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Widow Sues Burlington Police In 2013 Shooting Death

The widow of a man shot to death by a Burlington Police officer in 2013 is suing the city of Burlington and police officials over the incident.

In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court Friday, March 27, Barbara Brunette alleges a systemic failure within the police department to address the rising number of mental health calls in the city.

On Nov. 6, 2013, Brunette’s husband Wayne was shot and killed by Burlington Police outside his family’s home in Burlington’s New North End. When he was shot, Brunette was brandishing a garden shovel. In his family’s call to emergency dispatch, they said Wayne was experiencing a mental health crisis at the time.

The city “saw a 400 percent increase in the number of calls involving persons with mental health issues between the years 2008 and 2013,” the lawsuit says.

Chief Michael Schirling, who is also named as a defendant in the suit, made similar comments at a press conference the day after the shooting.

“The call volume in terms of mental health calls has increased 375 percent in the last five years, so it’s one of the core things that our folks are responding to,” he said then.

The lawsuit alleges that the city “displayed deliberate indifference to the unique nature of these calls and the appropriate response to be employed by its police department and other first responders.”

The lawsuit claims that the city and the police department “have failed to train their police officers in the widely accepted use of crisis intervention and de-escalation strategies in handling mental health calls.”

At the news conference the day after the incident, Schirling’s comments told a different story – one of a department actively working to properly respond to the growing number of mental health calls.

“They’re training constantly,” Schirling said of Burlington officers at the time. “They train in conjunction with the HowardCenter clinicians. We have a couple of folks that do exclusively mental health work here, including a community interventionist who is actually a HowardCenter employee based out of the police department … so mental health is woven into everything that we do.”

Burlington Police officials did not immediately respond to request for comment Friday afternoon.

Barbara Brunette’s lawsuit also claims the city was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires local governments to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities. The lawsuit says Wayne Brunette qualified under the federal law as disabled.

The court filing seeks compensatory damages as well as punitive damages as well as a trial by jury.