necessary and appropriate force to defend himself. In reaching their decisions, the Attorney General’s Office and State’s Attorney’s Office reviewed all materials provided by the Vermont State Police, who conducted the investigation.
On June 14, 2022, at approximately 1:12 p.m., law enforcement agencies received multiple 911 calls about a person who had been shot and injured at Mr. Wilson’s residence. Woodstock police officers, including Sergeant Swanson, responded to the calls while the Woodstock Fire Department was on standby until the scene was secured. Prior to arriving at the residence, the 911 calls provided the officers with important information, some of which informed Sergeant Swanson’s initial approach to the residence, not the least of which was the possible presence of a gun.
The first call was from the alleged shooter, Jay Wilson, who reported that a man had just left the residence, wrestled him to the ground, and beat him into the dirt, so he had to defend himself.
Another 911 caller reported that a neighbor had been shot and provided the identity of the parties involved. The caller reported that the gunman was known as “Jay;” the injured person was Dieter Seier; and that Mr. Seier was down and unresponsive. Dispatch also relayed that the suspect, Mr. Wilson, was the same person involved in an incident that had occurred the prior day, during which 911 was called.
Sergeant Swanson was the first law enforcement officer to arrive at the residence at approximately 1:20 p.m., eight minutes after Mr. Wilson called 911. When Sergeant Swanson arrived at the residential area, neighbors were outside. Sergeant Swanson first stopped where the neighbors were crowded as he thought he may need to render aid at that location. One of the neighbors, however, waived him forward, and Sergeant Swanson continued driving up the road a short distance. As he came upon the residence, Sergeant Swanson observed Mr. Seier lying face down on the ground in the driveway. Sergeant Swanson exited his cruiser, drew his service pistol, and approached Mr. Seier to render aid.
Sergeant Swanson attempted to render aid to Mr. Seier and observed a gunshot wound to Mr. Seier’s back while also checking his pulse. While Sergeant Swanson was attending to Mr. Seier, Mr. Wilson came out of the residence, pointed a pistol at Sergeant Swanson, and began firing at him. Sergeant Swanson was fully exposed in the driveway while Mr. Wilson had the advantage of being on higher ground and familiar with the area. Sergeant Swanson immediately returned fire and sought a position of cover. One of the bullets Mr. Wilson fired grazed Sergeant Swanson’s arm.
Mr. Wilson was not struck by any of the shots Sergeant Swanson fired. After shooting at Sergeant Swanson, Mr. Wilson disappeared into the residence.
At a certain point, another officer arrived and saw Sergeant Swanson lying on his stomach in a neighboring residence’s yard with his gun drawn towards the residence. The officer and Sergeant Swanson then attempted to set up a perimeter and called for backup.
Approximately three minutes after he arrived, Sergeant Swanson reported that shots had been fired, the suspect was inside the residence, and the Vermont State Police’s (VSP) tactical unit was needed. Within approximately 12 minutes of the first shot being fired, multiple officers arrived and set up a perimeter until they could obtain a search warrant for the residence. During this time, VSP’s crisis negotiation team tried to call Mr. Wilson to surrender himself; however, this was unsuccessful.
Once the court approved the warrant, VSP’s tactical unit entered the home. As they climbed the stairs, officers heard a single gunshot and subsequently located Mr. Wilson who was dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Under the facts and circumstances of this case, Sergeant Swanson’s use of deadly force was objectively reasonable and necessary based on the fact that his life was in danger at the time, and he had no other reasonable alternative response. Sergeant Swanson was justified in shooting at Mr. Wilson in order to defend his life and the lives of those around him.
Sergeant Swanson arrived at the scene knowing that an individual had suffered a gunshot wound and that the shooter’s whereabouts were unknown. Notwithstanding, his instinct was to provide aid to Mr. Seier and risk his own life and safety.
Multiple witnesses described that Sergeant Swanson was shot at while on the scene, both during his initial approach and after he sought cover.
Sergeant Swanson was fully exposed in the driveway trying to render aid to Mr. Seier at the time that Mr. Wilson opened fire. Thereafter, one of the bullets grazed Sergeant Swanson’s arm as he sought cover. Sergeant Swanson’s return fire was necessary to address the lethal threat that Mr. Wilson presented to him. In returning fire, it also allowed Sergeant Swanson the opportunity to retreat to a safe location.
Therefore, a reasonable officer in Sergeant Swanson’s situation would have concluded that, under the totality of the circumstances during and leading up to the discharge of Sergeant Swanson’s firearm, there was no alternative but using deadly force to prevent his own death or serious bodily, or that of neighbors standing nearby. Accordingly, Sergeant Swanson’s use of deadly force was justified under 13 V.S.A. § 2305(3) and 20 V.S.A. § 2368(c).
Lauren Jandl, Chief of Staff, Office of the Attorney General, 802-828-3171
Douglas DiSabito, Grand Isle County State’s Attorney, 802-372-5422