Attorney General Clears Burlington Police Officer In Douglas Kilburn Altercation
Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan has declined to file charges against a Burlington police officer who got in an altercation with a man who later died.
The encounter between Officer Cory Campbell and 54-year-old Douglas Kilburn took place on March 11.
Kilburn was trying to visit his wife at the UVM Medical Center when hospital staff called police because Kilburn was screaming and being disruptive, according to video of the incident.
Campbell's first interaction with Kilburn is relatively uneventful: Campbell talks to hospital staff and to Kilburn, and the officer eventually helps Kilburn get into the medical center to visit his wife.
But later that day, Campbell encounters Kilburn a second time when Kilburn blocks the ambulance bay with his car. During the course of this incident, Kilburn gets out of his car and throws a punch at Campbell, according to the video. The AG's review found that Kilburn struck Campbell in the lower jaw. Campell, after being hit, punched Kilburn three times in the "right eye area," according to the attorney general's report.
At a press conference Friday afternoon, Donovan said that while Campbell's use of force was justified, the officer's actions prior to the fight — like swearing at Kilburn — in part led to the altercation.
"Officer Campbell's use of foul language and antagonistic behavior did not de-escalate the situation," Donovan said, "which ultimately put him in a position where it was necessary to physically defend himself."
After the fight, Kilburn was briefly hospitalized. A few days later he was found dead.
The medical examiner ruled Kilburn's death a homicide but could not determine a specific cause of death. The examiner did note several contributing factors including cardiac disease, obesity, diabetes, as well as skull fractures from an impact.
The Burlington police union published body camera footage of the incident after suing for its release. The union says the video shows Campbell was defending himself and did nothing wrong.
Political controversy swirled around this incident after Seven Days reported that Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo and Mayor Miro Weinberger sought to delay the release of Kilburn's death certificate.
This case, along with federal lawsuits alleging brutality against black men, have raised questions about Burlington Police Department policies and spurred action from city officials. The Burlington City Council formed a special committee to examine police policies and procedures and appointed three black men to the police commission.
Del Pozo told VPR Friday the newly formed committee plans to develop "a use-of-force policy that embodies not only the law but our commitments and values." As far as the incident involving Campbell, del Pozo said the officer has been taking de-escalation training while on administrative leave.
"We will now be conducting an internal investigation that will include an examination of the use of foul language," del Pozo added.
Kilburn's son, Tyler Kilburn, offered a strongly worded statement on Friday, saying the tragedy of his father's death was "corrupted by the insider politics of Burlington Police Chief del Pozo and Mayor Miro Weinberger."
"You take this career path knowing you must always hold yourself to a higher standard," Tyler Kilburn said at Friday's press conference. "You failed, Mr. del Pozo; Mr. Mayor, you failed. … I beg of you to do better."
Speaking to reporters after the press conference, Douglas Kilburn's wife, Sherry, offered sharper words: "Here Campbell gets to get this information and be all, 'Yeehaw, I’m free now, I'm not going to be charged.' It's not right. He literally beat my husband to death and it’s not right. It's totally wrong. Something needs to be done."
When asked about the response from Kilburn's family members to the attorney general's decision, del Pozo offered condolences while maintaining the department's position on the incident.
"One of the things that's so clear is this family has suffered the loss of a loved one who is esteemed ... in the community and by his family. And they're entitled to their opinion about how they think things transpired," del Pozo said. "You know, for our part, we've been very clear on the record about how we feel about that and our opinions differ."
Update 11/11/2019 11:03 a.m. This post has been updated to include additional information from the Attorney General's review.